Category Archives: Rotary Club of Madison Guest Speaker

January 25: Hmong Community in Dane County

–submitted by Joy Cardin

G THAO was born in a refugee camp in Thailand after his family escaped Laos following the end of the Vietnam War.  The Hmong people were allies with the U.S. in fighting the Communist invasion in South East Asia and faced persecution after the fall of Saigon. Thao’s family first resettled in Texas in 1984, where they faced anti-immigrant sentiment, in part because people didn’t understand the relationship between the U.S. and Hmong people.  His family moved to Madison two years later for better economic and educational opportunities. 

Thao shared the challenges of growing up with his family of twelve in a three bedroom apartment on Northport Drive in Madison.  And he noted the different challenges faced by his children.  His children had a much easier time learning English, but now they don’t know the Hmong language, and there is a concern young people in the Hmong community are losing touch with their culture.  There are also health care and educational disparities that need to be addressed.  Still, Thao is optimistic for the future and the growing Hmong community in Madison and Dane County.  

He invited Rotarians to volunteer and participate in Hmong community events, like the Hmong New Year celebration in November. 

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here: https://youtu.be/IJD2f_n5HEI.

January 18: An Education on Cryptocurrency

–submitted by Jessika Kasten


Spencer Smith, founder of AmpliPhi Digital, visited the club on January 18 to help us better understand cryptocurrency. Spencer broke down the tenants of crypto by comparing it to a batting cage token. You purchase a batting cage token, but the token technically has no value. The value is the access to the batting cage. The same is true for crypto: the money you invest gives you access to a blockchain (a super database that is so secure it cannot be altered), but has no monetary value. Smith’s best advice? Never invest more than you can lose.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here: https://youtu.be/tmj6JOC2MnU

January 4 Guest Speaker Nic Mink: Seven Acre Dairy Company

–submitted by Jessika Kasten



Nic Mink, an academic and entrepreneur, was looking to open a pizza restaurant when a completely different opportunity presented itself. Nic came upon an old cheese factory on the banks of the Sugar River, and through many conversations and research, moved his focus to honoring and preserving the building’s important history. Mink is in the process of restoring the building, which he has named Seven Acre Dairy Company. The complex features a restaurant, café, boutique hotel, micro-dairy plant and outdoor space. Nic is hopeful the building will be as relevant today as it was for generations of the past.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMjqj_e3X2o&list=PLD8FIDQlj8al6JvWDHjRYyMuH637UAnM9

November 30: Dr Niraj Nijhawan on Recent Brain Science Discoveries

–submitted by Larry Larrabee



Dr. Niraj Nijhawan’s presentation, Brain Science Discoveries to Boost Resilience and Character, revealed the role brain neurology plays in communication of “the lower brain,” largely the limbic system and “the higher brain,” largely the orbital prefrontal cortex, i.e., our selfish side and our better character side.

He described how the Life Ecology Organization (LEO) teaches individuals in groups “Hope Narratives” that can control or limit the effects of the “Destructive Narratives” we get from our “lower brain.”  Data was presented showing the positive effect of LEO with adults and teens in the areas of meaning, love and purpose, while significantly reducing suicidality, anger and selfishness.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here: https://youtu.be/QwI28w6S5z8.

November 16: Behind the Mid-Term Election Results

–submitted by Sharyn Alden

In speaking to the Madison Rotary Club November 16, Professor Barry Burden offered an important overview and political narrative pertaining to the 2022 mid-term elections.

“There were a complicated set of stories intersecting this year,” he noted.

Nationwide, the mid-terms brought out 40 percent of voters, one of the highest numbers in several years. In Wisconsin, known for strong voter turnouts, 60 percent of registered voters turned out to vote.

Interestingly, Burden pointed out some candidates who lost races might have won if it weren’t for their lack of experience or funding.

Concerns about the mid-terms were abundant before the election. They ranged from worries about keeping the integrity of democracy nationwide, possible violence in the streets, or election losers’ failures to concede. “None of that happened,” said Burden.

There had also been concerns that redistricting would shake things up, but across the country that didn’t appear to make a dent in the results.

Historically, it’s true that during midterm elections seats are typically lost within the party of the current president. “You pay a price for being the guy in the White House,” Burden said.

In tabulating votes in Wisconsin’s 72 counties, Governor Tony Evers was elected by a larger margin than projected while Senator Ron Johnson won by a smaller margin than expected.

One of things anticipated prior to the election was a “red (Republican) wave” of victories across the country. But Burden concurred with the amusingly proffered result offered by a Washington Post article that called it more of a “red puddle.”

Burden explained there was less shifting back and forth of voters of party preferences this time around because there are fewer blocks of swing voters as there were among hotly contested swing states in previous elections.

Many topics brought people to the polls to cast their ballots. A vote against Trump was one, along the pro-choice movement. In Wisconsin abortion and inflation were important voting motivators.

But at the end of the day, it appeared, at least by Wisconsin’s large voter turnout, people simply wanted to get involved and have their choices counted-a good sign of democracy in the works.

Our thanks to WisEye for videotaping our guest speaker on November 16. You can watch the video here: https://wiseye.org/2022/11/16/campaign-2022-rotary-club-of-madison-prof-barry-burden-post-2022-election-results/