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2016 Distinguished Alumni Winner: Elizabeth Schar

It has been said that human ecologists have been quietly and humbly changing the world for centuries. Because of Elizabeth Holloway Schar’s (BS ’75 Family and Consumer Journalism) many and varied contributions that continue to affect the lives of others, this year’s awards committee has recognized her as the 2016 School of Human Ecology Distinguished Alumni, and a true human ecologist.

“If you want peace, work for justice.” Pope Paul, VI, 1972

Making a Difference in the Ravenswood Schools

Nine years ago Elizabeth Holloway Schar discovered an opportunity to work for justice that could lead to more kids graduating from high school. The Ravenswood City School District is just 3.5 miles away from Palo Alto, the center of Silicon Valley, but only one out of three students from the district was graduating from high school.

Schar learned the drop out rate could be tracked back to students skipping their freshman science courses. These students had never been in a science lab and were avoiding embarrassment with their peers who came from well-resourced school districts that provided up to 100 days a year in labs. “Somehow the system expected students to accomplish something really difficult but was failing to give them what they needed to do it,” says Schar, “A bunch of us thought, ‘let’s do something about this.’”

High school science teachers advised that if middle school students could get at least ten labs a year, they’d survive in high school science. Schar began recruiting adult volunteers and scientists to work with teachers and students; planning out labs, supplying materials, setting up, and cleaning up. “We provided moral support and direction for teachers who had no experience in teaching science,” explains Schar. “Students responded to the hands-on opportunity to learn. Science became an exciting part of the day.”

Today, the Ravenswood City School District makes science a priority. In the 2015-16 school year:

  • 1,200 middle school students experienced at least ten labs a year.
  • 35 teams participated in the County STEM Fair, a 30% increase over the year before.
  • Six middle school teachers gained their science teaching credential
  • Three district-level science coordinators support and coach teachers
  • 72% of Ravenswood alumni now get a C grade or better in their freshman science classes, up from 54% four years earlier.

“This experience has shown me it is possible to bring justice to a population. I am not a teacher or a scientist and yet we changed a culture,” states Schar. “It took nine years and the hands of many. It can be done. The important thing is our students have a chance now. They are getting what they need to do—what we all know they have to do to earn a living wage—graduate from high school,” states Schar. “(It’s a) complex problem and we provided one piece to the solution.”

About the Distinguished Alumni Award


In selecting Elizabeth Schar for this award, the awards committee noted her singular passion to affect a positive impact on others, and her lifelong commitment to making a difference for children, families, and communities. The Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest award bestowed by the School of Human Ecology (SoHE). It recognizes an individual graduate whose career reflects extraordinary accomplishments. Selection is based on exceptional contribution to one’s chosen field and record of innovative professional leadership as well as an outstanding record of service to one’s community, SoHE, and/or the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

For nearly 113 years, alumni of the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have made outstanding contributions in their field and in their communities. SoHE alums work in fields that contribute $65 billion to Wisconsin’s economy, and $3 trillion to the nation’s economy.  The School of Human Ecology is proud to honor those individuals whose vision, passion and tenacity helped them improve the human experience.

2016 SoHE Alumni Awards Committee:
Laurie Reed, Chair (BA 1982, L&S; MS 1988, Consumer Science)
Brenda Chamberlain (BS 2002, Interior Design)
Mary Jaeger (BS 1978, Textile and Apparel Design; MS 1980, Related Art)
Yolanda Jenkins, vice chair, SoHE board of visitors
Kay Villa (BS 1979, Interior Design and Related Art – Textile Design)

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