WCER Shines in School of Education’s Faculty and Staff Distinguished Achievement Awards

Honorees for 2022 include three with WCER ties

April 13, 2022   |   By WCER Communications

The awards were presented April 14, 2022, in the Education Building. (Photo by Bryce Richter)

The awards were presented April 14, 2022, in the Education Building. (Photo by Bryce Richter)

The WCER community offers hearty congratulations to this year’s honored recipients of the School of Education’s Faculty and Staff Distinguished Achievement Awards, including three honorees with center ties: Danielle Maillette, Sadhana Puntambekar and Maria Widmer.

Danielle Maillette, WCER’s irreplaceable Events and Intranet Manager, received the school’s Ann Wallace Academic Staff Distinguished Achievement Award. Danielle joined WCER in June 2010, after 12 years in financial services in Chicago. She first worked as a senior marketing specialist for WIDA for 5-plus years, followed by 3 years in center communications, before beginning her current job in 2018.

MSAN Consortium Executive Director Madeline Hafner lauds Danielle’s “ethic of care” during the pandemic, when Maillette volunteered to lead an online yoga class for WCER staff every day for more than a year while most people were working at home.


Danielle Maillette

“She was a daily, gentle connection between our isolated work selves and our collective work lives at WCER, the School of Education, and UW–Madison. I have worked at WCER for nearly 15 years and have seen few other Academic Staff come close to her commitment to us as individual humans, as well as to our shared learning and our shared success.”

WCER Director Courtney Bell praises Danielle’s organizing skills and professionalism in project planning, including her work shepherding finalists for the chief operating officer position throughout the building for interviews and seeing to their needs.

“Danielle created a touchdown room for the candidates, complete with snacks, water, and fresh flowers,” Bell says. “She carefully vetted each dinner location for the quality of the food, the noise level of the restaurant, and the appropriateness of the menu, so leaders might have the type of interpersonal interactions that would benefit the organization. Without prompting, each candidate mentioned to me how wonderfully planned and executed their visit was.”

Former WCER Technical Services employee Brian Ganje in his nominating letter describes Danielle as a “liaison and diplomat,” for tactfully negotiating and preventing problems between several WCER departments during times of turnover and transition.

And Connie Showalter, project manager for the MSAN Consortium, notes, among other things, the importance of Danielle’s expert management of the WCER intranet: “This involves almost constant updates to a website that almost all of the 500+ employees of WCER rely on for information on upcoming events, regularly used forms, professional development opportunities, and other important resources.”

MERIT manager praised for “myriad” strengths

Another honoree, Maria Widmer from Media, Education Resources, and Information Technology (MERIT), also received the Ann Wallace Academic Staff Distinguished Achievement Award. Since July 2021, Maria has been manager of teaching, learning and technology services for MERIT, which provides library resources, instructional design and technology support to the school and community partners.

For WCER, Maria is instructional designer for Discussion Project Virtual, the online version of a professional development program to help UW–Madison faculty members and staff create welcoming, engaging and academically rigorous classroom discussions on important issues and topics.

Maria came to UW–Madison in January 2017 as an instructional designer for the School of Education (SoE). She previously worked as an online instructor at Pennsylvania State University for 4 years, and she was a foreign language instructor for K–8 learners in South Korea from October 2011 to November 2012.

MERIT Director and Interim Chief Information Officer Anna Lewis provided a nomination letter for Maria highlighting her “myriad” strengths.


Maria Widmer

“She is kind, thoughtful, and invested in the success of the individuals and groups with whom she works,” Lewis says. “She is organized, thorough and reliable in following up and following through on projects and initiatives. She is a humble and curious intellectual who is on top of current research and wise beyond her years. She possesses honesty and integrity that illustrate her long-term commitment to improving outcomes, especially in the areas of diversity, inclusion, social justice, and accessibility. I almost forgot that Maria was critical in getting UW–Madison to add pronouns and name pronunciation capabilities into our student learning systems!”

Recognized as MERIT’s first online course developer, Maria over the past 5 years has completed a host of impactful tasks, including transitioning the school to the new learning management system Canvas; beginning and facilitating new faculty development programs such as JumpStart and TeachOnline; and helping to develop the Discussion Project’s online modules.

Lewis also notes Maria’s work has been recognized across campus: she was invited to speak at a Campus Leadership Breakfast due to her success in helping the school achieve rapid enrollment in online instruction for the summer session, she was elected chair of the campus Instructional Technologists Group, and her professional writing received the 2020 Robert J. Menges Award for Outstanding Research in Educational Development.

Maria’s nomination also included letters of support from SoE faculty members Carolyn Kelley and Peter L.E. van Kan, and from Amanda Fowler, a doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction whom Maria supervises.

WCER scientist seen as “pioneer” in design-based research

WCER researcher Sadhana Puntambekar, a professor in the Educational Psychology Department, was honored with a Faculty Distinguished Achievement Award.

Since 2017, Sadhana has been Sears-Bascom Professor in Educational Psychology, a department she joined as an assistant professor in 2004. She was in the educational psychology faculty at the University of Connecticut from 1998 to 2004, and she worked before that as a postdoctoral fellow at Georgia Institute of Technology, a lecturer at the University of London, and a senior research scientist at the Institute of Psychology in Pune, India.


Sadhana Puntambekar

Sadhana was nominated by her department chair, James Wollack, after first being nominated by the department’s Faculty Awards Committee and unanimously approved by department faculty. Wollack notes Sadhana’s “record of excellence” in research, teaching and service to SoE, as well as nationally and internationally. The software and instructional materials she has developed have been used in over 200 middle school science classrooms by more than 30,000 students in Connecticut and in rural and underserved areas of Wisconsin.

Wollack cites “major accomplishments” Sadhana has made to education theory and research methods, including her scholarship on the theory of scaffolding and her design of “technology-rich learning environments” to improve K–12 science education. Wollack praises Sadhana’s “tremendous success” in securing federal grants, with a record of more than $13 million since 2004; the “close ties” between her scholarship, teaching and mentorship activities; and her “outstanding record of service” to the education community, including serving on the editorial boards of the major journals of her field.

Sadhana’s nomination also includes letters of support from fellow STEM education researcher Susan Yoon of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, who called her “one of the pioneers in design-based research in the learning sciences,” and research collaborator Matt Peerenboom from the Janesville School District.

Sadhana’s prior honors include the 2022 National Association of Research in Science Teaching’s “Research Worth Reading” award, the 2020 UW–Madison Vilas Associate award, election as a 2018 Fellow of the International Society of the Learning Sciences, and the 2000 National Science Foundation’s Early CAREER Award.