Posted 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022

Dawn Hays, who has worked at the UWL Campus Child Center since 1992, most recently as the director, has received the 2022 Academic Staff Excellence Award.

Dawn Hays recognized for decades helping kids, parents, students

She started as the closing teacher at the Campus Child Center, working 4-6 p.m. weekdays after a full day subbing in local schools. Thirty years later, she’s the center’s director helping to maintain its national accreditation — and receiving the UWL Academic Staff Excellence Award.

Dawn Hays’ humble start to a decades-long passion for helping young children grow up is impressive — especially considering she didn’t know what she was looking for when she joined the center in October 1992. This fall, she’s being honored by campus peers for excellence.

That’s due to the staff, all of whom have worked together for many more years.

“I stay because my position is rewarding and challenging — no two days are ever the same,” she explains.​

Hays says it’s the people who continue to make her job special.

“I feel strongly connected to the children, the families, my coworkers and the student staff I am lucky to work with,” says Hays. “A real joy in this was working as a classroom teacher while my daughter attended UWL for her own degree in early childhood education and worked as a teacher assistant at the Child Center. It was an absolute pleasure to share my passion for working with children and families with her."       ​​​

The children, parents and education students aren’t the only ones benefitting from the center’s strong reputation. Students from many majors do too.

Outside countless School of Education majors who’ve observed and assessed children for class requirements, the center has partnered with those studying psychology, nutrition, occupational and physical therapy, exercise and sport science, anthropology and more.

“We do our best to collaborate with any unit that reaches out to us,” Hays notes. 

The center employs up to 60 students each semester, many seeking degrees in education and psychology.​

“Student staff are a vital piece of the work we do, and we are fortunate to have them on our team,” Hays says.​

She credits those workers and other professional staff for her success and the center’s strong reputation.

“They work so well as a team and use their knowledge of child development to provide a high-quality experience for our children,” Hays explains. “Through their dedication, time and efforts, the Campus Child Center has been able to maintain our national accreditation through the National Association for the Education of Young Children since 1994. I would not be the director and person I am without the support of a very strong team.”

Hays says it’s special to get to know the children individually and build relationships with them.

“My coworkers would give me a little grief at the end of each year when I had to say goodbye to my group of children,” she explains. “I had built strong relationships with them, and I would cry when sending them off.”

The Dawn Hays file

  • Director, UWL Campus Child Center since 2016; previously lead and float teacher at the center since 1992.
  • Wisconsin Child Care Administrators Association Board of Directors, May 2019-December 2020; National Association of the Education of Young Children member.
  • Presenter, panelist, facilitator for Wisconsin Early Childhood Association conferences.
  • Among campus involvement: Academic Staff Council; Equity Liaison; Early Childhood-Middle Childhood Advisory Council; early childhood curriculum guest speaker.
  • Community services with Stoddard United Methodist Church, Onalaska Jaycees.
  • Bachelor’s in early childhood and elementary education, UW-Milwaukee, 1991. Early childhood leadership credential, UW-Milwaukee, 2019.

The Academic Staff Excellence Award

The UW-La Crosse Academic Staff Excellence Award is given to an academic staff member who has excelled in performance and service. Excellence in performance is the primary criterion, but outstanding service to the campus and beyond enhances a nomination. Award winners receive $1,500 in professional development. Recipients are selected by a committee of peers.

Academic Staff Award recipients honored

Recipients of the 2022 UWL Academic Staff Excellence Award and Academic Program Excellence Award will be honored at the Academic Staff Kick-off at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 5, in the Hall of Nations, Centennial Hall. The reception is open to all.

Academic Staff Excellence Award recipients

1994 — Mary Torstveit
1995 — Grace Smith
1996 — Chris Bakkum
1997 — June Reinert
1998 — Jim Jorstad*
1999 — Dianne Morrison and Larry Ringgenberg
2000 — Jon Hageseth and Sara Slayton
2001 — Brad Quarberg
2002 — Nelda Manter and Lori Petersen
2003 — Joe Chilsen and Deon Nontelle*
2004 — Jan VonRuden
2005 — Marcia Johnson-Sage
2006 — Diane Schumacher
2007 — Janie Morgan*
2008 — Hong Rost
2009 — Sue Wrobel
2010 — Debbie Veglahn
2011 — Karla Stanek
2012 — Carla Burkhardt
2013 — Mo McAlpine
2014 — Terry Wirkus
2015 — Maren Walz
2016 — Troy Richter
2017 — Michael Slevin
2018 — Angie Lee
2019 — Louise Janke
2020 — Dr. Abby Deyo
2021 — Thomas Harris
2022 — Dawn Hays

*Recipient of the UW System Board of Regents Academic Staff Excellence Award the following year.

More about the award.