Category Archives: UW-Madison

“Tiny Earth” – The Need for Antibiotic Research

–submitted by Jessika Kasten

Jo HandelsmanThis week, UW-Madison Professor Jo Handelsman talked virtually with the Downtown Rotary about a project she began while working at Yale University in 2012 called Tiny Earth. This important project was developed to increase the number of students pursuing STEM degrees as well as address the growing antibiotic crisis. Researchers estimate that unless we do something soon, by 2050 the leading cause of death will be related to bacteria-related illness.

Over time, humans have become resistant to many antibiotics that treat bacterial infections such as pneumonia, ear infections, strep throat and the like. At the same time, there have been far fewer new antibiotics put on the market. Antibiotics are simply not as lucrative to pharma companies, and many pharma companies felt as though the vast majority of known antibiotics (99%) had already been identified through the soil. They were generally not willing to put in the time and resources needed to find the new 1%.

Tiny Earth began with just 6 students at Yale but has now grown to participation by more than 10,000 students per year. All of the students are working towards the same goal of making antibiotic discovery cheaper and more efficient for pharmaceutical companies. Specifically, they are developing new screening methods and new targets to find that 1% of antibiotics that are either new or different than previously discovered. They will then share those with pharma companies, thereby reducing the cost. This form of crowdsourcing most recently has discovered three new chemical structures that are currently underway. The COVID pandemic forced the research to stop earlier this year, but students are looking forward to getting back into the labs soon to continue their research.

Tiny Earth is harnessing the power of crowdsourcing, a student workforce and the need for antibiotic research, in the hopes they can make a significant impact on bacterial resistance in the future.

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

Status of Affordable Housing in the Madison Region

submitted by Stan Inhorn; photo by Mary Ellen O’Brien

Kurt Paulsen 1 15 2020Kurt Paulsen, UW Associate Professor of Urban Planning, reviewed the issues regarding the workforce housing shortage in Dane County and its impact on the economy. Currently, Dane County’s population is increasing 1.3% a year, with job creation at 1.7%, and new housing units at 1.1%, so housing is not keeping up with population demand. In addition, rents are rising faster than income, so many are excluded from living in Madison. Presently, more than 100,000 workers live outside Dane County, which means that they have long commutes.

Affordability is another major issue. Affordability examines price to income ratio, which should be below 3. So for a $150,000 home, the household income should be over $50,000. In Dane County, affordability is a challenge since few new homes are in the middle income range. Rents are just barely affordable for middle-income workers. The large, new apartment buildings downtown were designed for the influx of high-salaried employees at companies such as EPIC. Too few new apartments have been built for lower-salary workers who can’t afford to live near where they work.

If builders were encouraged by federal or state programs to build affordable housing, it would reduce the burden, but it would take about 30 years to complete. Furthermore, it would not address the issue of African American ownership. Wisconsin has the 6th worst record in the United States for ownership by African Americans which is also reflected in the county and city.

To address the problem in Dane County, it is estimated that 53,000 to 59,000 new housing units should be built in the next 20 years. So greater Madison will either grow up or grow out. There will be more density in the central area and more neighborhoods in the suburbs. Smaller homes will help to keep down the costs of building, and mass transportation will relieve the congestion on the highways.

Did you miss our meeting this week?  You can watch the video here.

The Rise and Decline of US Global Power

–submitted by Linn Roth; photo by John Bonsett-Veal

Alfred McCoy 4 24 2019

In an insightful and concerning presentation, UW history professor Alfred McCoy outlined some of the history and future direction of the world’s geopolitics and presented a somber view of the future of US global influence.  Since the early 1900’s, the US has steadily built up its international preeminence and paid special attention to the “Eurasian” axis, which consists of Asia and Europe, and more recently, Africa.  Due to actions begun in the late seventies and guided by Zbigniew Brzenski, National Security Advisor during the Carter Administration, the US made Eurasia the central area of concentration in order to establish and maintain its global primacy.  President Obama furthered that effort, but in the last two years, the Trump administration has reversed course on three main pillars of US primacy:  NATO, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, and relations with Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Philippines.  This entire problem might be further exacerbated by a trade war with China.

Additional signs suggest this concern is well founded.  By 2030, projections indicate India and China will grow their Gross Domestic Products considerably more than the US, and China will become the world’s largest economy.   Moreover, China now files more patents than the US, has built the world’s fastest supercomputer, and does substantially better in its science and math education programs.  As most of us can observe at UW, the majority of technical PhD candidates are foreign born, and therefore likely to return to their home countries with their acquired knowledge.

Furthermore, China has become extremely proactive in attempting to widen its influence throughout Eurasia in a variety of ways.  This effort might be epitomized by their ongoing $1.3 trillion Belt and Road program, which cuts right through the heart of Eurasia.  In addition, they have become aggressive in taking over ports in Italy, Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and in the conversion of sand islands to military bases in the South China Sea.  Given these developments, as well as concerns regarding current US foreign policy, Professor McCoy projects that US hegemony will substantially decline by 2030.  The eclipse of US influence should give us all pause for thought, and for those interested in learning more about this critical issue, please see Professor McCoy’s recent book, In the Shadow of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power.

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

 

 

   

An Analysis of the 2018 Mid-Term Election

submitted by Andrea Kaminski

_SHR0908UW-Madison Political Science Professor Barry Burden, on February 6, gave Rotarians an overview of the November 2018 election in Wisconsin, along with an analysis of how and why voting patterns differed from past midterm elections.

The 2018 election had the highest national voter turnout rate for a mid-term election since women won the right to vote in 1920. Wisconsin’s participation in the midterm was higher than most other states’ turnout in presidential elections. Both major political parties had turnouts above 60 percent in our state, and the overall participation was 25 percent higher than would normally be expected for a midterm.

Burden attributed the high turnout to the fact that it was an “interesting election” driven by the gubernatorial race. He recalled that his students were watching the Walker-Evers race much more closely than more nationally hyped elections, such as Beto O’Rourke’s Senate bid in Texas.

The 2018 Wisconsin election ended the longest stretch of one-party control in the state since the 1950s. Burden noted that former Governor Walker has always been highly organized and disciplined as a candidate, and he is a master at fund raising. However, Burden described a shift in Wisconsin politics away from the formula that worked so well for Walker in the past toward a formula that worked well for Donald Trump in 2016. Walker was first elected Governor in the Tea Party Wave of 2010, which was a good year for Republicans. In contrast, it was clear early on that 2018 would be a difficult year for Republicans.

Democratic voters were better mobilized in 2018, and they voted in big numbers, particularly in Dane and Milwaukee counties. Although Walker won 65 to 70 percent of the vote in the Republican strongholds of Waukesha and Washington counties, neither the turnout nor the Republican edge was as strong there as in the past.

Burden does not believe Wisconsin saw a “Blue Wave” in 2018. First, the results were not particularly surprising. The President’s party always suffers losses in mid-term elections. Second, the effects of gerrymandering have proven to be quite durable.

Burden explained that until recent years, collecting more votes generally translates into winning more seats in Congress and state legislatures. According to that rule of thumb, the Democrats should have picked up 30 more seats in the House of Representatives than they actually did.

Democratic voters tend to live in densely populated cities. Burden said this presents a districting problem for Democrats even in “blue states.” The other problem for Democrats in Wisconsin and some other states is that the current voting maps were drawn by the Republicans who prevailed in the “Red Wave” of 2010.

Next year will be another exciting election year. With the Census taking place next year, the state legislators elected in November 2020 will get to draw the next set of voting maps in 2021. And, according to Burden, Wisconsin is the most competitive state in the nation and we can expect the presidential candidates to spend a lot of time and money here in 2020.

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

Financial Literacy for Today’s College Bound Students

submitted by Kay Schwichtenberg; photo by Pete Christianson

Derek Kindle 10 31 2018

From left: Nasra Wehelie, Nick Curran, Derek Kindle and Virginia Bartelt

Rotarians celebrated Halloween on Wednesday with a topic that frightens even hardened fans of horror movies — college tuition.

Derek Kindle from the office of Student Financial Aid at the University of Wisconsin-Madison administers more than $450M in federal, state, institutional and private aid annually.  While the topic is often front and center in the press and on the minds of many parents, grandparents and college students, the reality can be far more complex than just headlines.

College costs are rising while state support for higher education is on a steep decline.  Tuition and fees in the state of Wisconsin are slightly below average in the US and compared to neighboring states.  And while official data sources consistently report that those with a degree earn more on average than those without one, the question remains: How can students and families take advantage of the benefits education offers, but still manage the costs within their means.

Annual family income for 39% of the 2018 undergraduates is less than $80,000 with half of that number falling under $39,000.  While 53% of UW undergraduates graduate without debt, the remaining students have an average student loan burden at graduation of $27,138.  So, what are the steps to mitigate the burden of education costs?

Kindle says loud and clear that FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the best place to start.  The 2020 FAFSA applications are now available. The University spends considerable resources on communicating with counselors and high schools, youth organizations and directly with students across the state.  As part of that communication blitz, student aid advisors are also touting university aid programs.

New this year, “Bucky’s Tuition Promise” covers tuition and fees for Wisconsin students with family adjusted gross income below the state’s median income of $56,000.

The “Badger Ready Program” is for returning adults and veterans with 24 credits and a 2-year minimum break in attendance from an accredited institution.

How does UW look at the success with these programs?  Kindle shared two indicators: The freshmen retention rate is 95.3% and the average time to earn a degree has been lowered significantly over the last few years to 4.03 years.

Links to all the programs that were mentioned today are listed below.

Badger Promise                                    https://financialaid.wisc.edu/types-of-aid/ftb/

Bucky’s Tuition Promise                         https://financialaid.wisc.edu/btp

Chancellor’s &Powers-Knapp Scholars    https://cspks.wisc.edu/

PEOPLE Program                                 https://peopleprogram.wisc.edu/

“…Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water”

submitted by Jocelyn Riley

Potter_Ken_

This week’s Rotary meeting opened with the singing of Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, a suitable lead-in to UW-Madison Professor Emeritus Ken Potter’s presentation, “Responding to Increasing Yahara Lakes Flood Risk.”

Professor Potter pointed out that this past summer was the “wettest summer since I came here over forty years ago.”

He said that what he called “extreme rainfall” is only one aspect of alleviating flooding risks in Dane County.  Urbanization is even a more important factor, he said, pointing out that in 2017 there was twice as much development in the Yahara Lakes watershed as there was in 1970.  “But most of the Yahara Lakes watershed is not yet developed,” he said, and made the case that we need to oversee more thoughtful development that will improve water movement in the area.  “We are not going to stop urbanization,” he said, “but we need to find ways to plan development more strategically.”

There are some state regulations and laws in place currently that are helpful, but Dr. Potter also pointed out that some state laws recently passed undermine efforts to control flooding.

In answer to a question of what we as individuals can do to help with flood control, Dr. Potter made some specific suggestions, including constructing rain gardens and moving downspouts to send water onto grass or a garden area and not onto a driveway.  The goal should be to “keep as much water as you can on your property.”

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