Melvin R. Laird Exceptional Artist Award

This award annually recognizes and rewards an exceptional graduating UWSP student in performing or visual arts by providing a $5,000 investment in his or her potential to become a successful leading artist in his or her field. Established by the Hon. Melvin R. Laird and members of the Laird Endowment Advisory Board, the award serves as a continued commitment to the Laird Art Leadership program associated with Laird Leadership Day. The Hon. Melvin R. Laird was the former U.S. Secretary of Defense under President Nixon and Wisconsin's 7th Congressional District representative.


Melvin R. Laird 2018 Exceptional Artist Award Recipient 

In August, Anja began a Master of Music in Vocal Performance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she is studying with Professor Mimmi Fulmer. She also began rehearsals for the lead role of Poppea in the opera L'incoronazione di Poppea by Claudio Monteverdi for University of Wisconsin-Madison Opera, directed by David Ronis. In September, Anja performed in the UW Opera Props Showcase Concert and was chosen to work with Metropolitan Opera tenor Kyle Ketelson in a masterclass. In spring 2019, Anja will perform with the Madison Opera in their spring production of Dvorak's Rusalka —"time to learn some Czech!"


Melvin R. Laird 2017 Exceptional Artist Award Recipient 

Timothy Zeszutek with Chancellor Patterson and Dean Sprague

Tim is currently working as a Graphic and Pre Press Designer for CLI in Plover, as he saves money for graduate school. He is also doing freelance graphic design work, including a project for Point Brewery that resulted in Tim’s design featured on a longboard skateboard.

When he is not working on graphic design projects, he is taking commissions for painting. His work can be seen at




Melvin R. Laird 2016 Exceptional Artist Award Recipient 

Abigail Herold with Chancellor Patterson and Dean Sprague

This year, Abby was accepted into Upright Citizen’s Brigades (UCB) Academy program—an audition-only process meant for the best of the best students in improvisation. She is also involved in their sketch comedy program and is interning with UCB as well. When not at UCB, she is busy auditioning for TV and theatre and working on final editing for her webseries.

This fall, Abby will be going into rehearsals for a sketch comedy show as well as participating in Actor Therapy, a musical theatre laboratory class taught by Tony Award-winner Lindsay Mendez and Ryan Scott-Oliver.

Abby continues to work as an assistant for Florence D’Lee custom couture for drag queens. She is excited to note that something she made over this past summer was featured in Vogue Germany.


Melvin R. Laird 2015 Exceptional Artist Award Recipient 

Emily Reeves with Chancellor Patterson and Dean Morin

Emily wrapped up her cruise ship performance contract and, unfortunately, suffered an injury to her hip that required surgery. Currently back in New York, Emily auditions frequently and signed with talent agent Dulcina Eisen Associates this past spring. When not auditioning, she has been trying to travel, including an October trip to Copenhagen.






Melvin R. Laird 2014 Exceptional Artist Award Recipient

Bennett Heinz with Chancellor Patterson and Dean Morin

Bennett continues to work for Schilke Music Products, where he plays key roles across a number of areas—Bennett serves as production manager for the Greenhoe Trombones line, leads educational tours of the factory and the process of building brass instruments, works with customers in the showroom to help fit them to the right instrument or mouthpiece, travels to trade shows and events (including trips to Germany and Taiwan), facilitates parts/repair requests, and numerous other "hands on" tasks in the factory.

Bennett also organizes "Schilke Day" events at regional universities, including the University of Minnesota Duluth (where former UWSP trumpet professor and Music Department Chair Dr. Bob Kase serves the Dean of the School of Music) and UWSP.

Alongside his "day job," Bennett still practices trumpet every day and works as a freelance musician in Chicago. He recently worked with jazz big band Heisenberg Uncertaintly Players to perform new arrangements of all of the music for the Beatle’s "Abbey Road" album.

Bennett shared, "Although my current career path is not what I originally intended on, I truly love what I do and I honestly don’t think I’d be where I am with the company had it not been for the Laird Award and using it as an opportunity to connect with Schilke Music Products."

Melvin R. Laird 2013 Exceptional Artist Award Recipient

Alexandria Mueller with Chancellor Patterson and Dean Morin

Alex recently composed music for three short films and a feature, as well as created demos for sound sets by Matt Bowdler (The Unfinished). These products are used regularly in Hollywood movies, AAA games and hit TV shows around the world. She spent the last year in a mentorship with jazz violinist Christian Howes for music business and taught a contracts and licensing course at the Institute of Production and Recording.

She continues to play viola with her quartet, Boom Island String Quartet, and the Saint Paul Civic Symphony, along with various gigs and recording sessions. Alex maintains her connection to UWSP by serving on the Board of Directors for Very Young Composers of Central Wisconsin (her 6th year).


Melvin R. Laird 2012 Exceptional Artist Award Recipient

jelinekKelly Jelinek with Chancellor Patterson and Dean Morin

Kelly continues to create custom, commissioned faux taxidermy art pieces through her business, Little Stag Studio. This past year, she was thrilled to purchase a "turn-of-the-century" fixer-upper and has been jumping from one old-house project to the next.




Inaugural Melvin R. Laird 2011 Exceptional Artist Award Recipient

John Laird with Andrew Broomell

Andy has continued working in the television industry, doing a mix of concept renderings for upcoming shows, and art directing shows which have filmed in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, and the Twin Cities. Currently he is working through the season three filming of NBC’s "World of Dance" at Universal Studios. He will also be loading in a broadcast set for BlizzCon 2018 (a convention for the gaming giant Blizzard Entertainment).

A highlight for Andy this past summer was spending a month in Spain, working again for Royal Caribbean Productions. In his role, he oversaw the installation of a brand new Escape Room onto one of their ships as it was dry-docked in Cádiz. Afterwards he spent a week touring the southern part of the country while practicing digital photography.

This fall, Andy is teaching in the graduate theatre program at UC-Irvine. "I love being able to pass on what I’ve learned to the next round of folks coming up into the entertainment industry."