On Wisconsin http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com For UW-Madison Alumni and Friends Mon, 25 Jan 2016 20:45:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.1 The Rewards of Being Small http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/the-rewards-of-being-small/ http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/the-rewards-of-being-small/#respond Mon, 09 Nov 2015 17:27:08 +0000 http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=16073 The Facebook query was exacting and cryptic: “We need perhaps three or four individuals with excellent archaeological / paleontological excavation skills. … The catch is this — the person must be skinny and preferably small. They must not be claustrophobic, they must be fit, they should have some caving experience, climbing experience would be a bonus …”

Alia Gurtov MS’13, a UW anthropology graduate student, fit the bill. “I just applied,” she recalls. “In a very bizarre email, I gave my dimensions and my CV.” Soon thereafter, the Wisconsin researcher was on a flight to South Africa.

A bantam frame was needed because Gurtov and five other small scientists were about to enter a difficult and dangerous subterranean labyrinth. They would crawl, clamber, climb and, finally, drop into a chamber last visited hundreds of thousands — or perhaps millions — of years ago by a lost member of the tribe of humanity, a species dubbed Homo naledi.

Traveling from daylight to the chamber was a grueling twenty- to twenty-five-minute commute. The scientists were forced to navigate several “squeezes,” including one fifteen-foot section called the “Superman Crawl,” where forward progress required wriggling on one’s belly with arms extended like the soaring Man of Steel. The final leg of the foray, “the worst choke point,” involved slithering down a twelve-foot, crag-studded chute in the dark. The scientists worked underground in six- to eight-hour shifts for a month.

Entering the chamber for the first time was a solemn moment. “It had the feeling of a tiny cathedral,” Gurtov says. “It was just so still and dynamic at the same time. There was a sense of ages.”

« Chamber of Discovery: UW scientists explore an astonishing find

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Bridge Out http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/bridge-out/ http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/bridge-out/#respond Mon, 09 Nov 2015 17:27:08 +0000 http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=16173 University Avenue

Photo by Jeff Miller

There’s a new view on campus — or something missing from it — looking west down University Avenue. The deteriorating pedestrian bridge that for more than four decades connected the George L. Mosse Humanities Building and Vilas Hall took its last bow in August. It was demolished — closing the street to traffic overnight — due to disrepair and what UW officials say was a decline in use after installation of a traffic signal one block away at East Campus Mall. Many students, faculty, and staff who used the bridge to access Vilas Hall disagreed on the latter point.

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Chasing Abloh http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/chasing-abloh/ http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/chasing-abloh/#respond Mon, 09 Nov 2015 17:27:07 +0000 http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=15963 ensembles

Photos courtesy of Virgil Abloh

Virgil Abloh

Virgil Abloh shows his Wisconsin colors at the Coach show during New York Fashion Week this past September. He’s wearing The Red Shirt ™, Limited Edition by Virgil Abloh, a special T-shirt he created to help raise money for UW scholarships (Getty Images, Brad Barket). The models at right are wearing clothes from his Off-White Spring/Summer 2014 and 2015 collections.

Some months ago — never mind how long, exactly — having little to no expectations, and nothing in particular to lose, I thought to do a story on Virgil Abloh.

Haven’t heard of Abloh? You will. Since graduating from UW-Madison in 2003, he has thrown caution and his engineering degree to the wind to build an empire of music, fashion, and celebrity connections.

The music world knows him as DJ Flat White, famous for playing the hottest London dance clubs. Recently, he and French DJ Guillaume Berg formed a group under the Bromance record label called Paris, IL — which, if you haven’t heard, had an A-list crowd surfer during its set at the Coachella music festival. It was rapper and cultural icon Kanye West, who also showed up during Abloh’s set at the Bromance after-party. For more than a decade, Abloh has served as Kanye’s creative director, a role that he described to New York Magazine as “basically just [helping] him see his vision through.”

But more than his music career, and perhaps even more than working as Kanye’s “all-purpose cultural guru,” as the New York Times called him, Abloh is known for his clothing line, Off-White.

“OFF-WHITE c/o VIRGIL ABLOH is a fashion label,” reads the brand’s website, “rooted in current culture at a taste-level particular to now.”

The now is achieved by a “real-world, feet-on-the-ground type of design approach,” Abloh told GQ. It’s an approach that has earned him the honor of being the only American finalist for the prestigious Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH) Prize. This past May, Abloh flew to Paris to present his collection, along with seven other designers.

So Abloh is a busy man. Trying to find a sliver of time in his star-crossed schedule seemed nothing short of impossible until, finally, a breakthrough. Following a flurry of last-minute emails and several international text messages, Off-White’s PR manager said Abloh could spare an hour to meet with me in person. Less than twenty-four hours later, I jumped in my car to make the 250-mile round-trip to Chicago.

My 2005 Pontiac Vibe clunks down North Green Street, which is lined with gastropubs and artisanal pizzerias. To my left is an alleyway lit with hanging Edison bulbs — the entrance to a restaurant specializing in smoked meats. To my right, slightly hidden by a line of discarded Lincoln MKTs awaiting their valets, is our meeting spot: Soho House.

The interior of Soho House, Chicago’s newest members-only hotel/spa/club “for creative souls,” looks like somebody raided a log cabin and your grandmother’s house to furnish an old factory. And yet, it’s easily the chicest place I’ve ever been. I perch on the edge of a pheasant-patterned beige-and-blue couch and place my recorder on the gold rim of a glass table — moving in slow motion. The slightest dent could cost me the value of my aforementioned clunker.

Abloh texts me: he’s running behind schedule. That’s understandable, as the clock is ticking down on his LVMH presentation. He’ll let me know when he’s twenty minutes away.

I review my notes. Abloh is from Chicago’s Lincoln Park, two neighborhoods north of the Fulton Market District and Soho House. But it’s in this area that he’ll launch his latest venture: a restaurant, co-owned with several of his buddies. Perhaps he’s following in the footsteps of New York City restaurateur Gabe Stulman ’03. The two were roommates for five years while at UW-Madison and were known for hosting sophisticated dinner parties rather than throwing pre-game keggers.

As I read, a well-dressed young man places an Afternoon Tea menu on the table in front of me. He asks if I’d like to order a drink. “No, thank you,” I respond. “I’m waiting for someone.”

Forty minutes later, he comes back. He compliments my necklace, stalling. “Sorry, I’m still waiting,” I explain. “Really, he should be here any second.”

Through several rounds of awkward encounters, the waiter and I proceed from small talk to microscopic. He stops checking on me. I peruse the Afternoon Tea placard, glancing up each time a Porsche or Lincoln passes the floor-to-ceiling window. A tall blonde woman wordlessly swaps out the Afternoon Tea menu for the evening’s Small Plates offerings. I debate ordering the mini truffle grilled cheese for ten dollars, but decide against it. It would be rude to be eating when Abloh arrives.

One hundred and fifty minutes later, I get a call. Too many things have come up, and Abloh won’t be able to make it. We agree to speak over the phone on Thursday — he’ll be en route to Manhattan in the morning but will give me a call in the afternoon. I shell out half a day’s paycheck in the parking ramp and head for home.

Thursday passes into Friday. At 11:30 a.m., Off-White’s manager says Abloh could call me at 12:30, for one hour only. The LVMH awards are less than a week away, and Abloh is the type of man you drop everything for. So I sit in an empty conference room, glancing at my phone, waiting for Abloh. At 12:50, the phone rings. Amid a symphony of Manhattan traffic, Abloh’s tenor cuts through the phone.

He is a fan of long pauses and big words. He expounds on simple questions by instead answering others that you had never planned to ask — not unlike Kanye, his mentor. Perhaps it’s a trait that’s rubbed off in the thirteen years the two have spent working together. They were first introduced after Abloh received his master’s in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology, which he completed immediately following his undergraduate education.

At the UW, Abloh studied civil engineering at the advice of his father. Though he was “sort of irreverent” toward the major, he doesn’t regret it. “Everything I did, in some way, made this result happen,” Abloh explains. In studying engineering, he learned how to multitask and problem-solve — the basis of his career. “I have a philosophy on problem-solving, I guess,” he says.

A pause. I ask what that philosophy is.

“There’s … remnants of juxtaposition,” Abloh posits. He expatiates on the idea that functionality and modern humor are part of his approach to design, and that each solution should serve a purpose. “Sort of vague answers,” he concludes, “but that’s, like, a vague question.”

But then Abloh is vague, particularly when it comes to discussing his upcoming LVMH presentation. “It’s a little bit theoretical,” he begins. Fashion critics have characterized Off-White as a high-minded streetwear line, but for Abloh, the term streetwear has yet to be formally defined. This lack of definition is what his award presentation aims to rectify. “My attempt is to add layers of sophistication to it and bolster up the reason why it’s important for now,” he says. (The LVMH Prize was ultimately awarded to Marques’Almeida, a British label.)

Focused on the now, he is reluctant to chart a plan for his future. “I’ll just hopefully have a long career doing what excites me,” he says. And as Abloh’s empire continues to grow — from music to fashion to restaurants — I’m guessing he will.

When he finds the time.

Chelsea Schlecht ’13 is a writer for On Wisconsin and is working on her vague questions.

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Private prisons http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/private-prisons/ http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/private-prisons/#respond Mon, 09 Nov 2015 17:27:07 +0000 http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=16196 bars

Istock image.

States may not be getting the financial benefits that the $5 billion private prison industry advertises. Anita Mukherjee, an assistant professor of actuarial science, risk management, and insurance at the Wisconsin School of Business, conducted what is believed to be the first study comparing public and private prisons. Mukherjee reviewed data from private prisons in Mississippi and found that those inmates spend up to two to three more months behind bars than inmates in public prisons, leading to an average additional cost per prisoner of about $3,000. They are also equally likely to commit more crimes after release.

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Don’t Stop Believing http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/diversions/dont-stop-believing/ http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/diversions/dont-stop-believing/#respond Mon, 09 Nov 2015 17:27:07 +0000 http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=16264 book cover

Even people who don’t particularly care about basketball were — they had to admit — pretty darned excited last spring when the Badgers made it to the Final Four and then to the national championship.

Patrick Herb

Patrick Herb

Patrick Herb ’01, the assistant director for athletic communications for UW–Madison men’s basketball, has chronicled the whole glorious adventure in Make ’Em Believe: The Inside Story of the Badgers’ Road to the 2015 Final Four (KCI Sports Publishing) — and just in time to honor head coach Bo Ryan’s final year with the team before retiring.

Make ’Em Believe’s foreword comes from National Player of the Year Frank (Francis III) Kaminsky ’15, and Ryan provided the afterword. The book gives Badger fans a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most successful basketball teams in UW history, playing in the university’s first NCAA national championship game since 1941. The players provided fans — and the nation — with so many memorable moments that made them “Midwestern nice” media darlings who have been talked about long after March Madness ended.

The book also comprises firsthand accounts from the players and Ryan on key moments of the season, recaps of all of the tournament games, player and team features, extended coverage of the Final Four victory over Kentucky and the national championship game against Duke, plus more than one hundred full-color photos — including many never-published-before gems that Herb took.

To receive a 20 percent discount, purchase the book at uwalumni.com/shop using promo code UWALUM.

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Sharing a Secret http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/vision/sharing-a-secret/ http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/vision/sharing-a-secret/#respond Mon, 09 Nov 2015 17:27:07 +0000 http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=16291 UW men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan shares a secret with referee Gene Steratore during a game against the University of Iowa in January 2015. The winningest coach in UW history (357–125 at the end of last season), Ryan announced that he plans to retire at the end of 2015–16.

Photo by Bryce Richter

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Born to Swim http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/born-to-swim/ http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/born-to-swim/#respond Mon, 09 Nov 2015 17:26:46 +0000 http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=15984 Ho’omaka’ana The Beginning

We had tossed through two nights of jet-lagged sleep before the Royal Lahaina’s elevator doors opened at 5:30 a.m. to reveal four nearly naked, tattooed men clutching tall-boy cans of Hawaiian beer. They had, as Hunter S. Thompson put it, “the fear of Lono” in their eyes: the kind of menacing, rum-soaked stare that suggests good times could collapse into calamity at any second.

I could relate. Maui waters host more tiger-shark attacks than anywhere in the islands, and in three hours, I’d be swimming in the deepest part of the nine-mile Au’au Channel between little Lanai and Kaanapali Beach. Hell, at least shark attacks are quick. Better that than the brutal southern rip that sweeps around Kahoolawe. That craven current has tossed swimmers seven miles north to Molokai — if they were lucky — and to the outer Pacific Basin, if they weren’t.

“Aloha,” I offered as the doors closed on the elevator dudes. They resumed their crazed ascent. Beazer and I, a.k.a. “The Lost Boys” (missing items between us so far: one phone charger, one set of headphones, one swimsuit, one sunglasses case, one wristwatch), punched the down button. We were running late for our ride to the Lahaina Pier, where even now Captain Norm Ham was loading fresh bananas into the cooler strapped to his 1999 fishing boat, My Girl.

But wait. Before I tell you about the beginning of the day, I should tell you the start of the story.

Pu’iwa Surprise

No one told me Lake Mendota froze. That would have been good to know. Had I known, this Kentucky boy would have readjusted his college choice from UW-Madison back to Auburn. Fact is, I’d already given the Auburn swim coach a verbal commitment. In 1975, that was a good-as-gold promise. Still, when I got the call for a recruiting trip to the UW, I hopped on it. I figured I’d never have a reason to travel to Wisconsin again. I’d take Bucky’s free flight, party for a few days in the Big Ten, and then, on schedule, become an Auburn University War Eagle.

Where were you this weekend?” my mother asked. We were in my parents’ powder-blue Grand Prix at the Louisville airport upon my return from Madtown. I had just told her of my change in plans.

“Wisconsin,” I said. Madison has a way of drawing you in.

No one was more surprised than the Auburn coach, since his school had the number-one swim program in the country. On the other hand, let’s face it — in the mid-seventies, sports were not Bucky’s forte.

But State Street? The campus? The capitol? The lakes? Have you ever been to Opelika, Alabama?

It was a no-brainer.

In time, along with getting to know the Plaza Bar’s jukebox by heart, I achieved world ranking in the 200 breaststroke, got a diploma, married a girl from Milwaukee, raised three children, and sprinted into middle age.

So along with everything else swimming has provoked in my life, it was only a matter of time before it also caused a reunion. In Hawaii. This past September. Exactly forty years after my arrival at the UW.

Ohana Family

Competing on an NCAA Division I sports team is like joining a fraternity, only without the annoying rituals and pastel shirts. Plus, you get to travel. The downside is that it’s like having a forty-hour-per-week job while you’re in college.

But oh, man, the ohana.

I was recruited to swim at the UW by Brad Horner ’77, MS’80, ’83, MBA’90, whose list of degrees is nearly as long as his swim accomplishments. The Pan American butterfly medalist also recruited me to join the relay for the 2015 Maui Channel Swim, the oldest continuously running rough-water race in the world. The Grumpy Old Badgers, as we called ourselves, entered three six-person teams in the channel swim. My team, the Silver Bullets, was a rogue’s gallery of UW alumni swimmers from before, during, and after my time on campus.

Minneapolis native Jim “The Beaze” Pohle ’76 is Badger swimming royalty. His father, the late Paul Pohle ’43, is a UW Swimming Hall of Fame backstroker. Beazer was a sprinter at the UW with a long reach, which came in handy midway in the channel race.

As manager of the swim team when I was at Madison, Steve Katz ’77 of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, can claim to have woken me up for morning practice approximately seven hundred times. While I was on Maui, Steve called to tell me I was late for a team picture. Some things never change.

If Katz woke me up seven hundred times, Silver Bullets team captain Art Luetke ’68 shot a pistol at me seven hundred times. Well, not at me, but into the air at Big Ten home meets. After his own impressive swim career, Luetke became one of the conference’s most respected deck officials. The Madison real-estate developer swims like a seal at age sixty-nine.

In addition to his full-time work as an IT consultant, Racine native Doug Bosley ’85 is the election commissioner of Somerville, Massachusetts. The most serious masters swimmer among us, Bosley led us off from the beach at Lanai and plowed through the choppiest segment of the race in later legs.

Australian Neil Rogers x’77 was a finalist in the 100 butterfly at both the ’72 Munich Olympics and the ’76 Montreal Games. To say he’s well known among Australian swimmers is a Down Under-statement. Whenever we passed an Aussie boat during the channel race (or it passed us), someone would yell across the water, “Hey, mate! Is Neil Rogers aboard?” Rogers now coaches the Bondi Icebergs Swim Club in Sydney.

Moore is shown from below mid-channel.

Moore is shown from below mid-channel.

Mana’olana Hope

The Beaze and I strolled up to the Lahaina pier as the marina came awake. One by one, the Grumpy Old Badgers appeared on the deck. We stared off in the direction of Lanai’s silhouette, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.

We climbed aboard the My Girl and Captain Norm steered her through the Lahaina Harbor. Maui born, Hawaii proud, Norm was used to having wealthy anglers on board. You know, people pulling things out of the water, not diving into it. We explained our specific needs: keep the boat on our breathing side. Props in neutral as we come off and on. Watch for other swimmers. Help us read the currents.

The Silver Bullets chatted above the thrum of the diesel motors as we made the one-hour crossing to Lanai. I grabbed two bananas, savored their sweetness, and watched the sun slowly rise over the towering Mauna Kahalawai range of west Maui, growing more distant by the minute.

Kinohi Loa The Very Beginning

Forty-three million years prior to our departure for Lanai, Maui was one big island. Volcanic eruptions split the mass into four smaller islands: Lanai, Molokai, tiny Kahoolawe, and Maui. The underwater bowl that is the Au’au Channel, over which we swam, is a mere three hundred and fifty feet deep in the center. In winter, it’s a protected hot tub for the humpback whales that swim in for a three-month-long orgy.

We anchored one thousand yards offshore from Lanai. Luetke called for a warm-up and then a team meeting in the water. A cheer was sent up for the Grumpies. We patted Bosley for good luck and sent him to shore.

Back aboard the My Girl, the radio was tuned to the designated race channel. The receiver’s ominous hiss was interrupted by a voice giving final instructions just before the 8 a.m. start. Team members’ ages were added together to determine team categories. The Silver Bullets, 362 years old, qualified for the Grand Makule division, along with seven other teams whose boats had to fly a green flag.

Green swim caps helped the Makule teams spot their lead-off swimmers, and when the starting flag dropped at 8:07, my stomach dropped with it.

Eha’eha Pain

“Where’s Boz?” became our chant almost immediately. The waters were a confusing gumbo of swimmers and boats. Experienced swimmers can recognize a person in the water by the shape of his or her stroke.

Bosley has a high recovery, the crook of his elbow framing his face when he breathes to the left. After ten minutes of searching, we found him — in the upper middle of the pack and with a swimmer immediately behind him drafting on his toes. Against the rules!

Each swimmer does a thirty-minute leg for one rotation followed by ten-minute legs until the finish.

Bosley got us well into the channel. Rogers was up next. We started peppering him with encouragement. “Don’t get me too revved up, mate,” he said as he strapped on his goggles. “I want my last fifteen minutes to be better than my first fifteen.”

As I soon found out, trying to pace ourselves was a tall order. You don’t train for months and travel for miles just to take your time about things. Still, an unexpected calm came over me just before my first leg. But did I tell you my left shoulder was killing me? And I have two fake hips? Yeah, that.

I dove off the bow of the My Girl after Rogers and Beazer finished their first legs. The adrenaline shot through me so hard that for a moment I didn’t notice how warm the water was in the middle of the channel. After a summer of record Hawaiian heat and cross curls of hurricanes, it was hot. Too hot. But man, was it clear.

Crossbeams of sunshine darted down, down, through the limitless, blue depth. The surface water was relatively calm. Just beneath was another story. That southern rip was pulling my suit off, dragging me toward Molokai — the wrong island. Twenty minutes in, my body burned from the inside out.

While captains of other, much fancier boats had been watching their million-dollar electronics, Captain Norm had been watching the setting of the moon. Old school. His corrections, and a hell of a lot of yelling to our teammates, helped us maintain our position in the sleeves of currents.

In Olympic competition, finishing in the top three is called medaling. At the Maui Channel Swim, it’s called toweling for the beautiful, customized beach towels awarded to the top three teams. We wanted those towels.

That’s why we kept track of the green-flagged boats as we stroked our way to Maui. The old competitive juices boiled over. The Beaze swam the last leg to Maui, crashing home on a shore break in a glorious display of body surfing, then running up the beach to the finish line.

The UW’s Silver Bullets placed third.

He wai e ola Water

Water is to Hawaii what jazz is to New Orleans. A mainlander looks at a saltwater sea and says you can’t drink it. A Hawaiian says you can’t live without it. I thought about the blessing of water in my life as The Beaze and I rested on our hotel balcony after the race banquet, sipping our last cold beers of the night. We gazed out toward Lanai, where our day had begun — 4,127 miles from Bascom Hill.

In the salty, still night air, voices arose from the hotel pool seven stories below. I looked. Even from that distance, there was no doubt in my mind that the father and son were local. They were in the midst of the small child’s first snorkeling lesson.

The boy got it. Head down, he wiggled across the surface like a water snake. Awash in pool lights and against the black bottom, the long white sleeves of their aqua shirts lit them up like they were an X-ray. It may have been the fatigue, but the sight sparked within me a profound connection to them.

I was witnessing the first strokes of another boy who was born to swim.

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Greenbush Bakery http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/destination/greenbush-bakery/ http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/destination/greenbush-bakery/#respond Mon, 09 Nov 2015 17:26:46 +0000 http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=16023 Donuts from Greenbush Bakery

Students and alumni have flocked to the sweet oasis famous for fresh, kosher donuts since 1996, when Greenbush opened its doors at the corner of Regent and Orchard Streets.

Fried cakes donuts

The bakery makes thousands of donuts each day, selling more than fifty varieties. The most popular is one of the simplest: the glazed, sour cream old-fashioned. The giant apple fritters are a close second.

A customer buying donuts

Greenbush employs twenty people, including students. Some invite owners Marv and Barb Miller to their weddings. The couple has considered expanding, but Barb says, “Bigger is not always better.”

Greenbush exterior at night

Late-night customers get to indulge, too. Greenbush stays open until 3 a.m. for those out after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Donut-making starts at 6 a.m. and continues throughout the day.

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Many Happy (and Chilly) Returns http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/bygone/many-happy-and-chilly-returns/ http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/bygone/many-happy-and-chilly-returns/#respond Mon, 09 Nov 2015 17:26:46 +0000 http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=16178 Charles Bently

UW-Madison Archives S09929

Benjamin Franklin was right. Taxation is an absolute certainty in life — even life near the South Pole.

Fifty years ago, UW researcher Stephen Den Hartog found himself on the bottom of the world when the time came to fill out his Form 1040 for the IRS. This couldn’t have been a great surprise, because Den Hartog had spent several seasons on the southern continent. Den Hartog Peak (near the Ramsey Glacier) is named in his honor. (Though they shared a family name, it’s unlikely that he claimed the mountain as a dependent.)

The UW knows ice sheets. Several researchers have made names for themselves in the Antarctic, including Charles Bentley, who was part of the team that made the first overland traverse of Western Antarctica in 1957, and in the 2000s, he served as principal investigator on an ice-core project that set the record for the deepest core ever drilled out of a glacier.

The UW continues to have an important presence in Antarctica, and it continues to dig deep holes in the southern ice. The university leads the IceCube Collaboration, which runs a vast observatory set up at the South Pole to detect neutrinos. That detector is made up of 5,160 modules embedded in a cubic kilometer of ice.

In September, IceCube’s principal investigator, UW physics professor Francis Halzen, won a 2015 Balzan Prize for his work in astroparticle physics. (It’s worth 1 million Swiss francs, which will almost certainly have an effect on his taxes.)

Editor’s Note: In the original, print version of this article, the subject of the photo was mis-identified as Charles Bentley. We thank his daughter, Molly Bentley, for catching our error.

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Shawn Peters http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/conversation/shawn-peters/ http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/conversation/shawn-peters/#respond Mon, 09 Nov 2015 17:26:46 +0000 http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=16188 The Wire course.”]]> Shawn Peters

Shawn Peters. Photo by Bryce Richter.

During nearly two decades on campus, Shawn Peters PhD’07 has been a PhD student, an undergraduate adviser, and a lecturer in English, history, and religious studies. Now an instructor with the UW’s Center for Educational Opportunity, Peters teaches Integrated Liberal Studies courses, including Narratives of Justice and Equality in Multicultural America — better known as “The Wire course.” Peters wants the HBO show, which highlights the struggles of a West Baltimore neighborhood, to help his students explore reality in a new and engaging way.

How did The Wire become the main driver of your course? The idea was to teach less a theoretical social science course than a course about how those kinds of stories are told, and The Wire struck me as a text that tells a really profound story about justice and equality in Baltimore in a way that’s also engaging, that draws you in as a narrative.

Did growing up in Baltimore influence how you put the class together? For as long as I’ve been around Baltimore, it’s been a city with really serious problems, and it’s been struggling to make the best of the opportunities available to the citizens. Folks are disenfranchised, especially African American men, and they don’t really have the ability to go somewhere like UW–Madison. There are parts of the city that have become increasingly desperate over the last thirty years. And we saw that over the past six months, when the city exploded in protest over the death of Freddie Gray. You see it coming; it’s not like people just woke up one morning and decided, “We’re angry today.”

Is it hard explaining these issues to those who haven’t experienced them? We have students who have grown up in places like inner-city Baltimore who can speak directly of their experiences. Then we have students from various places where life in The Wire isn’t the case at all. As a teacher, the best moments are when students are engaging with one another. Rather than having your boring, middle-aged, white professor wagging his finger, saying, “Read the book, and then you’ll understand,” I want a student saying, “This is the way I grew up. This is what it’s like.”

How are you using Twitter in your classes? We’ve had actors from The Wire tweet at us, and we’d tweet back questions, and go back and forth. It allows free-flowing conversation in a way that more traditional modes of communication don’t.

Do students take the class expecting it to be easy? The typical response is, “That was a lot of fun, but we did a lot of work.” To me, that’s when class is really cool — when you’re really thinking hard, but actually enjoying yourself, your classmates, and the sense of community that you all have together. That’s when it works.

Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Daniel McKay x’16.

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