Category Archives: UW-Madison

Korean Culture Night for Rotarians & Guests

submitted by Sharyn Alden; photos by Donna Beestman

Korean Night Photo 4  Korean Night Photo 5

On March 22nd, Rotarians convened at the beautifully appointed Gathering Room at Nolen Shore Condos for “Korean Night,” a Cultural Awareness Fellowship event. Cocktails were served, complements of our hosts, Soyeon Shim, Dean of UW School of Human Ecology, and Christopher Choi, UW Professor, Biological Systems Engineering.

We were treated to a bountiful buffet of Korean dishes catered by Sol’s on the Square. The challenge was not to overload each plate as the choices were intriguing and many. When Soyeon gave us a preview of the menu, she noted table-top cooking is common in Korea. I heard diners rave about the sweet potato noodles, a seafood, pancake-like presentation with soy sauce, bean sprouts and spinach steamed with sesame oil, and a wonderful surprise –potato salad with cucumbers.

Not surprising, but equally inviting, was the dish that most of us knew at least by name –kimchi a traditional, somewhat spicy Korean dish of fermented vegetables, often including cabbage and daikon radish.

At the end of the meal, another surprise:  a plate full of delicious cream puffs, made by our event organizer, Majid Sarmadi, was the perfect touch!

The after dinner program was a thoughtful, insightful “storyboard” culled from about 80 slides highlighting Korean culture. It was presented by our hosts who met in the U.S., but each was born and raised in Korea.

We learned that South Korea, about 30 minutes by air from Japan, is surrounded by “big power.” Soyeon’s mother lives within about 20 miles from North Korea, but the hosts said people in South Korea, for the most part, go about their daily lives without constantly looking over their shoulder.

The country which is about the size of Indiana has the 11th largest economy in the world. “We don’t have any natural resources,” Soyeon said. “Our resources are human resources.”

She illustrated that by noting that 80 percent of high school grads go on to college. “The country is obsessed with education,” she said. But that level of stress comes with a price. Of the 35 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), South Korea is No. 1 in suicides.

For those thinking of visiting South Korea, photos of the country’s beautiful landscape were stunning, magical and alluring.  First-time visitors might also see people bowing to each other. “This is one way we show respect for each other; in business and in personal relationships,” said Soyeon.

So much to learn in an evening, but it was a great start to discovering the intricacies of Korean culture.

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.

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.

Ten-Year Journey of the Wisconsin Union

–submitted by Andrea Kaminski; photo by Pete Christianson

Mark Guthier 10 18 2017

Rotarian Eric Salisbury with Mark Guthier (center) and Rotarian Mary Ellen O’Brien

Mark Guthier, Director of the Wisconsin Union at UW-Madison, filled Rotarians in on the 10-year journey of reflection and growth that has resulted in restored, renovated and enhanced facilities for Memorial Union and Union South. He emphasized that the project was “our journey” because there were so many people, including students and many Rotarians, involved in its completion.

The Master Plan for the project was completed in 2004 and announced at the Memorial Union’s 75th Anniversary. Two years later a student referendum approved a student fee of $96 per student per semester in support of the project, and a capital campaign was launched in 2007. Operating revenues will cover the remainder of the $220 million budget.

In 2012 the Wisconsin Union Theater, Hoofers and Craft Shop facilities were closed. The “saddest period in the Union’s history” was when the Terrace was closed for several months, Guthier said. But now all of these facilities – and more – are open and operating and serving the University community. The crowning event was the recent opening of Alumni Park.

There were three goals for the project: infrastructure improvements to update deteriorating or obsolete facilities and meet new student expectations; increased space for student programming, meeting rooms, food service and production storage; and mission enhancements to serve the entire campus better and re-energize the Union’s status as a membership organization.

The project had a new Design Committee appointed annually, including nine students, two alumni, two faculty and two staff members. The Committee was always led by a student and Guthier himself had just one vote. In addition there were multiple advisory groups to ensure that the new facilities would meet the needs of the community.

The Committee abided by design principles that ensured the buildings will be “people magnets,” will advance student programming, and will be timeless and enduring. They strived for green construction and sustainability. Their goal was to achieve LEED Silver status for both buildings, and the prospects look good. Union South has received LEED Gold status, and they are still awaiting the rating for Memorial Union. In addition, the project aimed at making the buildings complementary of each other and welcoming of all University community members. Finally, they wanted the buildings to tell the story of the Union, student leadership on campus, and the state of Wisconsin.

Goals for ongoing operations are to “make every day an event,” operate according to sustainable principles and build community for the entire campus. The Unions must have a customer-first perspective because they rely on program revenue for their existence.

Guthier closed his presentation with a slide show of the renovated facilities and the many celebrations that marked the Union’s 10-year journey. He invited Rotarians to attend two upcoming events: a November 10 celebration of the Memorial Union being on the National Register of Historic Places and the November 11 re-dedication of the Gold Star Honor Roll.

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

Gill v Whitford

–submitted by Kevin Hoffman; photo by Mike Engelberger

David Canon 9 27 2017

From left: Sarah Canon, Club President Donna Hurd & Guest Speaker Prof. David Canon

UW Professor David Canon presented a historical context and current review of Gill v. Whitford, the Wisconsin case before the US Supreme Court that challenges the most recent redistricting completed in 2011.  The issue is whether the plan used excessive partisan gerrymandering to create an unconstitutional redistricting that discriminated in favor of one political party over another.  Oral arguments are scheduled this Tuesday, October 3.

Professor Canon explained that redistricting happens every ten years following the census to adjust districts for changes in population.  Generally, districts must be of equal population, must conform to voting rights acts (cannot violate racial or ethnic considerations), be compact and contiguous, and respect traditional and natural boundaries.  However, the practice of achieving partisan districts, called gerrymandering (drawing boundaries to enhance political advantage), has been part of our nation’s history for over 200 years.  The party in power wants to maintain an advantage whether it is Democrat or Republican.

Methods used to do this are called “cracking” and “packing”.  Cracking is the practice of drawing the district boundaries to reduce a given party’s voters so that they are too small to have an impact on the election outcome.  The sweet spot for cracking is to obtain a 55-60% election advantage.  Higher than that becomes overkill.  Packing is the practice of drawing the boundaries so that a given party’s voters are concentrated into a few districts.  The objective of these methods is to maximize the number of legislative seats for a given party.

The issue of partisan gerrymandering has come before the US Supreme Court in prior cases but the court has been reluctant to rule it unconstitutional since an objective and neutral measure of partisan balance has not been available.  Gill v Whitford uses an Efficiency Gap calculation to attempt to quantify the competitiveness of a given district.  The gap is the difference in the two party’s losing votes divided by the total votes.  Gaps closest to zero indicate a competitive district.  Anything over 7% is considered uncompetitive.  Wisconsin’s was in the 10-13% range.

The Federal District court has ruled the Wisconsin redistricting unconstitutional but did not force redistricting pending review by the Supreme Court.  The US Supreme Court is expected to come down along ideological lines with Justice Kennedy the swing vote.

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

Science is Fun Returns to Rotary

–submitted by Ben Hebebrand; photo by Donna Beestman

Bassam3While the denial of climate change has prompted outcries of “Science Is Real,” Madisonians have for the past 48 years primarily embraced the idea that “Science is Fun.” This is a credit due to the work of Dr. Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, who presented at the Rotary Club of Madison’s August 9 meeting which also signifies the Club’s Family Day.

The presentation, which was attended by 85 guests, the vast majority of whom were children or grandchildren of Rotarians, indeed elicited many fun moments around science experiments mixed with some deep educational and social messages.

On the more serious side, Dr. Shakhashiri reminded the audience that the Number One priority of the work of science and scientific experimentation is about sustaining “Earth and its people.” Specifically, Dr. Shakhashiri cited issues such as population growth, availability of finite resources such as water, climate change, malnutrition, the spreading of disease, war, and deadly violence as the kind of issues that scientists embrace and actively work on bringing about solutions. Above all, Dr. Shakhashiri said, the pursuit and knowledge of science is an essential human right. “Everybody has the right to benefit from scientific and technological progress.” In addition to religion, Dr. Shakhashiri counts science as the “strongest force in society.”

Dr. Shakhashiri, who began his career at UW-Madison in 1970, has always made community outreach an integral part of his work. The “Science is Fun” campaign is a commitment to elicit awe, wonder, and curiosity in science among people of all ages with a particular affinity toward enlightening the youngest members of society – our children. Dr. Shakhashiri said that especially among children, science can elicit emotional responses.

This was the case at the Rotary meeting as Dr. Shakhashiri went about some of his delightfully wacky and magical science tricks, whereby liquids changed color by mixing potassium iodine with lead nitrates. He had the children in the audience in stitches as colors of the liquid frequently changed. He appealed to the audience to hone their observation skills.

Above all, Dr. Shakhashiri’s work is rooted in the notion that education is the great equalizer. “Science literacy enlightens and enables people to make informed choices, to be skeptical, and to reject shams, unproven conjecture, and to avoid being bamboozled into making foolish decisions where matters of science and technology are concerned.”

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

Prof. Jonathan Patz Describes Health Risks of Climate Change

–submitted by Jerry Thain; photo by Mike Engelberger

Jonathan Patz 7 12 2017On July 12, Professor Jonathan Patz, Director of the Global Health Institute at UW-Madison and a pioneer in researching global climate change and its consequences (he has been active in national and international programs in this area for more than two decades and received a Paul Harris fellow award at the RI annual meeting in Atlanta last month when he addressed a break-out session on the connection between extreme weather events and the explosion of the Zika virus)  described the health consequences of global climate change and his proposals for addressing these issues.

He began by noting that increasingly high temperatures world-wide have significant health consequences.  Climate disruption causes extreme heat waves, increased air pollution and increases in insect-borne and water borne diseases.  It adversely affects food supply and mental health.  Among many studies cited was one noting that US cities are likely to triple their annual number of 90 degree days by mid-century.  Yet, it is not just hotter temperatures that create havoc; the water cycle is altered and rain will fall in stronger fashion than before due to the increase in hot air.

Professor Patz said climate change should be approached as a health issue and noted its impact on energy and the food supply.  He stated that while moving to reduce carbon emissions has a cost, that can be out-weighed by benefits, citing a cost of $30 per ton of removed carbon dioxide emissions being off-set by a benefit of more than $200 in the reduction of air pollution – pollution which causes 7 million deaths a year now.  Moreover, the costs of wind and solar energy are dropping rapidly.  He also cited studies indicating that simply substituting bike rides for auto trips of 2 and 1/2 miles or less in the summer could save 1300  lives annually as well as 8 billion dollars.  As to employment concerns, he noted that far more people are already employed in energy work not related to fossil fuels than are employed by the oil and gas industries.

Although the United States has stated it will be the only major nation not to continue to adhere to the Paris climate accords, it cannot officially leave the agreement until Nov. 4, 2020, and a huge number of US cities and other jurisdictions are expressing adherence to its principles and lobbying to continue to abide by it.  The new RI president has said response to climate change should be a major cause for the organization.  There is a moral issue here because poorer countries are most gravely harmed by climate change when they have been the least responsible for it.  Historically, the United States has been most responsible for the emissions that are a major cause of climate change although China now surpasses us in pollution  (China, however, is taking major steps to increase its reliance on solar energy.)

Professor Patz concluded by noting that full implementation by every nation of the goals of the Paris accords would be insufficient to resolve the problems created by it.  Individual citizens and non-governmental organizations must move to substitute cleaner energy for fossil fuel reliance and develop a healthier society.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.  Our thanks to WisconsinEye for videotaping our meeting this week.