Category Archives: Madison WI

For the Love of the Games

Jess Carrier

Our Rotary speaker on February 3 was Jessica Carrier, who leads the marketing team for Noble Knight Games in Fitchburg. She spoke to us from the company’s store, and her presentation included interviews with key employees.

Noble Knight Games boasts the largest selection of table-top games in the world, including traditional board games, new releases, and rare and/or out-of-print games. They buy and sell games from individuals and manufacturers locally and worldwide. About 20 percent of the company’s business is international. Vice President Dan Leeder explained that his brother Aaron is the owner and founder of the company. In the 1990s Aaron had an assembly job in the Janesville GM plant — and a love for the game Dungeons and Dragons. He began by purchasing games in Madison and selling them on his site. In 1997 the company had five employees in Janesville. After 20 years the company moved to a newly built, 45,000 square foot building in Fitchburg.

The new structure includes a storefront with space for a mind-boggling inventory — hundreds of thousands of games, according to our speaker — and in-store game events, which were held every day of the week before the COVID shutdown. They are looking forward to resuming in-store events in the future.

Carrier said there are emotional, mental and physical benefits to playing table-top games. Even if a game is not marketed as an educational product, youngsters learn and grow by playing. They can develop reading and memorization skills, color recognition, cooperation and important social skills such as how to win or lose gracefully. She said that playing table-top games opens neural pathways that help you learn and retain information longer. It has also been tied to a slower onset of dementia in adults.

While one’s fate in many of the traditional games may depend on a roll of the dice or a card drawn from a deck, most newer games place more emphasis on strategy and, in some cases, cooperation with others. While the goal used to be to progress on a board, amass the most money or be the last person standing, now the goal is more likely to involve the management of multiple resources.

The presentation reminded me that I used to collect baseball cards, as much for the bubble gum as the players. Getting the card of a favorite player — for me it was Rocky Colavito, who played for Cleveland — was a matter of luck. Now there are games where you construct your own deck of cards which allows you to build a winning strategy in the game.

The presentation offered some suggestions for people who might be interested in gaming but don’t know where to begin. Start by talking with family and friends about the games they enjoy. For a group of two to four people, consider Azul or Catan. People who are used to playing Euchre might want to try the Wizard card game, which has additional suits along with Hearts, Spades, Diamonds and Clubs. The Haba games are great for young children. And if you want to move your teenager away from screen time, try to find table-top games in the same genre that is your kid’s obsession online. And, of course, the folks at Noble Knight Games will be happy to help!

Our thanks to Jess Carrier and her staff for their presentation this week and to Andrea Kaminski for preparing this review article.  Our thanks also to Neil Fauerbach who assisted in editing this week’s speaker video as well as our song at today’s meeting! If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:

How to Be Curious and Why It Matters

Anne Strainchamps

Anne Strainchamps spoke virtually to Rotarians this week on January 20. As a veteran public radio host and producer, Strainchamps shared “How To Be Curious And Why It Matters.”

As a journalist, Anne said, “Curiosity is the DNA of our radio show.” She said curiosity is the key to learning, progress, invention; inventors are driven by curiosity.

“Curiosity is a habitat that can be cultivated,” Anne said. She continued, “We teach math, history, why not curiosity? It’s the one skill I value most; my job is to be professionally curious, and it’s my life’s satisfaction.”

But you can’t wait for it to strike. Anne told Rotarians to hunt for that spark and feed it by asking lots of questions. Asking good questions is a lost art. She suggested asking beautiful questions, questions that spark stories such as, “What do you treasure in your home and why?”

Science is a way of asking questions about the universe; politics is another opportunity for good questions. In today’s environment of polarization, Anne says it’s difficult to be curious and angry at the same time. She told the story of a former coworker, Barbara, who could disarm office conflict when hearing such a story by pausing…then asking, “Why would they say that?” And you would realize you were caught up in being angry or right.

Anne Strainchamps is the host of To the Best of Our Knowledge. She co-founded the show, along with Jim Fleming and husband Steve Paulson, and has been a featured interviewer on the program for more than a decade. She has worked in public broadcasting at WAMU in Washington, DC, and at NPR.

Our thanks to Anne Strainchamps for speaking this week and to Valerie Renk for preparing this review article. Our apologies for the technical difficulties during our livestreamed meeting on January 20. We have reloaded Anne’s video presentation, and you can view it without interruptions here:

From Washington to Wisconsin

submitted by Mary Borland; photo by Mike Engelberger

Jo Handelsman 2 21 2018During the February 21 Rotary meeting, we heard from Dr. Jo Handelsman. She spoke to us about her time serving in President Obama’s administration as the Associate Director for Science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in Washington D.C. and her return to Madison to become the Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery at UW-Madison. In Washington D.C., her area included the following:

  • Office of Science & Technology Policy
  • Science Division
  • Levers for Change
  • Initiatives, most notably the “Precision Medicine Initiative”

She advised President Obama about science, which he is passionate about; managed science and technology in crises, the Ebola and Zika crises occurred in her 8 years in D.C.; managed her budget; scanned for gaps and opportunities; championed new ideas; increased visibility of science and technology; led committees/task forces (26 agencies were on the Ebola task force!); and recommended candidates for the Presidential Medals for Science and Technology.

Dr. Handelsman stated how fortunate she was to work for and with John Holdren, OSTP Director, and President Obama, given both of them digest information quickly and are able to articulate it in summary form extremely well. She also shared that diversity in the agency was extremely important for better outcomes.

The levers utilized to accomplish advancements included:

  • Executive orders
  • National monuments
  • Proclamations
  • Presidential Messages
  • Presidential Speeches
  • Event Commitments
  • Federal Agencies
  • Formation of Commissions
  • Compelling Arguments + Stature of White House

Regarding the Precision Medicine Initiative: the 21st Cures legislation contained $4.8 billion for this initiative, had bipartisan support and passed both houses in Dec. 2016.

Now at the WI Institute for Discovery (WID), she is able to continue many things she worked on in the White House.  WID is currently experimenting with new ways to catalyze interdisciplinary research; generate new research collaborations across campus; and build connections with the State of WI. It is exciting to put the word out to the entire campus to obtain ideas and input on particular issues – it elevates creativity and collaboration!

WID has a “Small World Initiative” course, which is a fusion of research and education to crowdsource antibiotic research in the hopes of discovering more antibiotics. Across the world, 10K students are taking this course and providing research to solve global problems.  This includes collecting soil samples in support of developing new antibiotics. Dr. Handelsman encourages us all to visit the WID.

Our thanks to Dr. Jo Handelslman for her presentation and to Mary Borland for preparing this review article. If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

Coach Healy Inspires and Motivates

–submitted by Roger Phelps; photo by John Bonsett-Veal

healy cropped

We were talking softball at the July 19 Rotary meeting.  Why?  Because our guest speaker was the UW best winning softball coach in the program’s 19-year history, Yvette Healy.  That’s why!

Coach Healy approached the Rotary podium pretty much the way she approaches her job as UW’s softball head coach – with a ton of energy, inspiration and positive thinking.

A native of Chicago, she is in her 8th year as UW Head Coach.  Prior to moving to Madison, she was the head coach at Loyola University.  Moving to Wisconsin wasn’t easy, she comments.  She was an ardent Bears and Cubs fan before arriving.  But, she’s adapting and excelling in her job.

She was hired to turn around a struggling UW softball team, and turn it around she did.  Under her leadership, the team has consistently moved up in the ranking and now eyes a Big Ten Championship ranking next year. She owes a lot of her motivation approaches to the inspiration she has gained through a handful of inspirational authors whose words echo in her coaching:  “Do something that scares you;” “Just say yes;” “Believe it;” “If you have a big enough WHY, you’ll find a way HOW;” “Take action.  Don’t fill your head with possibilities of negative outcomes;” “If your dream doesn’t scare you, it isn’t big enough;” and “It’s not the best team that wins.  It’s the team the plays the best.”

She made a special point of citing Madison itself as one of the advantages she has in recruiting top talent to UW.  They see this special place and want to be here.

Coach Healy left her Rotarian audience with three final thoughts:  1) When asked whether you’ve accomplished something, never say no.  Say Not Yet!; 2) Show pride of the team you lead. Tell each of them you’re proud of them, and tell them why; and 3) Imagine how good things could be!

Did you miss our meeting week?  Watch the video here.


Wisconsin’s Research Universities: A Case for Reinvestment

–submitted by Andrea Kaminski; photos by Mike Engelberger

Rebecca Blank 5 3 2017    Mark Mone 5 3 2017

Rotarians heard from not one, but two University of Wisconsin chancellors on May 3. UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank and UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone teamed up to talk about collaborations between their campuses and the challenges they face in maintaining the high quality our universities are known for. The two chancellors have been on the road with this presentation, having also spoken to the Milwaukee Rotary and the Wisconsin Technology Council. Mone is a fellow Rotarian.

UW-Madison has 43,000 students who hail from all 72 counties in Wisconsin, all 50 states, and 121 nations. This year they have a record number of applicants. Blank said the university has excellent retention and graduation rates, and less than half of its students graduate with debt because the university has focused on helping students finish in four years.

UW-Milwaukee has 26,037 students, 84 percent of whom come from Wisconsin. There were 5,300 graduates in 2016. Three-quarters of graduates continue to live and work in Wisconsin when they finish. The most diverse campus in the UW System, UW-Milwaukee has the most students who are veterans. Forty percent of its students are the first in their families to go to college. Mone noted that by 2023 the state is projected to have a six-figure worker shortage. He showed how UW-Milwaukee is producing graduates in the four areas most needed in the Wisconsin workforce: healthcare; business; computer science; and engineering and science.

Both chancellors credit the collaborations and pooling of resources between their campuses for making it possible for a state of Wisconsin’s size to have two great research universities. The two campuses are anchors along a 400-mile “IQ Corridor” between Chicago and the Twin Cities, which is known for its research, industry and technology.

The chancellors gave several examples of collaborations that have pushed the level of knowledge and innovation in the Midwest. Examples include the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences and UW-Madison Sea Grant Institute and energy partnerships funded in part by Johnson Controls centered at the UW-Madison Wisconsin Energy Institute. Mone noted that faculty on his campus alone partner with such Wisconsin industry leaders as Rockwell Automation, Harley Davidson, Kohl’s, Manpower, Northwestern Mutual and WEC energy group.

The chancellors see a major challenge in continuing to attract and retain top talent to uphold the UW’s reputation for excellence. The UW System’s budget has been cut in five of the past six state budgets. Blank noted that currently the state provides about 15 percent of UW’s budget, compared to about 45 percent 20-30 years ago.

Fortunately, the biennial budget proposed this year by Governor Walker includes a modest increase for UW System. It’s not enough to make up for the cuts, but the chancellors stressed that it is greatly needed and appreciated.

The chancellors outlined the following priorities the state should implement to keep the UW strong:

  1. Reinvest in the University as a way to invest in the state economy and workforce;
  2. Provide compensation increases to attract and retain talent. UW faculty and staff have seen on average a 0.3 percent compensation increase, compared to two percent at other major state universities. The proposed budget provides compensation increases but they are tied to savings from self-insurance;
  3. Authorize building projects, in particular those that are funded with program revenue. Budget-neutral examples are the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine parking ramp and renovation of the Slichter Residence Hall.
  4. Don’t pit state universities against one another through performance-based funding. The campuses have different missions and serve different types of students. Each campus’s own performance can be compared from year to year, but it should not be compared with that of other campuses.

The chancellors said the UW is approaching the “tipping point” financially. Faculty and staff compensations are almost 19 percent behind those of peer institutions. Yet every state dollar invested in the UW generates three to four dollars in expenditures that stimulate the economy. And that does not even figure in the long-term economic impact of the university’s graduates who continue to live and work in the state. Truly, we invest in our state by reinvesting in our great state university.

If you missed our meeting, you can watch the video here.

Gee Shares a Tale of Two Cities

–submitted by Valerie Johnson; photo by Mike Engelberger

Alex GeeFollowing a song with the line “greater things are still to be done in this city” sung by a group from his church’s choir, The Rev. Dr. Alexander Gee, Jr. told Rotarians Madison is often accused of being a tale of two cities: the best place for some and the worst for others.

For the past fifteen months, Gee and members of the Justified Anger Leadership Team convened countless meetings with hundreds of African American Madisonians. They asked what the African American community thinks about racial disparity in Dane County and what suggestions they would make to address the disparity. Five focus areas were identified: education, economic development, incarceration, leadership and capacity development, and family and community wellness.

A framework document was developed, and community leaders were asked to sign up for workgroups in the five focus areas.  The next phase will be for African-American leaders to sit with community stakeholders to find common measurables, stand together and then carry out plans for these focus areas.  “This is an opportunity to stand on the same side,“ Gee said.

The group also plans to raise $1.5 million by January of 2016 to hire staff.  Gee says they will not create programs but rather they will advocate for equity, train for diversity and build capacity for change.

“Designing this document was historical,” Gee said, “Implementing it will be magical.”

In addition to his ministerial, consulting and academic activities, Gee is a co-author (Jesus & The Hip Hop Prophets, InterVarsity Press 2003) and author (When God Lets You Down, InterVarsity Press 2006). He received his Doctoral Degree in Transformational Leadership for Global Cities at Bakke Graduate University (BGU), in Seattle, Washington in June 2009.

The 50-page report is available by clicking:

We would like to thank the Fountain of Life Covenant Church Choir members who sang the opening song at our Rotary meeting on June 3: Becca May Grant, Alicia Cooper, Lena Archer and Cynthia Woodland.