Campus and Community


Point of Impact

Alumni Board creates new award saluting the everyday agents of change among us

Jeanne Nagle | Campus and Community | October 22, 2020

Along with many other fine qualities, Pointers are known for their generosity of spirit and willingness to help others in ways big and small. The impact of their actions is felt throughout the neighborhoods, towns and cities in which they live, and their good deeds have the extra benefit of reflecting positively on the UWSP community as a whole. Among these individuals are many alumni who volunteer, mentor and otherwise make a difference as a matter of course—simply because it’s the right thing to do. They serve on life’s smaller stages and behind the scenes without fanfare, which is fine by them. In their minds, their efforts don’t necessarily warrant grand gestures or even acknowledgement.

Members of the university’s Alumni Board, however, believe otherwise. Hence, they have created the UWSP Alumni Board Pointer Impact Award, a biannual recognition program designed to give a pat on the back and tip of the hat to such everyday philanthropists.

“Pointer Impact Award recipients can range from the local business owner who serves on a city panel to the retired school teacher who volunteers at the local food pantry,” said Alumni Board President Melissa Hardin ’87.

In alphabetic order, this year’s inaugural award recipients are:

Erin Carney ’15

Erin earned her international teaching license at UWSP in 2015. She has worked abroad steadily since, and is currently teaching in China. She has worked with the nonprofit Teachers Across Borders, providing professional development at the Bangladesh School Bahrain, as well as teacher-training workshops as part of TAB’s Uganda summer program. She is currently on the organization’s board. Erin has put her crafting skills to use by making rugs out of recycled fabric from old T-shirts and selling them to raise funds to support TAB programs and projects in Myanmar, Cambodia, South Africa and elsewhere. Proceeds from the rugs and other hand-crafted items have thus far added more than $1,500 to TAB’s coffers.

Melissa Davis ’08

Melissa started her 13th year of teaching elementary music in 2020. She has taught in the United States, Colombia and Bahrain. She currently resides in Oman, teaching at The American International School of Muscat. In 2016, Melissa joined the board of Teachers Across Borders, which supports professional development for teachers in emerging countries. She is now vice president of the organization. According to Melissa, the group’s mission is “to train teachers to be able to better help themselves, and better do their jobs with the resources that they have.” TAB also lends whatever support it can to initiatives undertaken by local program participants, such as the food- and income-producing fish farm being built by in rural Uganda—where Melissa began her TAB tenure and whose program she still leads.

Kelly Van Laanen ’99

Kelly has been an outdoors-education teacher and trip guide for 20+ years. She has worked with Becoming an Outdoors-Woman since 1997, and also leads international adventure trips for Green Edventures. She says her family instilled in her a strong impulse toward community service, which no doubt came into play when she and her daughters formed Sew Together for Covid-19. Based in Plover, the grassroots organization brought together members of the community to sew and distribute masks at the height of the pandemic this past spring. Kelly’s home was operations central, from which she could oversee the 200-odd sewers, delivery drivers, donation coordinators and production staffers who volunteered for the program. She also led online sewing tutorials, including a UWSP “Day of Sewing” demonstration this past April, and raised money for supplies and PPE donations to assist area medical centers. To date, the group has donated more than 17,000 hand-sewn face masks to those in need.

Pointer Impact Award recipients are invited to attend an Alumni Board lunch, where they receive a certificate of merit in honor of their contributions. Because of social-distancing measures, and the fact that Erin and Melissa are living/teaching abroad, this year’s recipients were given the option of participating in a virtual award ceremony during the Board’s Homecoming Week meeting on Friday, Oct. 16. A certificate had been sent to each awardee prior to the meeting.

Kelly acknowledged her receipt of the award in a September Facebook post in which she assured her fellow volunteers that she would let the Board know that her accomplishments were actually a case of group impact.

“Please know that I will be thanking every single one of you for your participation in this project because you helped make it happen,” she wrote. “It takes a village, and boy are you a great one.”

Nominations for the UWSP Alumni Board Pointer Impact Award are made by current and emeritus Board members. Suggestions for nominees may come from outside the Board, and are accepted year-round. If you wish to suggest an impactful Pointer for consideration, please contact the Alumni Association at


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