Tag Archives: UW-Madison

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.

Wisconsin’s Research Universities: A Case for Reinvestment

–submitted by Andrea Kaminski; photos by Mike Engelberger

Rebecca Blank 5 3 2017    Mark Mone 5 3 2017

Rotarians heard from not one, but two University of Wisconsin chancellors on May 3. UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank and UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone teamed up to talk about collaborations between their campuses and the challenges they face in maintaining the high quality our universities are known for. The two chancellors have been on the road with this presentation, having also spoken to the Milwaukee Rotary and the Wisconsin Technology Council. Mone is a fellow Rotarian.

UW-Madison has 43,000 students who hail from all 72 counties in Wisconsin, all 50 states, and 121 nations. This year they have a record number of applicants. Blank said the university has excellent retention and graduation rates, and less than half of its students graduate with debt because the university has focused on helping students finish in four years.

UW-Milwaukee has 26,037 students, 84 percent of whom come from Wisconsin. There were 5,300 graduates in 2016. Three-quarters of graduates continue to live and work in Wisconsin when they finish. The most diverse campus in the UW System, UW-Milwaukee has the most students who are veterans. Forty percent of its students are the first in their families to go to college. Mone noted that by 2023 the state is projected to have a six-figure worker shortage. He showed how UW-Milwaukee is producing graduates in the four areas most needed in the Wisconsin workforce: healthcare; business; computer science; and engineering and science.

Both chancellors credit the collaborations and pooling of resources between their campuses for making it possible for a state of Wisconsin’s size to have two great research universities. The two campuses are anchors along a 400-mile “IQ Corridor” between Chicago and the Twin Cities, which is known for its research, industry and technology.

The chancellors gave several examples of collaborations that have pushed the level of knowledge and innovation in the Midwest. Examples include the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences and UW-Madison Sea Grant Institute and energy partnerships funded in part by Johnson Controls centered at the UW-Madison Wisconsin Energy Institute. Mone noted that faculty on his campus alone partner with such Wisconsin industry leaders as Rockwell Automation, Harley Davidson, Kohl’s, Manpower, Northwestern Mutual and WEC energy group.

The chancellors see a major challenge in continuing to attract and retain top talent to uphold the UW’s reputation for excellence. The UW System’s budget has been cut in five of the past six state budgets. Blank noted that currently the state provides about 15 percent of UW’s budget, compared to about 45 percent 20-30 years ago.

Fortunately, the biennial budget proposed this year by Governor Walker includes a modest increase for UW System. It’s not enough to make up for the cuts, but the chancellors stressed that it is greatly needed and appreciated.

The chancellors outlined the following priorities the state should implement to keep the UW strong:

  1. Reinvest in the University as a way to invest in the state economy and workforce;
  2. Provide compensation increases to attract and retain talent. UW faculty and staff have seen on average a 0.3 percent compensation increase, compared to two percent at other major state universities. The proposed budget provides compensation increases but they are tied to savings from self-insurance;
  3. Authorize building projects, in particular those that are funded with program revenue. Budget-neutral examples are the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine parking ramp and renovation of the Slichter Residence Hall.
  4. Don’t pit state universities against one another through performance-based funding. The campuses have different missions and serve different types of students. Each campus’s own performance can be compared from year to year, but it should not be compared with that of other campuses.

The chancellors said the UW is approaching the “tipping point” financially. Faculty and staff compensations are almost 19 percent behind those of peer institutions. Yet every state dollar invested in the UW generates three to four dollars in expenditures that stimulate the economy. And that does not even figure in the long-term economic impact of the university’s graduates who continue to live and work in the state. Truly, we invest in our state by reinvesting in our great state university.

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

UW Men’s Basketball Update

–submitted by Bob Dinndorf; photo by John Bonsett-Veal

Coach Greg Gard

UW-Madison Men’s Basketball Coach Greg Gard (right) pictured here with Club President Ellsworth Brown

“Losing to Maryland, a number 5 team in the country, on a 28 foot shot by an All-American with a defender in his face is not adversity.”  Coach Greg Gard used this statement to help his players and fans gain a sense of proportion about the game of basketball versus life.

Gard was named head coach at UW-Madison on March 7, 2016, and is in his 15th season on the Badgers basketball staff, serving as the team’s associate head coach since July 2008.

As associate head coach, Gard served as the Badgers’ recruiting coordinator in addition to on-floor coaching duties, opponent scouting and game preparation and the constructing of future game schedules. He also served as the director of the Badger Boys Basketball Summer Camps.

Gard came to the Badgers after spending the previous two seasons as Bo Ryan’s assistant at UW-Milwaukee. Previously, Gard served as an assistant to Coach Ryan at UW-Platteville from 1993-99. Coach Gard began his career at Southwestern and Platteville High Schools.

Well educated for this job, Coach Gard is a 1995 graduate of UW-Platteville with a degree in physical and health education. He earned a Master’s degree in counselor education from UW-Platteville in 2007.

Coach Gard was joined by his wife, Michelle, at the meeting. He was lavish in his praise for her support as he has made his way through these past sixteen years. His young family enriches the perspective he is able to bring to his work helping young men develop their potential as players and as people. He was thoughtful and reflective answering questions from club members. Coach Gard enjoys the public relations side of the job, describing the visit by Barneveld first graders to the Kohl Center in the morning of the Rotary meeting as well as other appearances he has made throughout the state. As a native of Cobb, Wisconsin, Coach Gard said he will not lose sight of the roots of Wisconsin, its people and our midwest region. Badger basketball is in good hands.

Did you miss our meeting this week?  Watch the video here.

Is the US Becoming Increasingly Anti-Science?

–submitted by Ben Hebebrand; photo by John Bonsett-Veal

Scheufele DietramAt the April 20 meeting of the Rotary Club of Madison, our guest speaker, UW-Madison Professor Dietram Scheufele (pictured here at right with Club President Ellsworth Brown) presented an interesting insight into how polarized opinions have become as a result of an increasingly greater tendency for like-minded segments of our population — tribes, if you will — to subscribe to the news and information that fits their ideology.

Under the title of “Is the U.S. Increasingly Anti-Science?” Professor Scheufele claims that about half the U.S. population agrees with global warming and the other half does not.

Among the primary reasons for this split in opinion is a tendency for humans to associate with those who think like us — a phenomenon that in recent times has led to our media becoming opinion-driven, as is evidenced by the rise of Fox News on one end of the spectrum and MSNBC on the other end.

Media outlets such as these “give people what they want to believe in,” said Scheufele, although the consumption of information and research should really be a non-partisan endeavor. Scheufele illustrated our nation’s increasing polarization with various examples, including a study of political blogs published on the Internet that feature tremendously high cross-referencing with like-minded political blogs, but hardly any crossover between different ideologies. “We don’t go by content; we go by category,” said Scheufele. Social media, Scheufele said, is based on a business model that gives the consumers what they want. He said steering Internet traffic to the opposite point of view or need or want “doesn’t sell.”

To break through this polarization, Scheufele suggested that one method to unite various constituents of our nation is to focus on bottom-line issues we can all agree on. In the case of global warming, Scheufele said it would be most likely that we could get behind the idea of investing in green energy so that we can export green energy technology to other nations. Global competitiveness, Scheufele said, is something we can agree on.

 CLICK to watch the video on our YouTube Channel.

The Roots of Wisconsin’s Politics of Resentment

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

Kathy CramerKathy Cramer is not your typical ivory tower professor.  Instead of conducting research in libraries, she drives to small towns far from Madison and Milwaukee.  She finds out where people meet for coffee—café’s, gas stations, and stores—and then just shows up.  “Hi, I’m Kathy Cramer, I’m a professor from Madison and I study public opinion.  May I join you?” Almost everyone she met during her impromptu visits were gracious, she told Rotarians on Wednesday.  Then she passed out her business card—she’s a professor in the Department of Political Science—and got permission to turn on her recorder.  “What issues concern you?” she asked.  What she heard surprised her.

“There’s a huge rural-urban divide, a deep sense of them and us out there,” she explained in a spirited and thoughtful presentation.  “People in Madison and Milwaukee just don’t get it,” Cramer’s interviewees told her.  They don’t understand our values.   Legislators in Madison pass laws, but most of the money stays in the big cities.  Our local businesses are closing, but state government won’t help us.  Public employees get cushy fringe benefits, and we can hardly afford any.  City folks take their showers in the morning before they go to the office; we take showers after we get home because we have to work hard all day.

These commonly held opinions culminate in what Cramer called the “politics of resentment” and are concentrated on three targets:  Madison and Milwaukee, the state’s two largest cities, coddled public employees, and African-Americans.  “Yes,” Cramer noted, “There is a racial dimension to the rural-urban divide.”  These were the factors that explained why so many Wisconsinites voted for Governor Walker and the Act 10, she explained.

Cramer closed with several changes she believed could attenuate the politics of resentment: More emphasis on the common good, not the special interests; a resurgence of the service ethic; making sure that public policy is responsive to the people, not the wealthy; and asking more of ourselves.

CLICK to watch the video on our club’s YouTube channel.   

New Approaches to Curing Blinding Diseases

–submitted by Valerie Johnson   

Dave Gamm in labRotarians heard from David M. Gamm, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, how new research in gene and stem cell based therapies are helping cure blindness.

Working with a team of 150 researchers, Gamm’s work is leading to new technology that will help to provide answers to the cause of blindness.  The team’s research is also focused on how this could change lives.  “More than 100,000 people in Wisconsin alone are affected by vision loss for which there is no treatment,” Gamm said.

“I get patients coming in every day whom I can’t help,” Gamm said. “That drives me every day to fill that gap.”

His laboratory work focuses on two approaches to curing blindness.  First, the team investigates cellular and molecular events that occur during human retinal differentiation.  Second, they generate cells to use in retinal disease modeling and cell-based rescue or replacement therapies. To meet these goals, they need a variety of human cell types, including embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells, which have the capacity to model retinal development and disease, as well as to delineate the genetic “checkpoints” necessary to produce particular retinal cell types.

Gamm shared the story of Mr. Reeves, a truck driver with Best disease, who was told he’d go blind, lose his job and that his children and grandchildren would inherit the disease.  The ability to participate in stem cell trial allowed Mr. Reeves to fight for therapies that would help generations to come.  “This is very powerful for both patients and me,” Gamm said.

Gamm is also part of the McPherson Eye Research Institute, a collaboration of interdisciplinary researchers.

CLICK to watch the video on our club’s YouTube channel.

Fostering Ethical Decision Making

–submitted by Ben Hebebrand; photos by John Bonsett-Veal and Mike Wenzel


Almost 250 11th grade students from 20 different Madison area high schools met for the 16th annual Rotary Club of Madison Ethics Symposium on Friday, Feb. 19 at Monona Terrace in Madison, affirming at the culminating luncheon the need not just for adolescents but all of us to “think all the way through decisions.” This kind of thinking, the students expressed, could be enhanced by discussing dilemmas with others including those whom we do not know and those who are different than us.

“Discussing issues with others can broaden your viewpoint,” said Katie Feller of La Follette High School. “It’s interesting to see how people can change their view (by thinking and talking it through),” added Liz Dominguez of Marshall High School.

DSC_0012The five-hour symposium kicked off with real-life reminders that ethical decisions abound throughout history and contemporary life. Steve Johannsen, the 2016 Rotary Ethics Symposium Chair, reminded students that the day was a significant date in history as US President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, authorizing the deportation of Japanese Americans to internment camps. “It is a decision that is still being discussed today,” he said, leaving “tacit” the current political dialogue on the Syrian refugee crisis and immigration.

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It was a group of UW students by name of “First Wave Hip Hop Theater” that in the opening session framed and underscored the importance of ethics by its artistic representations of the Holocaust, slavery (particularly vivid  and thought-provoking through a simulation of a public whipping of a slave), police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement with particular reference to the Madison protests in the wake of the March 5, 2015, police shooting of 19-year-old Tony Terrell Robinson, Jr. First Wave is comprised of a diverse group of UW students, all of whom are part of the first university scholarship program in the U.S. centered on the spoken word and hip-hop culture. The group’s performance helped the assembled 11th grade students indeed grasp how ethics not only shape individual lives but instead entire cultures and societies.

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In three separate breakout sessions of about 20 students each, the high school students with the aid of a Rotary facilitator discussed the ethical implications of adolescent alcohol use and the potential for drunk driving, affirmative action directed toward youth of color, and the use of a locker room by a transgender student  who has not had gender reassignment surgery. Many of the students remarked not only how timely these topics were, but also incredibly important for them to discuss.

The three sessions not only provided rich dialogue among the high school students, but also introduced them to a hierarchy of moral and ethical thinking. Students initially were challenged to record their gut decision, and subsequently made decisions through the lens of “egoism” (What Action Will Benefit Me the Most?); “social group relativism” (What Action Do My Friends or Group Members Think I should Do?); Utilitarianism (What Action Would Produce the Greatest Amount of Good and the Least Amount of Harm?); and the “Right Approach” (What Action Will Best Respect the Rights and Dignity of Each Person?).

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Photo 1: Denis Collins & Melanie Ramey; Photo 2: Mike Casey and Rotary District Governor Mary Van Hout; Photo 3: Karen Christianson & Ben Hebebrand

“We want the students to think about these stages. Our goal is to lead them toward the Rights Approach,” said Denis Collins, who, as a Business Ethics Professor at Edgewood College, has lent his expertise to the symposium since its inception. “Creating a forum and a framework in a safe setting with new acquaintances,” is what defines the essence of the symposium, according to Johannsen. Affirming the sense of safety was a student speaker who proclaimed that “sometimes, but not today, our opinions get discounted.”

The sense of safety is no accident. All Rotarian facilitators underwent a five-hour training session, stressing ground rules best summarized by the mandate that participants need to “treat every single person with complete and unconditional respect.” The training for the facilitators included a presentation by local psychologist Dr. David Lee on “LGBTQ Discussion on Transgender and Identity Issues.”

The symposium also offered accompanying teachers and principals the opportunity to ponder possibilities to introduce further outlets for students to discuss ethical dilemmas. Rotarian Bob Shumaker pointed out that often it is the kids who bring back to their schools the need and desire for further ethics education. “Belleville High School kids created an Ethics program,” he said. “The kids created and gave their teachers ethical dilemmas relating to student discipline and assessment of student work.”

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Education, including learning about an ethical framework for decision-making, is of course enlightening. Thomas Mulholland of East High School summed it up this way: “Apathy is dangerous; ignorance is more dangerous.” Equally uplifting was an impromptu remark by a student during the public comment session that “after today, we can still have faith in humanity.”