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Paul Whitaker – University Service Award 2024

June 21, 2024

In his capacity as an entomologist, Paul Whitaker, UW-Stevens Point at Wausau biology professor, can identify insects. In his capacity as the associate degree coordinator, he identifies the most efficient undergraduate course schedules. Quite the range of roles. But those who know Dr. Whitaker understand his capacity for trusted service extends to his numerous roles in the university.

He began teaching botany and microbiology courses for first and second-year students at the former UW-Marathon County in 1999. In addition to his regular course load, Whitaker was a frequent presenter for Continuing Education in the College for Kids and for adult learners enrolled in the Good Ideas and Learning Is ForEver (LIFE) programs. Whitaker has played a key role serving in committees tasked with personnel, academic affairs, student retention, and campus emergency operations.

Paul Whitaker, professor of biology at UWSP at Wausau, received the 2024 University Service Award.
Paul Whitaker, professor of biology at UWSP at Wausau, received the 2024 University Service Award.

Since 2020 when Whitaker began to work as chair of the Associate Degree Subcommittee, he has worked diligently to make sure that students are able to progress toward their degree goals by completing their general ed courses on the Wausau and Marshfield campuses before they transition to the UW-Stevens Point campus. Miranda Gentry-Siegel, interim director of operations at the UWSP at Wausau campus, has been able to observe Whitaker’s retention efforts and capability in action over the past 11 years as a colleague.

“He really wants to make sure that students are having a good experience and that colleagues are all working well together,” said Gentry-Siegel.

Whitaker received one of this year’s University Service Awards in appreciation of his abilities to make positive impacts for the campus and beyond.

“He goes into everything wholeheartedly and has the sense of where he has the most impact,” added Gentry-Siegel. “Through the many transitions this campus has gone through, Paul remains so supportive and so even keeled.”

Whitaker was recognized in 2023 with a service award at the department level. He is set to take on more service with taking over as assistant dean for the School of Biology, Chemistry, and Biochemistry in July.   

“I first plan to make the rounds and find out what challenges people have and how to make their work life better,” Whitaker said.

Whitaker was a first-generation student interested first in studying engineering. Then, as a graduate student, his interests shifted toward education. His Peace Corp service with the non-profit agency, Los Ninos, working as a garden coordinator in Mexico gave him the opportunity to educate women about vegetable gardening.  It was where Whitaker first met his future wife, who hailed from Stevens Point. He earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The couple planted roots in Wisconsin and now have four children.

Professor Whitaker’s service includes community outreach as a long-time member of the board for the Monk Botanical Gardens in Wausau. He has presented over 95 hours on native plants, biodiversity, and on other timely gardening topics to support various community groups.

His current collaborative work includes evaluating more than 90 potato varieties for the Organic Seed Potato Project at UW-Madison and numerous cultivars of other crops for the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative of the UW-Madison Department of Horticulture.

When he isn’t working in his own garden or helping others to improve theirs, Whitaker tries to find time for mountain biking with his family.

“It’s nice to be recognized for things that you like to do and it’s rewarding to give back to the university and surrounding communities,” said Whitaker.