Outstanding Women of Color Awards Honor Six Women for Exceptional Contributions to Their Communities

UW–Madison holds 16th year of celebratory event 

Surrounded by family, friends, colleagues, mentors and others, six remarkable women were celebrated on Thursday, March 7th for their unwavering dedication in their respective fields. The women – faculty and graduate students – were honored with the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Outstanding Women of Color award in recognition of their leadership in advancing social justice in the UWMadison community and beyond. The event, which took place at Varsity Hall, was hosted by the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement (DDEEA) and is held to coincide with Women’s History Month, or, as some might say, Women’s Herstory Month.  

From L-R Grace Bulltail, Molli Pauliot, Carolee Dodge-Francis, Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin, Andrea Gilmore-Bykovskyi, Alexandra Villa, Tiffany Lee, CDO LaVar J. Charleston

Now in its 16th year, the award honors extraordinary women in the greater UW–Madison community who, by their activism, advocacy or scholarship have had a positive and in many cases transformative impact on their organizations on campus and beyond, helping to create more equitable outcomes, especially for the most vulnerable among us. The award was launched by Assistant Vice Chancellor Emerita Ruby Paredes, a career diversity leader, to honor women who have made exemplary contributions to the campus, their communities, and the world. Since the honors began in 2007, more than 90 exceptional women have been celebrated, and hundreds have been nominated. 

With nearly 300 people enjoying the event, speakers made the connection between the honorees’ values and aspirations and the University’s overall.  

“These outreach and service goals are embedded in the mission of the University and are known as the Wisconsin Idea… the belief that education should influence people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom and our campus,” said LaVar J. Charleston, UW-Madison’s Deputy Vice Chancellor, Vice Provost and Chief Diversity Officer and director of the DDEEA. “UW–Madison has a rich history of women who have been leaders in advancing justice locally, nationally and even internationally, across a wide range of occupations and activities. Their work has had a tremendous impact on a diverse array of populations. Tonight’s outstanding honorees are no different.”  

Charleston went on to tell the honorees, “Your accomplishments have an exponential impact on our campus – expanding far beyond those directly touched by your work. Your efforts leave an imprint and profoundly shape the fabric of our university. They add to a campus community characterized by its commitment to diversity and inclusion.” 

UW–Madison Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin also spoke at the reception, noting that although the honorees come from different backgrounds and academic fields, they all have two common threads: a “dedication to collaborating across disciplines to spark discovery and innovation,” and “a commitment to bringing their work out of the lab and into the classroom and into the world where it can strengthen communities and make people’s lives better.”  

Chancellor Mnookin also noted that “diversity is a core institutional value and a necessity for any outstanding university,” and that UW–Madison “cannot and will not stop our work in this realm.” 

Six outstanding honorees 

The six award recipients for this past year were chosen among more than three dozen who were nominated by their peers, mentors, or others who possessed strong knowledge of their respective nominee’s accomplishments. The full list of nominees was then considered by a selection committee comprised of a representative group on campus.   

The 2023 honorees’ achievements range from improving the lives of Tribal communities and of Native Americans writ large, to enhancing the quality of life for individuals living with dementia and their caregivers, to working to reduce maternal mortality and reproductive health disparities among Black women, to expanding STEM and other opportunities for historically underrepresented students.  

The six UW–Madison honorees include: 

Grace Bulltail, PhD, MSc, Assistant Professor at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies 

With a doctorate in engineering, Dr. Bulltail focuses her work on building capacity for Tribal communities, notably in the area of water resource management and environmental improvements, and on enhancing Tribal sovereignty. She also volunteers considerable time and expertise to activities aimed at reducing violence impacting Native American populations, including through her advocacy on behalf of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). 

Carolee Dodge Francis, EdD, MA, Professor and Chair of Ecology of Human Well-Being, Civil Society & Community Studies at the School of Human Ecology  

The first Native American woman to hold a chair position at UW–Madison, Dr. Dodge Francis has used her background in community health and public health to introduce Native American and other underrepresented students to the public health and STEM fields, and to mentoring them along their academic journey. Her extraordinary mentorship activity includes work with Native American PhD students across the U.S. 

Andrea Gilmore-Bykovskyi, PhD, RN, MS, Associate Professor in the BerbeeWalsh Department of Emergency Medicine at the School of Medicine and Public Health 

A registered nurse with a PhD in nursing, Dr. Gilmore-Bykovskyi has said that she wanted to combine her scholarship in science with her commitment to social justice. Her leading-edge research is centered on dementia care delivery, with the goal of enhancing the quality of life for those living with the disease and the people who care for them. She is particularly interested in ensuring that research in this area includes underrepresented communities that are inequitably burdened by dementia.  

Tiffany Green, PhD, Associate Professor, Population Health Sciences and Obstetrics & Gynecology at the School of Medicine & Public Health  

One of the country’s leading health economists working in reproductive health equity and maternal mortality disparities, Dr. Green’s research identifies evidence that can directly inform public policy and lead to more equitable systems and programs that promote maternal and child health. She is especially focused on improving Black maternal health and reducing maternal health and health care disparities in the state of Wisconsin. 

Molli Pauliot, MA, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Anthropology at the College of Letters & Science  

Ms. Pauliot works with Tribal and other government officials to address critical social needs facing Tribal communities, and to advance Tribal sovereignty. Her research and her advocacy efforts emphasize community collaboration with the Ho-Chunk nation, aimed at opening up the campus to the Tribe with an understanding that the Native American population is not only of the past but of the present and the future of Wisconsin. 

Andrea Villa, MS, Doctoral Candidate, Geoscience (Paleoclimate and Geochemistry) at the College of Letters & Science  

Ms. Villa, a first-generation college student whose life experience informs her advocacy, has been a leader in advancing DEI ideas and practices in her Geoscience department. In recognition of her efforts she was selected to serve as the graduate student representative on the UW–Madison Letters & Science Department’s DEI Committee. Her leadership has been acknowledged further with funding for her DEI work from several grant sources on campus. 

A streaming version of the reception can be found here. Next year’s Outstanding Women of Color event will be held February 25, 2025, with nominations of honorees opening later this year. Those interested in nominating a deserving woman can find a list of criteria here.