Category Archives: Weekly Rotary Guest Speaker

Saving and Improving Lives: One Drop at a Time

submitted by Linda Baldwin; photo by Pete Christianson

Ben Merens 7 25 2018

From left: Program Committee Chair Sara DeTienne; Ben Merens & Marcia Whittington

This week’s Rotary presentation by Ben Merens, a “storyteller” for the Blood Center of WI Blood Research Center, was one where I left having learned amazing information about a subject of which I knew nothing.

Merens did indeed tell stories…

The young man at Verizon who had had a double lung transplant, survived, married his nurse and had a family.  Ricky owes his life to doctors like those at the BRI because blood research found a way to get the body to accept transplants.

Chaos, Merens describes, is what the blood system looks like and scientists determine what patterns do exist, how they are supposed to work and then find out how to fix things when they don’t.

BRI scientists patented a test to determine whether the regularly used blood thinners would work for a specific patient and if not, doctors could substitute a more effective blood thinner.

We watched with Merens as he described a heart being harvested and then rushed down the hall to transplant into a waiting patient.  The heart was successfully inserted…then the action stopped, and they waited. The heart, still in the open chest, began to beat.

Merens described a WI Donor event when a mother spoke about the joy and sadness when she realized her son is living because another person’s child has died.  Then she said, he’s an active two year old being held by the mother of the donor who heard her child’s heart beat in the chest of my son.

We think about research being a scientific activity with words and practices that most of us don’t understand.  Merens brought the results of research into our hearts and minds at Rotary today.  And we do understand.

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

Battle for Economic Growth in Wisconsin

submitted by Carol Toussaint; photo by Pete Christianson

Kevin Conroy 7 11 2018AWhat will it take for Wisconsin to win the battle for economic growth fueled by entrepreneurship?  Rotarians and their many guests left the Wednesday lunch with some specific ideas presented by Kevin Conroy, Chairman and CEO of Exact Science.

According to Conroy, Wisconsin is not inspiring start-ups. Our demographics are currently against inspiring start-ups and our demographics are holding us back.  Our workforce is rapidly aging and shrinking.  Median family income is flat.  We are near the bottom in terms of net migration of college workers and we’re not building a promising young workforce.  We need exciting companies to keep and draw exciting companies.

According to studies conducted by the Kaufman Foundation, Wisconsin is ranked last in the U.S. for start-up activity and Conroy stressed that start-ups create most new net jobs and are the key to success in the battle for economic growth.  Venture Capital needs to be more readily available in Wisconsin if there is to be a change in status among the states.  Currently three states–California, New York and Massachusetts–manage 83% of the nation’s venture.

What Conroy termed a “silver lining” is that experience from the last 3 years has been better for investment in new companies.  Angel investors are providing significant help but there is a “funding gap” after angels.  Without growth in next stage funding Wisconsin will continue to lag behind other states.  Models to look at include a private sponsored venture capital model in Michigan and a Public-Private Partnership.

In speaking of the Company he heads, Conroy shared that Exact Science relentlessly pursued a solution to the big problem of colon cancer, partnered with the Mayo Clinic, focused on great science, raised nearly $2 billion, and had a direct lineage to the UW-Madison via Third Wave Technologies.

The company is expanding to a new campus which includes lab, manufacturing, and customer care services in the former Rayovac building and is expanding into new headquarters in University Research Park.  To make the point that “start-ups matter”, Conroy summarized that the impact on Wisconsin from the start-up he heads provides $2 billion in capital and $29 million in taxes.

Listening to Latino Stories in Wisconsin

–submitted by Linn Roth; photo by Mike Engelberger

Armando Ibarra 12 6 2017

Professor Ibarra (center) pictured here with his wife, Veronica and Rotarian Pete Christianson

In his presentation “Listening to Their Stories: How Latinos Survive and Thrive in Rural and Urban Wisconsin,” Professor Armando Ibarra of UW Extension summarized data from his recent studies to illustrate how the state’s demographics have significantly changed over the last three decades and how they will continue to change in the future.  For example, Latinos are much more widely dispersed throughout Wisconsin today, and locally. Latinos now constitute 6.6% of Madison’s population and 20% of Fitchburg’s populace.

Over the last 25 years, Dane County’s Latino population has exploded from 5,000 to about 32,000, although that number is probably a substantial undercount due to the immigration status of many people.  More importantly, this growth will continue to occur, regardless of changes to immigration law or border control.

Yet, even with a strong work and family ethic, the Latino community has not enjoyed full integration into our economic, social and political culture.  However, given that the Latino community is now an integral part of the Wisconsin economy, e.g. 80% of our dairy products are handled by Latinos, that cultural integration will inexorably move forward.  As Professor Ibarra stressed, Latinos are essential to the economic and cultural prosperity of the US, and we should welcome all individuals, regardless of race or nationality, to contribute to and participate in the promise of our democracy.

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

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.

Will Madison Win the Nation’s F-35 Competition?

–submitted by Dave Mollenhoff; photo by John Bonsett-Veal

Col Erik Peterson 8 2 2017

Col. Erik Peterson with Club President Donna Hurd

Will Madison be selected as one of two Air National Guard bases where the nation’s newest and most expensive fighter jet, the F-35, will be stationed?  That was the question that Colonel Erik Peterson, the Commander of the 115th  Fighter Wing at Truax Field, addressed in his talk to Rotarians.  Already Madison made the first cut from 18 Air Guard bases to today’s five.

Peterson argued that Madison meets and exceeds all Air Force criteria for this major strategic decision.  We have the capacity to handle F-35s with today’s F-16 hangers and support facilities.  We have cost advantages over other sites because just four minutes away—at F-36 speeds!—are 30,000 square miles of practice air space and a target range.  Four minutes may not seem important, but for an aircraft that costs $40,000 an hour to fly, having everything nearby will be a strong cost argument for locating the squadron here. Another cost advantage is that we already own the necessary hangers and support facilities.  We will not adversely affect air quality and the F-35’s will be no noisier than today’s F-16s.  Finally, Madison has always given the 115th Fighter Wing strong community support.  That’s a strong resume, said Peterson.

Zach Brandon, the President of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and a project supporter who attended the meeting, reminded everyone that Madison has been an Air Force town since Truax was founded during World War II.  Remember, Brandon continued, when 9-11 happened, it was F-16s from Truax that scrambled to protect O’Hare Airport.  This is the proud job of the National Guard.

Peterson said that if the F-35 wing is stationed at Truax, its economic impact based on payrolls and purchased services will be $100 million per year.  Another benefit that few realize is that the Air Force pays for the fire-rescue program at Dane County Regional Airport.

“Make It Big and Make It Loud”

–submitted by Linda Baldwin-O’Hern; photo by John Bonsett-Veal

IMG_8303

From left: Andrew Sewell, Club President Donna Hurd and Mark Cantrell

Andrew Sewell, Artistic Director of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, recalls this advice when he came to Madison 17 years ago.  Sewell discovered that the audience at the Concerts on the Square were huge, unique and a tough crowd.  More than 40,000 weekly concert goers are there to enjoy a picnic, their friends, the beautiful setting AND the music.   Music selections are carefully chosen to entertain this diverse and loyal crowd.  And week after week, audiences flock to the Capital grounds to take in the wonderful performances of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

As Mark Cantrell, Executive Director of the WCO, points out, these concerts are free to the public but not free to present.  Each event costs $180,000 and Mark thanked the donors and patrons who support WCO for enabling these amazing community events.  Cantrell reminds us that we are lucky to live in a community where great art takes place.  Madison produces concerts and arts events at way above its size.  And Concerts on the Square and events at Overture and the many other venues around the city build community by bringing people together to enjoy, be uplifted and learn.

The Concert this week is a special one celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Capitol building…and of course, audiences will enjoy Tchaikovsky’s  rousing 1812 Overture…cannons and all.  Sewell recalls an early concert when he cued the cannons and ….nothing !!!  Trying it again, Sewell got his cannons and the show went on.

Cantrell and Sewell celebrated the Madison arts community, citing their own collaborations with other organizations and the arts community in general for doing a terrific job in bringing high quality performances to the community.

So this 4th of July celebration continues the centuries’ old tradition of bringing classical music to holidays and community celebrations.

As Gerald Bartell often said, “The Arts are for Everyone…Support and enjoy.”

The U.S. Supreme Court and Its History

Submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Valerie Johnson

Ryan Owens 4 26 2017Professor Ryan Owens, a member of the UW Department of Political Science and an Affiliate Faculty of the Law School (and who is developing the Tommy Thompson Center on Public Leadership) spoke to the Club about “The Past, Present, and Future of the U.S. Supreme Court.” He began with an interesting “Thought Experiment.” With the addition of Neil Gorsuch to the Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy continues to be the middle or the median justice, often called the swing vote. But what happens if he retires, and if President Trump appoints a solid conservative such as Paul Clement, who is perhaps more conservative than Samuel Alito? In that case, the new median justice becomes Chief Justice John Roberts, who would then become the most powerful [influential?] Chief Justice since John Marshall. [Though he would be a very distant second.] If Ruth Bader Ginsburg were then to retire, Justice Alito would become the median justice. On the other hand, if Hillary Clinton had been elected, Justice Stephen Breyer might be the swing vote, etc. Very easily, a 6-3 conservative court under Trump might have been a 6-3 liberal court under Clinton. The presidential election of 2016 was, then, a very consequential election.

Professor Owens then wondered whether this was not a time for reforms to the Court. Two that he suggested were age limits on the justices, and perhaps requiring them to “ride the circuit,” as was once the case. The U.S. is the only common-law country without some limits on judicial tenure.

An age limit would remove the incentive for judges to retire “strategically,” so as to assure a like-minded jurist were appointed. It would also reduce the likelihood of justices serving while suffering from dementia. Attending circuit courts would let the justices see the consequences of their decisions and let the people see them in action close-up. It might also encourage the justices to retire earlier. [But would it also discourage people from taking an appointment?]

In answer to a question, Professor Owens said that he and a colleague were doing research on the age issue by studying oral arguments over the years to see if there is any evidence of dementia in sitting justices. He also questioned whether the Senate’s refusal to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination would not lead to further retaliation beyond the recent filibuster. He expects the Trinity Lutheran case, probably Justice Gorsuch’s first major opinion, to be an important decision.

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