Category Archives: Rotary Weekly Guest Speaker

The Complexities of the Immigrant Journey

submitted by Kevin Hoffman; photo by Mike Engelberger

HO7A6120An important theme of today’s meeting was the impact, experience and contributions of the immigrant on society and their journey from their birth home to making a new home in the United States.

From the Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award–named for Manfred Swarsensky, a German Jewish immigrant who fled Nazi Germany in 1939 — awarded to Dr. Suresh Chandra, an immigrant from India, for his work locally and internationally with Combat Blindness International to our speaker today, Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, who is an immigrant from Iran by way of Spain.  Her family fled Iran during the Revolution for safety, and she came to the United States in 1991 to attend graduate school.  She is now a naturalized citizen and Chief Diversity Officer at UW Health.

She painted the immigrant experience as shaped by loss and complexity – loss of home, family, job, culture, language, community, the familiar, etc.  She also reinforced the positive outlook of the immigrant.  The quest for opportunity, choosing goodness over evil, the desire for one’s children to do better than the parent, the strengths of cultural integration into society (as opposed to the Euro-centric notion of melting pot assimilation), the principle of building bridges instead of walls, and developing extended family-like connections within the community.

Addressing questions posed about the immigration issues of our current time, Bidar-Sielaff felt that we are in a time of persecution of the immigrant.  She urged us to remember our Rotary Four Way Test and to advocate for common values, and good thoughts, words and deeds.  She encouraged us to be allies, and be present with the immigrant community when there are issues.  It is less easy for policymakers to dismiss concerns when there is broad-based support from all manner of skin color, culture and station.  And, of course, vote!

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

New Research in Treating Childhood Cancer

submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Mary Ellen O’Brien

Ken DeSantes 2 28 2018

Ken Desantes pictured here with Club President Donna Hurd

Dr. Ken DeSantes presented us with a hopeful account about the modern treatments for a dreadful, heartbreaking disease: childhood leukemia. Dr. DeSantes is Clinical Director of the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology program, and Director of the Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant program, at the American Family Children’s Hospital. So he knows of what he speaks.

Childhood cancer is not common, but even so, it is the leading cause of death for children and adolescents. Dramatic progress in treatment has been made in the last 70 years in treatment. In 1947 doctors (were they called oncologists then?) began to use a single drug that delayed the progress of Acute Lymphoblasic Leukemia. About 10 percent were cured. Today, using more sophisticated treatments, the figure is 80 to 85 percent. Yet that still leaves 15 to 20 percent who die. Current chemo treatment is rough and sometimes toxic and can take several years. Now, researchers at the AFCH, like Dr. DeSantes and Dr. Paul Sondel, are attacking leukemia with immunotherapy, which uses the body’s own T-Cells to kill cancer cells. They are using truly incredible, sci-fi techniques like inserting specialized DNA into cells that will enable T-Cells to overcome the cancer cells’ defenses. They can create an army of T-Cells that can kill leukemia cells. This “CAR Therapy” has now been approved to treat not just relapsed cancers, but newly diagnosed cases.

Another cancer, Neuroblastoma, has a bad prognosis. But a new technique that combines a genetically redesigned antibody with the body’s natural killer cells has shown a 20 percent better result than standard treatments. This MIBG therapy, which allows radiation to be taken up only by cancer cells, is still not curative, but work is being done by Dr. Sondel to improve the effectiveness of the treatment: a combination of immuno- and radiation therapy. Clinical trials are going on here.

Other cancers are being attacked using Haploid, half-matched stem-cell transplants. Techniques allow removing T-Cells that attack the transplants, leaving only the T-Cells that attack the cancer. In one recent Neuroblastoma case, a boy aged 6 was treated successfully, only to have the cancer return at age 11. Relapsed cancer cases are bad. But using the Haploid treatment, this boy has been in complete remission for two years.

In answer to a question, Dr. DeSantes noted that a very important amount of their funding for research came from relatively small gifts. And one questioner violated Club policy by making a statement: the staff members at Ronald McDonald House consider Dr. DeSantes and Dr. Sondel to be heroes. True enough.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video 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.

Celebrating Love on Valentine’s Day at Rotary

–submitted by Andrea Kaminski

1718_Tommy Ensemble Holiday Video Shoot_02

For Valentine’s Day, Rotarians and guests were treated to a lively performance of love songs from Broadway musicals by five very talented teen performers in the Southern WI Tommy Ensemble. Students from St. Ambrose Academy, Verona Area High School, Edgewood High School and Mt. Horeb High School sang solos and duets from musicals as diverse as Phantom of the Opera, Carousel, Dear Evan Hansen, Motown the Musical, and Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812.

The Southern WI Tommy Ensemble was created nine years ago, when its first members performed in 23 area high school musicals. This year the group has 92 productions on its schedule, with performances at the Overture Center, the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in Milwaukee, The Grand Theater in Wausau and Wisconsin Public Television.

Students have to audition and be accepted into the company. The full ensemble has 21 students.

One high school senior who has been in the group for three years told Rotarians that he is auditioning for admission to post-secondary musical acting schools. Certainly his three years with the Tommy Ensemble will help!

At the end of the performance, after the standing ovation, a Rotarian in the audience asked for an encore. Clearly the performers did not have a plan for that, but they got up and sang a beautiful a capella version of our national anthem, which they have performed at sporting events.

Our thanks to members of the Southern WI Tommy Ensemble for their musical presentation this week!

IMG_5623 rotary 12

 

In the “Growth Zone” to End Domestic Abuse

–submitted by Kay Schwichtenberg; photo by Mary Ellen O’Brien

IMG_5168 speaker 2Stephanie Ortiz, a Prevention and Public Awareness Coordinator at End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin has a unique perspective on the dynamics of power that present themselves in both our work spaces and personal lives.   Her work with rape prevention and programming for Native youth informs her intimate view of these power dynamics.

She opened her dialogue with the hope that the topic makes us all a bit uncomfortable.  In her view, the ‘groan zone’ will yield a ‘growth zone’.

The topic of power and its misuse has saturated our reading, news viewing and discussions over the past many months.

The video from Time magazine’s person of the year laid out the raw nature of self-blame, manipulation and shame felt by those impacted by abuse.  Ortiz emphasized the need for ‘turning these moments into movements’.

Ortiz laid out two areas where power dynamics can be understood and changed.

In our home lives, she said that consent is about shared and equal power.  To facilitate that discussion at home, Ortiz encouraged open dialogue on the nuances of consent, the need for all of us to speak up, and teach people how to treat us.

Work life is the second prominent place that needs a cultural change.  Ortiz suggests the following actions that can positively influence that shift.

  1. Clear policies for gender based violence
  2. Ensure that Human Resources has a level of autonomy to address the issues
  3. Provide a complete list of resources available in your community
  4. Create a culture of accountability

Individuals in the workplace should be encouraged to share knowledge and information, watch documentaries and read books with groups.

Ortiz presented a passionate discussion about the need for engaging all of us to address changing any unhealthy power dynamics that may occur in our personal and work lives.

For each of us these issues are personal and framed by our individual experiences.  What matters now is that this is the perfect time for having these conversations.

Resources to Share: www.endabusewi.org; www.ncall.us; www.riselawcenter.org

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here.

Brexit–What Next?

–submitted bu Linn Roth; photo by Margaret Murphy

Copelovitch 1 31 2018

From left: Ron Luskin, Mark Copelovitch and Club President Donna Hurd

At Wednesday’s meeting, Professor Mark Copelovitch gave a highly informative presentation on the history and status of the UK’s planned exit (Brexit) from the European Union (EU) and its potential impact on trans-Atlantic relations.  Historically, the UK has had a tortuous relationship with continental Europe, but, after World War II, Churchill became the greatest champion of European unification.  Despite ongoing domestic ambivalence, the UK finally applied for EU membership, and was accepted in 1973, although the UK chose to maintain its own monetary system.   Subsequently, the EU continued its membership and economic growth for approximately 40 years.

However, the decade from 2007 – 2017 changed all that.  The global recession spawned the growth of isolationism, nativism, and right-wing political factions in much of the world, including the UK and the US.  Relationships with NATO and on-going trade partnerships have been challenged by President Trump, and some of the same economic, regional, and political schisms occurring in the US are taking place in the UK and other European nations.  In a political miscalculation originally intended to shore up his base and undercut competing factions, Prime Minister David Cameron called for a public referendum on whether the UK should stay in or withdraw from the UK.  On June 23, 2016, 72% of UK citizens voted in the referendum, and while the margin for exodus was small (52% to 48%), the consequences of the UK’s withdrawal could be monumental.

For example, the UK was strongly split on Brexit, with Scotland and Northern Ireland voting to stay and with London supporting the EU by an 80%/20% margin.  So potentially, these two countries could try to leave the UK, and many major financial institutions in London are looking to relocate in Europe.  Other European countries, such as Spain, are suffering similar crises, and there is a growing movement within the EU to establish trade and defense relationships apart from the US.  As Professor Copelovitch emphasized, the history of isolationism and protectionism is not a sound or peaceful one, so the US must be wary of exiting its leadership position on the world’s stage.  Since there is no actual legal requirement for the UK to exit the EU in March 2019, there is still the potential for a reversal.  Nevertheless, Brexit seems to serve as a warning signal for all nations to recognize that globalization is here to stay and can only be reversed at our own peril.

 

Admissions and Recruitment at UW-Madison—How Does It Really Work?

–submitted by Carol Toussaint; photo by Valerie Renk

DSC00741As Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Recruitment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Andre Phillips has a key role in determining who will or will not become a student.  He described both the opportunities and obstacles to his Rotary audience Wednesday emphasizing that he works with a team in the Division of Enrollment Management in the Office of the Provost.  Several from this team were guests at the program.  Phillips came to Madison in 2011 after extensive experience in similar positions at the University of Chicago.

Phillips emphasized that he works with a “Wisconsin First” policy as directed by the Board of Regents of the UW System.  “Everything starts with Wisconsin” is the way to think about the job.  Phillips said that it is a big job which starts by being in touch with high schools in the state.  Assuring the audience that the team reads everything submitted with the application, he went through some of the requirements.  Acknowledging that high schools offer a variety of opportunities, he noted that they look to see what a student has done with what was offered.  The importance of organizing thoughts in response to questions asked on the application reinforced the value of writing with clarity.

“We want to know why the applicant wants the UW-Madison but we also need to learn why some of our top students aren’t applying here” was the opening for presenting information for what Phillips referred to as “Wisconsin Prime”.  Saying “we need to recruit more of our own” he described work that is being done starting with high school sophomores through visits to individual schools and bringing these students to the UW.   Outreach is also focused on first generation multi-cultural students.

Rotarians raised questions as to issues of affordability.  Phillips said he was not free to discuss some new plans we’d hear about fairly soon.  In fact, we were sworn to secrecy but without learning any details!

As the program concluded a number of Rotarians were heard commenting on whether or not they would be accepted under the high standards and competition of today.  Andre Phillips would probably respond that each of us should know that a lot is expected but each applicant is fairly judged.

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