Tag 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.

Coach Kelly Sheffield Addresses Rotary

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

Kelly Sheffield 2 5 2020

Coach Sheffield pictured with today’s Rotarian Speaker Greeter Mary O’Brien

Kelly Sheffield, the coach of the UW Volleyball Team, did not speak at all about the game of volleyball. Rather, he presented his remarkable insights into human nature and the way to motivate gifted athletes to perform well despite the adversities of sport and life itself.

His talk began with a brief video of his team in action: it displayed intensity, beautifully graceful athleticism, and players having fun. The Coach then explained that his most important job was to create a culture of success. He seeks out players who are talented, but who are also willing to hear criticism and work hard to improve themselves. There are many possible excuses for failure. But fine athletes (and obviously this is not limited to athletics) will accept coaching advice and criticism and will do what is necessary to succeed. A motto he uses is: “Be a participant in your own rescue.”

IMG_0004

Annemarie Hickey (Technical Coordinator) and Grace Loberg (rising Senior on the Volleyball Team)

Coach Sheffield and his team did not win the NCAA Tournament this year. But he and the team subscribe to an insight offered by the late Kobe Bryant: In addition to being painful and disappointing, losing can also be “exciting.” It can inspire self-examination and a dedication to improvement. When he asked one of his players at this lunch if she had ever won an NCAA Tournament, her reply was telling: “No. Not Yet.” It seems likely that this player will win the NCAA Tournament. It also seems likely that she will win in the game of life. Kelly Sheffield is one of the greatest coaches in UW history.

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

Changing the Study of Native American History and Culture

submitted by Kevin Hoffman; photo by Margaret Murphy

Patty Loew 9 4 2019

Patty Loew, Ph.D. is a well-known Wisconsin broadcast and print journalist, producer, educator, writer and proud member of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Ojibwe.  After retiring as a professor from the University of Wisconsin, she accepted a position as the inaugural Director of the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.

When she accepted the position at Northwestern she wanted to change the paradigm that Native American studies had typically been carried out under; that is, in the framework and context of academic study and peer review, and then describing what eras and influences affected the life and culture of the Native American through history.

Dr. Loew’s concept was to build relationships and draw in related and disparate disciplines to bring a fresh perspective on contributions that Native American cultural knowledge brings to our understanding of the world.

In a convergence of science and cultural history the story was told of a fish warden that oversaw when spear fishing could be opened on certain lakes.  He approached his task from a strictly scientific benchmark methodology:  When the lake temperature hit 48 degrees it was time to open spearing season because spawning was about to begin.  A Native American friend of his had a different method handed down from his ancestors: “Frogs chirp before spearfishing in the spring”.  Over time he discovered the results were much better when he melded the two methodologies, but the real trigger was waiting until the frogs chirped!

Dr. Loew related that there are many other ecological heritage stories that have as much validity as western science methodologies.  She has created a minor in Native American & Indigenous Studies to build on the knowledge of historical, scientific and cultural contributions of Native American populations.  Learning in this context is expected to be experiential in nature by building relationships through tribal and Native American institutions.  She also hopes to raise the visibility of Native American culture and language as indigenous cultures become increasingly rare and dormant.

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

Stories About Pioneers Who Settled in Wisconsin

submitted by Kevin Hoffman; photo by Mike Engelberger

Michael Stevens 3 6 2019

From left: Club President Jason Beren, Michael Stevens and Rotarian Loretta Himmelsbach serving as our club’s speaker greeter this week

Instead of writing about Wisconsin history in the pioneer era (1830-1850) from the perspective of the famous or leaders of that time, Dr. Michael Stevens chose to document the practical and emotional side of everyday existence for ordinary people.  What did it feel like to those who lived in a new situation from the land to weather to language to food to culture?

While there were many things to be negative about such as Wisconsin weather extremes, an imbalance in the male to female ratio (8 men to 5 women), poor food and hardship on the journey, having to learn a new language (English), loss of cultural affiliation, unfamiliar surroundings, and loneliness; the overall impression was that the pioneer had a positive outlook and balanced the difficulties against the opportunities, diversity, freedom and future prosperity they envisioned.

The trade-offs from having to learn English, live in rough conditions and with rough people, and missing their home country are the freedom they enjoyed to map their future, work hard for income and wealth, and the natural beauty of Wisconsin.

One essay of the time expressed the following about the Wisconsin Character:  There is a freedom and independence of mind – people think for themselves; an awakening spirit of enterprise – people are open to new ways of doing things; people work hard – they invest their sweat equity; and a public spiritedness about Wisconsinites – people support roads, schools, churches and a friendly interest in the welfare of all.

Dr. Stevens drew insights into the attitudes, humor and outlook of the early pioneer and the similarities to today’s Wisconsin Character.  The essay writer above said of his time:  “The settler here finds, within the limits of his acquaintance, people from all the states and many foreign countries, and those too have been formerly been engaged with a variety of occupations different from his own, so he acquires a great variety of new ideas and becomes much more liberal in all his opinions and life.”  Even through the hardships and inconveniences of the time, the pioneer’s outlook is not so different from our present-day Wisconsin outlook.

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.

Alumni Park – A Must See on UW Campus

submitted by Andrea Kaminski; photo by John Bonsett-Veal

Paula Bonner 5 2 2018

From left: Regina Millner, Jeff Bartell, Roberta Gassman, President-Elect Jason Beren, Paula Bonner, Angela Bartell, Kristen Roman and Steve Wallman

Paula Bonner, former Wisconsin Alumni Association President and CEO, stepped out of retirement May 2 to talk to Rotarians about Alumni Park. This new lakefront gateway has had more than 21,000 visitors since it opened last October. Its purpose is to be a welcoming green space for students, alumni, faculty, staff and community members. It is not a big space but it features several distinctive and attractive exhibits that tell alumni stories. Bonner is particularly inspired by these in a challenging time for higher education.

The park is a gift to the University from its alumni and friends, Bonner said. More than 150 years after the University’s first campus master plan called for a green space in the area, the park completes the recent East Campus Mall development. It replaces an ugly surface parking lot between Memorial Union and the Red Gym. The land was initially part of the Ho Chunk Nation, which was recognized at the opening ceremony. Bonner thought of the development of the park as the reverse of the old Joni Mitchell song, Big Yellow Taxi, with lyrics that said, “They paved paradise and put in a parking lot” – and that became a marketing theme for the venture.

Approaching from Langdon Street, a visitor first sees the backlit granite fountain where water falls over ripples carved in stone. Then there’s the 80-foot long Badger Pride Wall depicting stories – some well-known and others quirky – from UW and state history. The Wall was designed by Nate Koehler and made in Green Bay. The Alumni Way exhibit has five 18-foot panels representing the five pillars of the Wisconsin Idea – service, discovery, tradition, leadership and progress. Alumnus William Harley (1908) is recognized with a sculpture of a vintage Harley Davidson motorcycle that visitors can “ride” for a photo. The multi-media Bucky Badger sculpture by artist Douwe Blumberg is contemplative yet still whimsical, said Bonner. At night it is lit from within.

The park is designed to celebrate Wisconsin. It has 75 trees and plantings of many native species. To the extent possible, the exhibits feature Wisconsin materials crafted by local artists. For example, Bonner recalled a cold February day when she went shopping up north for a big limestone slab, which was then carved by Madison’s Quarra Stone Company.

Information about the park, the exhibits, and upcoming educational and celebratory events can be found at www.alumnipark.com.

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