Badgers from Head to TOWS

What is the importance of UW Homecoming? When did you feel most proud to be a Badger? If you could give one piece of advice to a first-year UW student, what would it be?

These are just some of the questions asked to applicants for The On Wisconsin Society, an annual honor and scholarship granted to the most driven and influential UW undergraduates. Started in 2011, this program adds an extra layer of Badger pride to the Homecoming festivities by recognizing four to six students each fall during the annual event. Since its inaugural year, nearly 50 students have been inducted into the society.

While The On Wisconsin Society — or TOWS, for short — is overseen by the Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA), it is primarily run by WAA’s student-led Homecoming Committee. In fact, it was the members of the 2011 Homecoming Committee who came up with the idea. Many UW alumni may fondly remember how past Homecomings featured a traditional “Homecoming Court” — complete with a king and queen, who reigned over the Homecoming Ball. The leaders of the 2011 committee, Betsy Pike Becker ’13 and Jackie Ordan ’12, felt it was time for something new. “With this new organization, we hope to be able to meaningfully recognize students who truly embody the Wisconsin Experience,” Ordan said in a 2011 press release detailing the shift.

The first TOWS members to embark on this new tradition included Emily Kesner ’12, JDx’21; Cara Ladd ’13; and Steven Olikara ’12, who went on to win a 2017 Forward under 40 Award. Like the society members who have followed them, they were recognized at activities throughout 2011’s Homecoming Week — including an appearance on the field during the Homecoming football game at Camp Randall.

Much like gaining field access, being selected for TOWS is no easy feat. In addition to résumés and essay questions, final candidates complete a robust interview process. The selection committee looks for undergraduates who have contributed to the campus community, either through academic achievements, volunteering, or professional work. “Recipients of The On Wisconsin Society scholarshipsare students who embody the spirit and drive of the Wisconsin Idea,” says Christine Seeley, who oversees the program today. “They use their dedication and leadership to effect positive change within the state and throughout the world.”

And, of course, winners must demonstrate a strong sense of Badger pride and spirit.

In addition to reveling in the pomp and circumstance of being some of Homecoming’s most distinguished guests, TOWS members also receive a monetary award and a lifetime membership in WAA. Funding comes from the Arlie Mucks Jr. Scholarship Fund. Mucks was a 1947 graduate of the UW who went on to lead WAA as its executive director from 1962 to 1989. During Mucks’s tenure, WAA saw the creation of its travel program, the Badger HUDDLE® tailgate, and the alumni house at 650 N. Lake Street, where WAA operates today. After Mucks retired from WAA, the scholarship fund was created in his honor. Its purpose is to reward “student leaders who have shown the Wisconsin spirit and enthusiasm with outside activities.” Mucks passed away in 2005 at age 84.

The 40-plus members inducted into TOWS represent a broad range of academic interests, everything from athletic training to neurobiology to real estate. Eight schools and colleges have been represented, and recipients have hailed from nine states and three countries. The most recent cohort includes Joel Baraka x’21, a King-Morgridge scholar from Uganda; Shehrose Charania x’21, a Posse scholar from Chicago; Eryne Jenkins, a Mercile J. Lee scholar from Delaware; and Michael Sauer x’21, an economics and political science major from Hammond, Wisconsin. “The Wisconsin Alumni Association has a long tradition of supporting student leadership and recognizing outstanding UW students,” says Sarah Schutt, WAA’s executive director. “We are proud to acknowledge these future alumni leaders.”

Meet all the members of The On Wisconsin Society:

2020

  • Joel Baraka x’21
  • Shehrose Charania x’21
  • Eryne Jenkins x’21
  • Michael Sauer x’21

2019

  • Brennan Flaherty x’21
  • Mason Flanagan ’20
  • McKenzie Klipp ’20
  • Michelle Ubah ’20

2018

  • Suet Lee ’20
  • Nathan Simon ’20
  • Sebastian van Bastelaer ’19
  • Michael Sauer x’21

2017

  • Conlin Bass ’18
  • Iffat Bhuiyan ’18
  • Lauren Davidson ’20
  • Karly Rosinsky ’18
  • Molly Scott ’18

2016

  • Sam Alhadeff ’17, MIPA’18
  • Meredith Braza ’18
  • Lauren Hammer ’17, MS’19
  • Fei He ’18
  • Deshawn McKinney ’17

2015

  • Alison (Boudreau) Forsythe ’18
  • Chris Harms ’17
  • Katja Kane-Foempe ’17
  • Bill Mulligan ’16
  • Lauren Wundrock ’17

2014

  • Neil Damron ’15
  • Jacqueline Geringer ’14
  • Donya Khadem ’15
  • Kiana Murphy ’15
  • Alyssa Tidemann ’16
  • Caroline Zellmer ’16

2013

  • Caitlin DeVos ’15
  • Gary Filipp ’14
  • Gwendolyn Omolabi ’15
  • Tylee Schraufnagel ’13
  • Jacob Steiner ’14

2012

2011

  • Emily Kesner ’12, JDx’21
  • Cara Ladd ’13
  • Steven Olikara ’12