Features – On Wisconsin https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com For UW-Madison Alumni and Friends Tue, 13 Nov 2018 19:28:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 Stop at the Top https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/stop-at-the-top/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/stop-at-the-top/#respond Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:41:22 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=24351 As he had done at the end of countless UW Marching Band practices, director Mike Leckrone stood on top of a ladder on a hot, sunny August afternoon. The band’s veterans, along with rookies who had just won a coveted spot, crowded around to listen.

It had been a year since Leckrone had lost his wife of 62 years, Phyllis. Seven months before that, he had undergone heart surgery. Today, he would tell the band of the decision he had shared with only a few senior university officials: he was ending his remarkable half-century reign. He would lead them through one more football season, followed by hockey and basketball and the spring concert.

In this moment, Leckrone told his musicians what he expected of them.

“You must maintain the traditions, the intensity, the desire, and everything that everybody for the last 50 years has brought to this group,” he said. “I would be sorely disappointed if I see that doesn’t happen, because it’s in your hands to do that.”

Later that day as the news quickly spread, alumni band members began posting decades-old photos of themselves in their band uniforms on Facebook with the hashtag #IMarchedforMike. In September, the annual alumni band day — when former members march during the football pregame and halftime shows — drew record numbers. So many people wanted to play under Leckrone’s direction for one last time that organizers had difficulty creating a routine that would fit more than 500 people on the field, all wearing red T-shirts emblazoned with his name.

“Any one of us whose paths have crossed Mike’s feel that … he deeply touched us and continues to do so,” Sarah Halstead ’87, a cymbal player who spent four years in the band, said shortly before the alumni band took the field. “We’re here to honor him and, in some way, say, ‘Thank you.’ We’ve heard so many times from him — ‘Just one more time.’ And this really is the last time.” It may seem strange to think now, but Leckrone could have spent decades performing the University of Minnesota fight song.

Every Badger fan who has attended a home basketball, football, or hockey game since 1969 knows the man wielding the baton — a beloved, charismatic musical leader who exhorts crowds to shout, “When you say Wis-con-sin, you’ve said it all!” So it’s hard to picture Leckrone leading a stadium full of Gopher fans through their signature chant of “M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A.”

But in 1968, seeking a step up from his job as marching band director at Butler University, Leckrone looked to the Big Ten and applied for openings at Minnesota and Wisconsin. Both schools turned him down.

A year later, the UW called and asked if he was still interested. Leckrone said yes, even though it did not have the makings of a dream gig. At that point, the band had cycled through three different directors in as many years. And in the last 20 games, the football team had logged 19 losses and one tie (see page 13). The band’s ranks had dwindled — from around 130 participants to just 96 — and they frequently played to partially empty stands. It was also the height of the antiwar protest era on campus.

“It wasn’t really politically correct to put on a uniform and march around campus in those days,” says Leckrone, 82, an Indiana native and the son of a marching band director.

Unimpressed with the band’s lack of energy, Leckrone changed its marching style. He made the switch to a high step, which requires a musician’s knee to hesitate while lifted at 90 degrees, which he calls “stop at the top.” Leckrone stressed pride in the band and worked on small details like the snap of the “horns up” movement. Gradually, more students joined and, by his third year, the band began to transform into a cohesive unit.

Initially there was some resistance, recalls Ray Luick ’73, the band’s drum major when Leckrone took over. Luick played tuba his freshman year in 1968 before serving as drum major for the next three seasons.

“He had such a clear idea of what he wanted to do and we didn’t have a clue. Here’s a guy whose lifelong ambition was to be a Big Ten band director, and we were just part of the group he inherited,” says Luick, who returns each year with his drum major baton to lead the alumni band.

Fifty years after watching Leckrone take over the band, Luick is not surprised to see the director in charge this long.

“He has never lost the enthusiasm or the realization that this is just a lot of fun for a lot of people,” Luick says. “I think that recognition of how all these insane pieces fit together is very important to him and allowed him not to see this as 50 years of work but a continuation of something he enjoys doing.”

When he was hired, Leckrone figured he would transition to an administrative role in the School of Music within 10 years. But he enjoyed the marching band so much that, within a few years, he put aside thoughts of taking off the black uniform he wore for football games.

He says he’s lucky Minnesota turned him down. With a smile, Leckrone explains that Wisconsin has a much better fight song.

“Part of that is the cleverness [songwriter William] Purdy used in the song. That first four-note interchange — da, da, da, dum — you can turn it into all sorts of musical ideas. It doesn’t sound forced. It has a flow to it,” he says.

It has been decades since Leckrone struggled to find enough players to fill the band’s ranks. About 300 students make up the current band; 230 march at halftime. Others, usually freshmen, serve as alternates ready to step in for an injured player. To his musicians, Leckrone is more than a band director — he’s a mentor and coach who instills the necessity of hard work and having fun. And as the fortunes of Badger sports teams have soared and sunk over the years, there’s always been one constant: the appeal of the band.

“Mike is without question one of the most beloved figures in the history of UW–Madison. He has made a significant impact on campus, in Madison, throughout the state, and beyond,” says UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez. “When we speak with officials from bowl games each year, I tell them that Wisconsin will bring the whole package — team, fans, and band. Mike’s leadership of the band has certainly been an important part of that package for our school for many, many years.”

Although it might look seamless to fans at Camp Randall, each band performance at home games represents much thought, planning, and practice. Leckrone is one of the few — if not the only — college marching band director to continue to arrange all the band’s music as well as write charts for the pregame and halftime shows.

In addition to leading the marching and pep bands at sports events, Leckrone also teaches classes and conducts the symphonic band. A fan of big band music, his jazz and pop music courses are popular because of his encyclopedic knowledge and his infectious excitement for the tunes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and other early jazz legends. During a lecture on his favorite jazz artist — trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke — Leckrone has been known to dramatically rip open his overshirt to reveal a “Bix Lives!” T-shirt.

“It’s pretty amazing to keep up with his schedule. He’s a very energetic guy. I hope I have at least a quarter of his energy when I’m his age,” says assistant director of bands Darin Olson, who’s some 50 years Leckrone’s junior.

Leckrone knows the students who crowded around his ladder in August are the last group of young adults he’ll lead at the UW. They are the ones who will play his last football games at Camp Randall. They will tell the musicians who join the band next year and the year after that, what it was like to play for a legend.

He reminded them to keep up the intensity — but, most of all, to have fun.

“You have provided me with so many moments of happiness,” an emotional Leckrone said during his August address. “I can’t even begin to thank you. I will tell you those moments of happiness have gotten me through difficult times. I hope they can do that for you. Live for those moments of happiness.”

Then Leckrone climbed down and sang “Varsity” with his band.

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Stem Cells at 20 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/stem-cells-at-20/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/stem-cells-at-20/#respond Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:41:22 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=24361 In the lab dish, a human embryonic stem cell can live forever. If the conditions are right, the cell will divide endlessly, providing a limitless supply of the blank-slate cells now used widely in biomedical science.

Immortality is an astonishing quality, certainly, but the feature of stem cells that has most captured the public’s imagination since they were first cultured at UW–Madison 20 years ago is the ability to manipulate them to become any of the myriad cells in the human body. The idea that specialized cells could be whipped up in large quantities to treat any number of afflictions — from dopaminergic cells for Parkinson’s to islet cells for diabetes — is a powerful one.

“For the first time, we had unlimited access to all of the basic cellular building blocks of the human body,” says James Thomson, the UW developmental biologist who first derived the original cells in 1998. “And if you make an embryonic stem cell line, that’s infinite. You can make as many cells as you want.”

But two decades on, stem cells have yet to live up to that grand clinical aspiration. Embryonic and now genetically induced stem cells from adult tissue have become lab workhorses and underpin the new field of stem cell and regenerative medicine. Worldwide, there is a score of clinical trials using stem cells, including trials for heart disease, the blinding disease macular degeneration, and spinal cord injury. And some of those trials are using the original cells Thomson made.

“I think where things are right now is pretty promising,” Thomson says. “There are a number of trials underway. Most will fail because clinical trials are hard, but some will succeed. The whole field just needs one to work.”

Stem Cells 101

Illustration of sperm fertilizing an egg

1.

Sperm fertilizes an egg. Illustration of fertilized egg starting to divide

2.

The fertilized egg begins to divide. Illustration of fertilized egg divided in to many cells

3.

Within five to seven days, the fertilized egg has divided into 100 cells (a blastocyst), containing cells that would form an embryo. The UW’s James Thomson used blastocysts produced through in vitro fertilization (IVF) and donated for research purposes. Illustration of cells in culture dish

4.

Those cells are placed in a culture dish, where they continue to divide, becoming what’s known as a stem cell line. Illustration of cells in multiple culture dishes

5.

The dividing cluster of cells is removed and separated into new culture dishes before it can become different types of cells. There, the cells continue to divide and remain stem cells. Illustration of cells in culture dish

6.

Researchers use biological and chemical signals to coax stem cells — the Swiss Army knife of cells — into becoming various kinds of cells.

Illustration showing multiple types of cells created through stem cells7.

Stem cells provide a limitless source of cells that scienists hope will one day be used for therapy to treat conditions including heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, and macular degeneration.

Global reach

5
The number of original stem cell lines

5,200
The number of times the original five stem cell lines have been distributed around the world to:
2,350 investigators | 820 institutions | 45 countries

$1.43 billion
U.S. funding for stem cell research (1998–2017)

1,300+
U.S. scientists work with any of the original embryonic stem cell lines

UW–Madison IMPACT

284
stem cell–related patents have been issued to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (May 2018)

685
people — faculty, staff, and students — work with stem cells on the UW campus

$75M
Grants supporting stem cell projects at the UW (fiscal year 2017)

10
Wisconsin companies are devising stem cell–based products, mostly used to test drugs in lieu of using research animals

Then and now

The UW’s Thomson had high hopes for the technology in 1998. Today, he remains convinced that the legacy of stem cells will not necessarily be as therapy for replacing diseased or damaged cells, but in basic understanding of human development and — using engineered stem cells from patients — the cause of cell-based diseases, including diabetes, Parkinson’s, and ALS.

1998: Stem cell predictions

  • Revolutionize basic research and understanding of human and animal development
  • Use to screen drugs before using in humans
  • Develop treatments — including tranplants and replacement of diseased cells and neurons — within 10 years

2018: Stem cell reality

  • Use to study basic development and to model diseases in the laboratory
  • Test the good and bad effects of potential new drugs on human cells, rather than in animal models
  • The first clinical trials for treating condtions like spinal cord injury, eye disease, heart disease, and Parkinson’s are underway; therapeutic applications of stem cells have not yet been realized
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A Search for Simple Life https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/a-search-for-simple-life/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/a-search-for-simple-life/#respond Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:16 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=24394 When he was deciding on a profession, Adam Steltzner PhD’99 just wanted to live a simple life: be a bit mundane, do the nine-to-five, collect a paycheck, maybe wear a tie. That’s why, though he discovered in his 20s a talent for physics, he passed up pure science for engineering.

“Engineering is physics that you do,” he says. “There are many physicists driving cabs, driving Ubers. But there aren’t as many engineers driving, because engineers get jobs.”

That desire for a regular job has led Steltzner to NASA, where he’s a leader in the effort to seek out simple life-forms on other planets. As the top engineer on the Mars 2020 project, he’s preparing to send into space the first project that will not only explore the red planet, but if all goes right, will pick up samples, ship them back home, and put them in the hands of Earthlings for thorough analysis.

“We know that Mars was habitable,” Steltzner says. “Back in the epoch when microbial life was starting to bloom here on Earth, the conditions were ripe to support life on Mars. And so the holy grail would be to find that, in fact, ancient Mars had supported microbial life — to find evidence of that in the rock record, to find microfossils and show them to the world.” It may sound odd to characterize a career spent designing rocket ships as mundane work, but you have to understand context: growing up, Steltzner had very few role models for what a day job should look like.

“My father didn’t work much,” he says. “There was some inheritance that allowed him to coast along for a bit. My parents read, and they traveled, but they didn’t build anything.”

Steltzner calls his parents artists, though they didn’t use the word to describe themselves. He also calls them dilettantes, people who were creative but who didn’t put serious effort into their endeavors. They never pushed him to see the practicalities of life. NASA was certainly never an ambition.

“I remember distinctly Neil Armstrong [walking on the moon] when I was six years old,” he says. “That was a big deal in my family — it was a big deal in everybody’s family. But I never had the picture of myself as academically inclined or a math and physics person.”

Steltzner grew up in the San Francisco area, where he got involved in the new-wave music scene. His first attempt at higher education was at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where he studied jazz but dropped out. He returned to California, played in bands, and scraped out a living working at an organic market: he coasted.

Then, while watching the progress of the constellation Orion across the sky one night, he discovered that he was actually interested in science. He soon enrolled in his local community college, the College of Marin.

“I took an astronomy course to find out why the stars were moving,” he says. “And of course they weren’t; the earth was spinning on its axis. But I hadn’t learned this in high school. And I fell in love with this idea that the universe was governed by just a few laws. There’s like six, eight laws, like eight ideas. You can exploit these very basic, fundamental truths of the universe and develop about a dozen equations or governing laws that describe all of the behavior of the world around us. That is amazing.”

From physics at the College of Marin, he went on to study engineering at the University of California–Davis and then applied mechanics at Cal Tech. Engineering gave him things that his parents never did: purpose, focus, and attention to persnickety detail. It gave him the pleasures of tedium. Still, academia’s demands were high, and a year into his doctoral program at Cal Tech, Steltzner found himself burning out. Shortly after completing his master’s, he quit and took a job at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where he could work in the kind of physics that didn’t kill people. “This was the late 1980s, early 1990s, the Reagan Star Wars epoch,” he says. “I didn’t want to make weapons, and Jet Propulsion doesn’t make weapons, so I pushed myself into a job at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.”

He took part in the Cassini space probe project, which launched in 1997 and flew by Venus and Jupiter before orbiting Saturn. Though expected to run until 2008, Cassini continued delivering data back to Earth until September 2017, when it finally burned up in Saturn’s atmosphere.

Meanwhile, Steltzner was emerging from his own burnout. With funding from JPL, he enrolled in UW–Madison’s engineering mechanics doctoral program and studied under Daniel Kammer ’76, MS’77, PhD’83. And he continued to focus on the minutiae of engineering work. His dissertation, “Input Force Estimation, Inverse Structural Systems, and the Inverse Structural Filter,” looked at how the U.S. space shuttles and Russia’s Mir space station damaged each other during docking. When he received his degree, he returned to JPL and to NASA, where he was eventually brought into the informal community of engineers and scientists who were working on Mars exploration.

“I’m a phenomenally curious person, always curious about what’s over the horizon,” he says. “I am filled and made happy by vistas — broad, beautiful vistas of places that I have never seen and that I am about to explore.”

He helped create each of NASA’s Martian rovers: Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity. Mars 2020 will be NASA’s most ambitious effort since putting Armstrong on the moon.

“This is annoying to me,” Steltzner says, “but it’s certainly true that there are a tremendous amount of very mundane things that you have to get right to make this mission work.” Again, Mars exploration may not sound mundane, but context is important: the Mars 2020 mission was born not just out of ambition, but out of a desire to be what engineers might characterize as efficient and others might just call cheap. It began as an attempt to recycle elements of the Curiosity program after that mission launched into space in 2012.

“We had these spare parts,” Steltzner says. “We started to sketch out what we might do, what kind of discount we might be able to achieve. By leveraging spare parts and the design expertise, how could we get back to Mars?”

Between 2012 and 2015, the plan for Mars 2020 took a backseat to Curiosity’s launch, landing, and mission, which has increased the number and quality of images that we have of the surface of Mars. Well into 2018, Curiosity continued to send back images and data. But it will never leave the Martian surface.

By aiming to bring bits of Mars home, the 2020 mission will present all the challenges of Curiosity, plus add new ones, many of which require perseverance more than spectacular breakthroughs. One of the chief concerns, Steltzner notes, is protecting the integrity of collected samples. Should anything from Earth get into the sample — a microbe or virus or organic molecule — it would contaminate the findings. Scientists wouldn’t know whether they’d found evidence of life from Mars or life they had taken to Mars. Steltzner and the NASA team have been working to create what he describes as “hypersterilized containers,” vessels designed to be free of any possible contamination by anything from Earth and preserved during passage through the Martian atmosphere, deep space, and reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.

“The hardware elements are cleaner than anything, really, on the surface of the earth,” he says. “We’ve had to invent techniques that [can clean objects more thoroughly] than anything has ever been cleaned. It’s a lot to get right.”

And it’s a lot to do on a firm schedule. Due to the difference in orbit between Mars and Earth, missions can only launch once every 26 months. NASA’s target window is the summer of 2020, with the rover landing in February 2021. It will mean a lot of long days in the office, in the lab, and in construction for someone whose early life didn’t emphasize the value of tedium.

“I’m kind of striving against my parents’ ethos,” he says. “They didn’t do the mundane, day-to-day, go-to-work thing. I wanted to make something real. … Engineering has all the beauty of physics, and it’s a real job.”

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The Hunt for Answers https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/the-hunt-for-answers/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/the-hunt-for-answers/#respond Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:16 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=24380 Don Waller first saw them near sundown: a wall of whitetail deer, coming doe after doe through an abandoned apple orchard about 15 miles west of campus. In many ways, Waller was well acquainted with these animals, having tracked their numbers and effect on the state for decades. In other ways, it was an introduction. He had never been so close to a deer — let alone a dozen — before he clambered into a tree stand in October 2011.

Waller had long documented how deer are eating trilliums and other wildflowers close to extinction and devastating white cedar, hemlock, and oak saplings across much of Wisconsin. His research has helped to show that the huge number of deer in recent decades is throwing the natural world off balance. But in spite of all that, Waller was still not expecting to see so many deer so quickly.

Up the trunk of an ash tree, the then 58-year-old scientist seemed about to succeed on the first hunt of his life. Following in the footsteps of Aldo Leopold — a UW professor and hunter who had also warned about deer impacts — Waller had for years been urging state officials to let hunters harvest more deer to blunt the animals’ effects. For Waller there was a powerful logic to what he did next: he drew his bow. The image of an archer aiming at a clearing full of deer might seem more a part of Wisconsin’s past than its present. But there’s never been a better time to be a deer hunter in this state — and many other parts of the nation — than the past several decades. Wildlife experts think that, in recent years, the country’s whitetail herd has been as large or even larger than the one that existed before white settlers arrived two centuries ago. The landscape of Wisconsin has been upended since then. In northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where Waller has focused much of his research, old-growth forests have given way to young forests, edge habitat, and farm fields that are far more favorable to whitetails.

Deer rely on the forest’s understory and the plants that they can reach to survive. But towering trees block the sunlight and limit growth on the ground. Logging, fires, and anything else that clear the way for sunlight and undergrowth in a forest provide more food for whitetails. Add farm fields and row crops, and suddenly deer have enough food to reach densities that Wisconsin’s native peoples might not have imagined.

Scientists estimate that when white people first arrived in Wisconsin, the northern forests of the state held four to eight deer per square mile. As a result of human intervention, there are now roughly 15 to 30 deer per square mile in parts of northern Wisconsin, and double that in some middle and southern counties. The same challenge extends to many other parts of the country.

In Virginia, state wildlife officials estimate that deer densities in Fairfax County parks — not far from Washington, DC — have reached more than 100 animals per square mile. Scientists in New York and Pennsylvania have turned up ecological impacts from whitetails as well, prompting groups such as the Nature Conservancy to argue that high deer numbers may pose a greater threat to forests in the eastern United States than climate change. As adults, each of Wisconsin’s 1.3 million deer will eat more than 2,000 pounds of food a year. Profound ecological damage can result, as Waller saw firsthand on a 1987 trip to northern Wisconsin.

One of his research collaborators, William Alverson ’78, PhD’86 had convinced Waller to drive up that summer from Madison to Foulds Creek State Natural Area near Park Falls. The two were looking for a small, fenced-off section of woods. They wanted to examine the plants inside the roughly 20-year-old “exclosure” — so named because it excludes deer. Waller thought the fence would be difficult to find in the forest — it was anything but. Hiking in, the two men saw their destination from far away.

“You can’t really see the fence from a distance. You just see the green,” Alverson says.

Within the fence, whitetail favorites such as hemlock and northern red oak thrived. Outside the wire, those plants were absent or stunted — a stunning difference. At the time, wildlife managers still sometimes argued that deer had no environmental impacts. Waller could see at a glance that wasn’t true.

“It converted me instantly into a believer,” he says. “It made me realize, ‘Wow, we need to pay more attention to this.’ … I had assumed up until then that the experts knew what they were doing.”

David Clausen reached a similar, but much more costly, conclusion of his own about damage from deer. A retired veterinarian familiar with Waller’s work, Clausen once served as chair of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Board, which helps oversee wildlife and environmental policy in the state. Twenty-five years ago, Clausen planted roughly 50,000 oaks on land he owns in the northwest part of the state. Today only a handful of those trees remain — deer helped kill the rest. Most of the surviving oaks are less than three feet tall and have the strange, undersized appearance of a bonsai tree.

“I became aware of just how much having that excess of deer on the land had cost me,” Clausen says. To restore his land, Clausen would like to remove invasive species such as buckthorn — a small tree that deer won’t eat — and plant other, native species like aspen. But he sees little point to doing that if deer are going to kill the plantings. Many oaks still tower over Clausen’s land, dropping acorn crops each fall that nourish deer, squirrels, and turkeys. But as the trees succumb to wind and old age, he worries about whether they’ll be replaced.

“You can’t have a sustainable forest if you can’t get regeneration,” he says.

Leopold made a similar observation in the years just after World War II in his landmark work, A Sand County Almanac. In the essay “Thinking Like a Mountain,” Leopold describes how the land had suffered after he and other wildlife managers had exterminated wolves in western states. In the Midwest, deer numbers had yet to rebound fully, and few were imagining any potential fallout from them. But before moving to Wisconsin and writing that essay, Leopold lived and worked in the American Southwest, where he saw how the loss of wolves contributed to an overabundance of deer that damaged the landscape.

“I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn,” he wrote.

Decades later, Waller and his colleagues found those impacts and more: a cascade of effects on plants, other animals, and even the soil itself. The scientists built their own exclosures and also did surveys to compare current plant populations in parts of Wisconsin to those documented in the 1950s by UW professor John Curtis and his students. They found a startling result: deer accounted for at least 25 percent of the changes they observed in plant composition over the past half century. Whitetails didn’t just stress some native plants and make room for invasive species — they shifted the makeup of whole plant communities toward species with unpalatable or tougher leaves. Deer also compacted the soil, altering the composition of its upper layer. By changing the plants in the understory, deer also affected the other animals and birds that rely on them.

In addition, big numbers of deer can lead to more auto accidents, more of the ticks that carry Lyme disease, and a faster spread of threats such as chronic wasting disease (CWD), which attacks the nervous system of deer and causes them to lose weight and eventually die. The misshapen protein that causes CWD hasn’t been shown to affect humans, but concerns over it are leading some hunters to avoid certain areas or give up the sport entirely. That in turn could make it harder for the remaining hunters — already an aging and dwindling group — to keep the herd in check. Nationally, the number of hunters dropped 16 percent from 2011 to 2016, according to a national survey released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Census Bureau. The level of hunting in 2016 was the lowest measured in the past 25 years.

There are other obstacles to preventing deer impacts. In deciding how many whitetails are too many, the DNR has traditionally looked at the populations in large geographic areas. But deer numbers and impacts on local plant communities can vary widely across these big zones, and the measurements aren’t necessarily meaningful at the local level, says Alison Paulson PhD’18, who worked with Waller as a graduate student.

Paulson and Waller’s other collaborators, including Sarah Johnson PhD’11, a Northland College professor, want scientists and wildlife managers to pay more attention to these differences and are investigating methods for easily monitoring deer impacts. They’re working in iconic places such as the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior and Leopold’s land near Baraboo, which was featured in A Sand County Almanac and is now held by his family foundation.

Not everyone is listening to Waller’s warnings. He found that out in the early 1990s, when he tried to convince DNR officials to reduce the deer population over the objections of hunters.

“I was told point blank that it was politically unfeasible,” Waller says.  

George Meyer, the DNR secretary from 1993 to 2001, says that sounds plausible, though he doesn’t recall ever speaking with Waller about it. Meyer, now the executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, a conservation group of hunters and anglers, says many deer hunters loved the large herd sizes of that era and opposed lowering them.

“If you had talked to a wildlife manager back then, I’m sure you would’ve heard that kind of statement,” Meyer says.

In states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Indiana, it’s common to see state wildlife agencies come under fire from hunters if the deer population dips below record levels. In his time on the DNR board, Clausen also saw how hard it can be to convince others to thin the herd. “A lot of people don’t understand what the deer herd is doing and, frankly, a lot of them don’t care,” he says.

Clausen has been hunting deer for nearly 60 years — he took his first buck while Dwight Eisenhower was president and deer were less plentiful. He thinks that hunters who came of age in recent decades have grown accustomed to easier hunts.

“It’s a matter of perception,” he says.

Waller and his research team haven’t been content to document the loss of biodiversity — they’ve tried to stem it. Waller and other researchers sued the U.S. Forest Service in 1990, seeking to force it to set aside large swaths of mature forest without the kind of cutting that ends up providing food for deer and boosting their numbers.

“If you want to hang onto things that love old-growth forest, you have to think about that,” Alverson says.

Though the lawsuit failed, Alverson believes it helped change the thinking of many land managers. In recent years, Waller’s been looking for other ways to shift people’s thinking about what it means to have healthy forests and a healthy herd. He decided to become a hunter, for instance, in part to understand hunters better. To do that, he says he had to overcome some of his own preconceptions.

“I sort of assumed people were into [hunting] for the bloodsport aspect of it,” says Waller, who began to discover other reasons why people hunt, such as access to lean, organic meat.

He also got pointers on pursuing deer with a gun from Tim Van Deelen, a UW professor of forest and wildlife ecology and former DNR manager who read Waller’s work as a graduate student and found himself fascinated by its insights. The two men have since collaborated on research.

“Having been a deer specialist my whole career, [Waller] is one of the important voices out there,” Van Deelen says.

For his part, Waller’s several years of hunting have given him an appreciation for its challenges. He has helped to field-dress a deer but has not yet taken one himself. One of his closest moments to success remains that first hunt. The problem that day was, ironically, that there were too many deer. With all those does and yearlings below his tree stand, Waller couldn’t draw his bow — too many eyes were watching. After a long wait with no opportunity, he finally felt compelled to pull back his bow. As he did, the deer below caught the movement and scattered like marbles struck by a taw. Waller never had time to shoot.

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Five Badger Standouts https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/five-badger-standouts/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/five-badger-standouts/#respond Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:15 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=24416 With more than 440,000 living alumni and a top-tier reputation, UW–Madison has no shortage of exceptional graduates. Selecting the superlative among this crowd is no easy task, but the Wisconsin Alumni Association has offered Distinguished Alumni Awards annually since 1936. This year, WAA’s highest honor acknowledges five alumni who have made stellar contributions to their professions, their communities, and their alma mater.

Carol Edler Baumann ’54

As a former U.S. State Department staffer and board member for numerous diplomatic organizations, Carol Baumann built a network of professional relationships “that helped bring the world to Milwaukee,” according to a longtime colleague.

Baumann earned her doctorate from the London School of Economics and was a professor of political science at UW–Madison and UW–Milwaukee. In 1979, President Carter appointed her to serve as U.S. deputy assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

At UW–Milwaukee, she directed the international relations major for 17 years and the Institute of World Affairs for 33 years. Baumann built the institute into one of the best of its kind while continuing to teach and inspire students to pursue careers in international affairs and global business. She was the first host of the institute’s television program, International Focus, which is still broadcast on Milwaukee public TV. Baumann also hosted the Dialogues with Diplomats series, which drew ambassadors and other high-ranking officials from around the world, including President Bill Clinton and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

In 1958 she ran for Congress in Wisconsin’s Ninth Congressional District. Her extensive professional affiliations included the Council on Foreign Relations, the Wisconsin Governor’s Commission on the United Nations, and the National Foreign Policy Association.

Baumann helped facilitate cross-participation in international programming between the Milwaukee and Madison campuses, and she helped to forge a connection between the European Union and the international studies programs at UW–Madison. She retired in 1995 as a UW–Milwaukee professor emerita. Baumann published a novel, Journeys of the Mind, based on her travels and career.

John Bollinger ’57, PhD’61

As dean of the College of Engineering (CoE) from 1981 to 1999, John Bollinger presided over the creation of a familiar college landmark — the Maquina sculpture and fountain on Engineering Mall.

It was just one element of the $16 million CoE expansion to Engineering Hall in 1993. Bollinger’s 18-year tenure as dean also saw many other innovations, including a renovation of the materials science building and a new freshman course that assigned a real-world engineering project from design to final product. The college also instituted several annual competitions that encourage students to invent, patent, and commercialize their own technology. After retiring as dean, he created a new course, Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Bollinger served as director of the Data Acquisition and Simulation Laboratory and as chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering before becoming dean. He was a Fulbright Fellow in 1962 and 1980 and he coauthored two textbooks. Among his many patents, he invented a noise-quality detector for electric motors and an automated welder that helped Milwaukee’s A. O. Smith Company in manufacturing automobile frames. He founded and served as editor of the Journal of Manufacturing Systems.

He has served on the board of numerous companies, including Nicolet Instrument Corporation, Unico Incorporated, Kohler Company, and Berbee Information Networks. Bollinger is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the American Society for Engineering Education.

A Bascom Hill Society member, he has also generously supported the college financially. In honor of his parents, he established the UW’s Bollinger Academic Staff Distinguished Achievement Award.

He also established several engineering student scholarships.

George Hamel Jr. ’80

When the California wildfires swept through wine country last fall, George and Pam Hamel, co-owners of Hamel Family Wines in the Sonoma Valley, sprang into action. They quickly organized and hosted a benefit with singer John Fogerty in support of wine country wildfire relief, raising more than $1.2 million. For the Hamels, who lost their own home in the fire, it was a typical act of generosity.

The Hamel family, which includes three generations of UW–Madison alumni (and a Badger alum daughter-in-law), has been extraordinarily generous across the campus. They provided the $15 million lead gift for the new Hamel Music Center on campus, as well as the founding gift for SuccessWorks at the College of Letters & Science. They have been longtime supporters of the communication arts department and have provided major gifts to the Department of Athletics, the Garding Against Cancer initiative, the Office of Student Financial Aid, the Memorial Union, and several other UW programs.

Before becoming a vintner, George was a founder and served as COO of ValueAct Capital, a San Francisco–based investment firm.

For the Van Hise Society member, his support of the university has extended to giving generously of his time and advice. He serves on the Chancellor’s Advisory Board, the Communication Arts Partners, and the Garding Against Cancer steering committee, and he previously served on the UW Foundation board of directors and the College of Letters & Science board of visitors.

Ann McKee ’75

Ann McKee has studied hundreds of individuals diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and is the leading researcher on the degenerative brain disease. CTE is triggered by repetitive blows to the head and is most commonly found in athletes participating in boxing, football, ice hockey, and other contact sports, as well as military veterans. CTE causes symptoms such as cognitive impairment, depression, memory loss, aggression, and suicidal behavior. McKee was lead author on a 2017 study that found that CTE had been diagnosed in 110 of 111 former NFL players whose brains were donated for research.

She has presented her findings to NFL officials and testified many times before Congress. Her research was highlighted on the Frontline special “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis,” as well as in the New York Times, TIME, Sports Illustrated, the Boston Globe, CBS’s 60 Minutes, CNN, NPR, and other outlets.

McKee is a professor of neurology and pathology at Boston University School of Medicine and directs its CTE Center. She’s also the director of the brain banks at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center, and the Framingham Heart Study.

Her game-changing findings continue to make headlines. Her data show that it’s actually repetitive small blows to the head, rather than big, concussion-inducing hits, that have the strongest link to CTE — and that has the potential to drastically change the game of football as we know it today.

In 2018, she received a lifetime achievement award for Alzheimer’s disease research from the Alzheimer’s Association, and she was named by TIME magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.”

Allan Chi Yun Wong MS’73

Allan Chi Yun Wong is the founder, chair, and group CEO of the Hong Kong–based company VTech, one of the top 50 electronics manufacturers globally, with more than $1.8 billion in revenue.

After a brief stint at National Cash Register Company, Wong started VTech in 1976 as an electronics company that designed and manufactured home-gaming consoles, including Pong (an early video game based on table tennis).

In its first year, the company expanded from an initial investment of $40,000 to an annual revenue of just under $1 million. Under Wong’s direction, the company later focused on producing children’s learning products and cordless phones. In 1998, Business Week included him on its “World’s Top 25 Executives” list.

Wong serves on the board of China-Hongkong Photo Products Holdings Limited and Li and Fung Limited, and he’s also the deputy chairman and director of the Bank of East Asia, the third largest bank in Hong Kong. His government honored him with the Gold Bauhinia Star in 2008, and the United Kingdom gave him its Most Excellent Order of the British Empire award in 1997. He has an honorary doctorate from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and he served as a keynote speaker at the March 2017 Hong Kong chapter UW alumni event.

In 2016, Wong told CNN, “You don’t go into business to make money. You need to love your business, and you need to have passion, and you need to really want to make a difference in people’s lives. And making money is a byproduct, not the sole purpose.”

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Slideshow: Madison Flood https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/slideshow-madison-flood/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/slideshow-madison-flood/#respond Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:14 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=24249 Madison-area lake levels continued to rise after a record-breaking storm on August 20, 2018, dumped more than 10 inches of rain on parts of Dane County and caused flooding on the UW–Madison campus lakeshore. Street closures in the downtown area also complicated matters for students who moved into residence halls six days later. While other areas of Madison experienced flooding for weeks after the initial rainfall, campus remained open for normal operations.

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Raw Talent https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/raw-talent/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/raw-talent/#respond Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:13 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=24335 After college, Marie Moody ’90 moved to New York City, studied acting, got fired from waitressing jobs, worked in fashion marketing, and adopted two dogs: first Stella, then Chewy.

Chewy’s health was failing, and Moody learned that changing his diet had the potential to help. She began preparing her pups meals of raw meats, fruits, and vegetables: a fresh, unprocessed menu intended to be closer to the animals’ ancestral fare. The raw-food diet helped Chewy fully recover — and fired up Moody’s entrepreneurial spirit. She filled her tiny Manhattan apartment with industrial freezers, made her own raw-food blends, and took taxis to personally deliver her small-batch product to customers.

Fifteen years later, Stella & Chewy’s is a multi- million-dollar, national pet-food brand, headquartered in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Moody has stepped away from her role as chief executive; she now serves as founder and chairman of the board.

What keeps you most engaged with Stella & Chewy’s?

Getting people on board who are much smarter than me has been so much fun. To build a brand is like pushing a boulder uphill, so the more people doing it, the better it is.

How have the preferences of pet owners changed over time?

People are able to access so much information, and I think that helps [them] make more educated and intelligent decisions about what they want to feed both themselves and their pets. Pets are our family members, and the kind of unconditional love they give has become really important. With the evolution of the internet and social media, there’s something in between us and other people oftentimes. With your pets, you communicate in person.

You were one of the first entrepreneurs to bring raw pet food to market.

When I started, raw was a bad word. People were like, “Oh, you can’t call it raw. Can you call it gently uncooked?” When people hear raw meat, they still need to sometimes be talked through it, because they might think there could be a food-safety concern. But openness to raw feeding has come a long way.

Is it true that you collaborated with UW scientists on food safety?

I could not have done it without people at the UW. It’s funny, because I was an English major and a women’s studies major, and I came back and worked with an animal nutritionist and a meat scientist. I didn’t even know there was a building for meat science [on campus].

You know more about pathogens than the average person.

I know all about bacteria. More than I want to.

When you worked with UW scientists, was there a breakthrough moment?

They were able to point me to a technology called HPP [high pressure processing, a food-preservation method that retains nutrition and eliminates harmful bacteria]. There was one place to have it done [on a fee-for-service basis] in the United States 10 years ago, and it was in Milwaukee. It was pretty serendipitous.

How did your women’s studies major influence the Stella & Chewy’s brand?

I was coming out of the fashion industry, so I was looking at things like how to name it something besides “Natural Champion,” you know, like a really boring name. Because raw diets were already a brand-new way of thinking, I wanted something that was a little more approachable and friendly. Women’s studies really forced me to question the existing corporate hierarchy. For example, when I wanted to build a manufacturing plant, it never occurred to me that I couldn’t. And that’s thanks to the women who came before us. So I do feel a sense of responsibility to pass that on and to help women coming up now. That gives me great joy.

Has your advice changed for those who want to step forward in business as you did 15 years ago?

It’s fun to be at this point in my life and to have anything to offer the next generation in terms of advice. People complain about millennials, but I love millennials. I love the way they’re going about building businesses that are more concerned about the environment and sustainability and giving back.

How many pets do you have at home?

One cat, one dog, one kid. We were getting hate mail at Stella & Chewy’s that we weren’t focused enough on cats. My son and I were at a rescue event, and I told him he could pick one out. I just wanted to understand. You know how cats are.

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Hard Truth https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/hard-truth/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/hard-truth/#respond Fri, 02 Nov 2018 18:44:07 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=24324 Over the summer, Chris Borland ’13 attended the largest athletics fundraiser in Lawrence University’s history. He was an odd fit. There among players, coaches, and boosters was the “most dangerous man in football,” a nickname the former Badger star earned from ESPN after his unprecedented decision to leave the NFL over the long-term risk of brain trauma.

Borland made the trip to Appleton, Wisconsin, to support his new friend Ann McKee ’75, the night’s keynote speaker, whose brother was a star quarterback at Lawrence in the ’60s. To a stunned and largely unsuspecting audience, the foremost researcher on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in football and other contact sports laid out her decade-long body of research on the degenerative brain disease that’s linked to minor, repetitive hits to the head.

Audible gasps interrupted the room’s silence when McKee projected side-by-side scans of healthy brains and brains riddled with damage. One had belonged to a 17-year-old high school football player who died by suicide and showed signs of CTE. “I’m not sure I’m giving the right speech for this crowd,” McKee confessed beforehand. By the time she was done, the night felt less like a celebration of sport and more like a cautioning of it.

As Borland was leaving, an attendee approached him. She wanted a picture to text to her partner — a huge football fan. “It’s ironic to me,” Borland says later. “Everyone tells me, ‘I loved watching you play at Wisconsin.’ And then they will say, ‘I really commend your decision [to leave football].’ ”

 

When you meet Borland, the unassuming history major sticks out more than the football player, with the wisdom and receding hairline of a man well beyond his years. His smile is welcoming; his tone is soft, reserved, and polite. He speaks with equal parts curiosity and conviction. Each word is carefully considered. He’s read hundreds of books since he left football. His word choice — from “disequilibrium” to “abyss” in a seamless sentence — bears it out.

Borland was born in Kettering, Ohio, a midsized suburb of Dayton. He was the sixth of seven active kids, with the oldest, a daughter, followed by six sons. They excelled in many sports growing up, except one: football. “I begged my dad to play every fall,” says Borland, who watched Wisconsin, Notre Dame, and the Green Bay Packers religiously.

Jeff Borland, who owns an investment advisory firm, played college football briefly at Miami University of Ohio. He was adamant that none of the boys would play organized football until high school. “I can’t say my concern was concussions — that would be too easy,” Jeff says. “It was more [broadly] head and neck injury based on the lack of form and technique.”

Borland fell in love with the game within five minutes of his first freshman practice. He took quickly to running back and receiver. On defense, his coaches designed a play for him — called “Badger” — to roam the field and target any player he saw fit. Once, he jumped and somersaulted over the offensive line, piledriving the running back into the ground in a single motion. It was violent — and it went viral.

 

The college recruiting process was brief. Borland’s dream school was always the UW. His grandfather, Henry Borland ’52, was an alumnus, and his father grew up in Madison. Most colleges projected him as a linebacker, even though he had never played the position formally.

Borland outperformed modest expectations and higher-rated recruits at his first two summer camps. His only preparation had been 20 minutes in a gym with his father, who relayed what he could remember from playing the position decades prior. By the end of a three-day camp at the UW — “When I showed up, they didn’t know who I was,” he says — head coach Bret Bielema saw enough potential to offer a scholarship. Borland jumped for joy — literally. He did a backflip in the Camp Randall parking lot and accepted the offer within an hour.

Borland went on to become one of the UW’s most dependable tacklers of all time. His aggressive, hard-nosed style on the field — combined with a school record for volunteer hours off of it — endeared him to fans. “You will be hard pressed to find a more genuine, empathetic human being,” said Kayla Gross ’15, community relations coordinator for UW athletics, in 2013.

Borland helped lead the UW to three conference championships, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2009 and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. His 420 career tackles rank sixth in school history.

During the 2014 NFL Draft, Borland’s reputation reigned. “He’s too short. He’s too slow. I don’t care — he can play,” proclaimed NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock, describing Borland (endearingly, if later ironically) as a “thundering hardhead.” The San Francisco 49ers agreed, selecting him in the third round and signing him to a $2.9 million contract.

Coach Jim Harbaugh spoke glowingly of his middle linebacker throughout the year, telling reporters, “He’s so physical. You can see when he takes on the lead blocker that there is some rattling of fillings.” By season’s end, Borland led the 49ers’ top-five defense in tackles, was named to the All-Rookie Team, and was selected as an alternate for the Pro Bowl. He was just 24.

And then he walked away from it all.

 

Borland began looking into CTE during training camp of his rookie season. He had never given head injury serious thought until he ran head first into a nearly 300-pound fullback in practice. He almost certainly suffered a concussion, but he didn’t report it to the team, fearing that missing time could jeopardize his place on the roster.

Borland felt increasingly isolated in the 49ers’ locker room as he read A League of Denial. The book revealed the NFL’s resistance to acknowledging the link between football and CTE. When teammates and coaches were around, he hid it within another book’s cover.

Borland learned to compartmentalize. “I was living a very binary life, out of necessity,” he says. During practices, games, and training, his focus was remarkably singular. But in the back of his mind, he was thinking of his long-term brain health. And he was learning that with each collision he was compromising it.

Borland wrote a letter to his parents and handed it to them after a preseason game. It outlined his concerns and suggested that he might not be long for football. (Earlier in the summer, he had jotted down his career goals, including playing for at least 10 years.) They were surprised — and then relieved. Jeff Borland thought back to the UW days. His cousin, cheering emphatically, once remarked that the parents’ section at Camp Randall felt oddly quiet and dull. “What you’ve got to understand,” Jeff told her, “is we want them to do real, real well — and we want the team to win. But mostly we want them to be able to walk off the field at the end.”  

Borland started with simple Google searches, then research papers, then books. He learned of the tragedy of “Iron Mike” Webster x’74, a star center for the Badgers who retired in 1990 after a Hall of Fame career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs. Legendary for his durability and toughness on the field, Webster later experienced chronic pain, dementia, depression, and homelessness. He died in 2002, becoming the first former NFL player diagnosed with CTE.

Borland went straight to the source: researchers. That’s how he met McKee, who leads the world’s largest brain bank at Boston University. She’s analyzed several hundred brains of former football players — far more than anyone else. She told him the hard truth.

By the end of his rookie season, Borland had seen, read, and heard enough. He was leaving football to preserve his long-term health. He informed the 49ers in March 2015, to the shock of teammates and NFL fans alike.

“It’s essentially heresy to walk away from football in America,” Borland acknowledges. Extreme fans called him, in the nicest of terms, soft and weak. Wrote one on Twitter: “All due respect to Chris Borland, and head injuries are no joke, but what a p – – – – .”

But to others, like David Meggyesy, Borland’s decision was a courageous act. Meggyesy would know: 50 years ago, he also walked away from the NFL in his prime. An outspoken civil rights advocate and Vietnam War critic, he was benched for silently protesting during the national anthem. He retired and released Out of Their League, a scathing account of racism, sexism, and abuses of power he witnessed in the NFL. After hearing Meggyesy speak at the UW in 2013, Borland picked up a copy of his book and consulted with him during his rookie season.

“When Chris retired, he had a lot of influence because he had such integrity and perspective about what he was saying,” says Meggyesy, who later worked for the NFL Players Association. “It was believable for a lot of people. He really loved to play the game. He was a hell of a player.”

 

If Borland had any lingering doubt, it disappeared in July 2017. McKee and her team at Boston University’s CTE Center had finished analyzing the brains of 111 former NFL players, ranging from ages 23 to 89. All but one showed signs of CTE.

The condition’s degenerative (and currently untreatable) nature means that the damage doesn’t cease even when the collisions do. CTE isn’t diagnosable in the living, but the symptoms often arise later in life, sometimes decades after the exposure to contact. The most common symptoms are memory loss, dementia, and behavioral changes such as aggression — similar to the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, but with different lesions and indicators in the brain.

Ann McKee holding cross-section of human brain

TIME named Ann McKee as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2018. McKee’s work was central to Borland’s decision to retire, and “she may have saved my life,” he wrote in the magazine. Dina Rudick/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The research points to a numbers game. The more blows to the head, the more likely the disease. Notably, these include minor — or subconcussive — impacts. Because players rarely feel or show pain at the time of small, indirect hits, the damage is easy to ignore. But they add up to much more than the occasional big hit. Twenty percent of those with CTE never suffer a diagnosable concussion, according to McKee.

Critics are eager to point out the limitations of McKee’s research. Her work relies on donated brains. Families are more likely to donate their loved one’s brain if they had noticed signs of cognitive decline, and McKee readily acknowledges this selective sample.

But she returns to the numbers game. Some 1,300 former NFL players died over the eight-year span of her study. She has proof that 110 had CTE. Even in the unlikeliest event that not a single one of the other 1,190 former players developed CTE, the prevalence of the disease would still be close to 10 percent of all players. “That’s a public health problem,” she says.

When discussing her research, McKee oscillates between a rigorous scientist consumed with the hard data and a concerned citizen visibly affected by the human toll of CTE. To avoid preconceived notions, she analyzes each brain without knowledge of whom it belonged to. Afterward, for statistical comparison, she sets out to learn as much as she can. For hours on end, she listens as family members’ memories and stories turn to grief and anger. When McKee presents her research, she feels compelled to show more than the subjects’ shocking brain scans — she shows their smiling faces, too. McKee, like Borland, no longer watches football. A lifelong Packers fan, her breaking point was Donnovan Hill in 2016. At age 13, he broke his neck and was paralyzed from a head-first collision while playing youth football. At age 18, he died from complications stemming from his injury. “That hit didn’t just cause paralysis,” McKee says. “He had tremendous brain damage.”

The current strategies to make football safer — better helmets, lower tackling, improved concussion protocols — might reduce some harm. But these ideas are rooted in a misguided focus, perpetuated at the very top of athletics, McKee says.

“The NFL has decided that this is a concussion issue, which it is not,” she continues. “It’s about the subconcussive, repetitive hits that happen with every collision.” Framing the issue around concussions, which can be managed and treated without fundamentally altering the sport, is a strategic choice.

According to McKee, the way to reduce the risk of CTE is to reduce collisions. In football, that’s no easy task. Collision is intrinsic; linemen surge together and crash helmets nearly every play. Fewer collisions translates to fewer practices, fewer plays, fewer games.

Ultimately, when Borland and McKee are asked how to make football safer, their answer is simple: football — at least the sport as we know it today — cannot be safe.  

Borland insists that he’s not anti-football. He’s pro-information. He wants players — many of whom remain “willfully ignorant,” he says — to learn the risks and to make informed decisions.

“I don’t [subscribe] to the notion that football is inherently evil or that there’s this impending doom and the game needs to go away,” Borland says. His primary concern is youth football, which often has the least regulated contact rules of all levels.

Earlier this year, he testified in support of the Dave Duerson Act, a proposal to ban tackle football for children under the age of 12 in Illinois. Those who started playing contact football before age 12 began to show signs of CTE an average of 13 years earlier compared to those who started playing later in life, according to McKee’s research.

Borland also volunteers for nonprofits dedicated to brain injuries in sports, including the Concussion Legacy Foundation and the After the Impact Fund. He travels and speaks frequently at conferences, and occasionally chats with players (including former UW receiver Jared Abbrederis ’13, who retired from the NFL in January) about his decision to leave football. Only a handful of NFL players have followed in Borland’s footsteps. That likely won’t change until CTE is more visible and can be traced in the living — which could be as soon as five years from now, McKee estimates.

The advocacy does not come naturally for Borland, who notes that the sport has afforded him lifelong memories and friendships. “I think the advocate struggles with [the question], ‘How much do I owe?’ ” Jeff Borland says. “As a parent, I would say I’m not sure he owes any more than he’s already done.”

While occasionally tempted, Chris Borland believes scaling back now would be a betrayal. “I’ve had wives of players tell me, ‘I wish he was dead, because he’s not the man I married, and I’ve just become a full-time caregiver for the last two decades.’ I can’t imagine saying no to someone who asks for something from that world,” he says.

 

In addition to the truth, Borland is searching for peace. The conversation surrounding safety in football provides anything but that. “The irony that I quit not to deal with this and [now], at least intellectually, deal with it every day isn’t lost on me,” says Borland. “And it’s tiring.”

Perhaps unintentionally, his favorite activities since leaving football share a common thread of escape: both physical, with traveling, surfing, hiking; and mental, with yoga and meditation.

Borland’s foray into mindfulness and meditative practice began when his brother-in-law gave him a copy of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, which prompted him to meditate “pretty clumsily.” Soon after, a mutual friend connected him with Richard Davidson, founder of the UW’s Center for Healthy Minds and a leading researcher on how meditative practices can affect emotional health and the brain.

Borland was immediately struck by Davidson’s candor and scientific rigor (something he particularly appreciated after being approached for endorsements of “concussion-curing” pills and other pseudo-therapies). For years, Borland had learned to train his physical body to prepare for the next play, but never his mind to prepare for what’s next in life.

The difficulty of transitioning from the intensity of professional sports to the slog of everyday life is well documented. Similar to military veterans, retired athletes can struggle with the sudden loss of structure, camaraderie, serviceable skills, and even a sense of identity. Daily meditation has helped him to work through personal anxiety and depression, and more simply, to relax and clear his mind. He thought it could help others, too.

Last spring, Borland and Chad McGehee, an instructor for the Center for Healthy Minds, collaborated on a first-of-its-kind meditative program for former NFL players. Seventeen participants met in Madison over a span of two months. McGehee taught them a new meditative practice each week and assigned a training plan for home. Although some of the former players were initially skeptical — particularly when they were handed a recruiting brochure titled “Love and Compassion Cultivation,” Borland says, laughing — many of them later reported that the practices helped them to sleep better and to manage stress and physical pain.

“One guy talked about how he trained as a football player at 1,000 miles an hour, maximum effort, all the time,” McGehee says. “But that same tenacity at all times didn’t serve him well [after] football. The way he put it is that [mindfulness] felt like a way of deprogramming some of those [tendencies], to become aware that they were there.”

Encouraged by the success of the pilot, Borland continues to collaborate with the UW’s center and also works with the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, which teaches a mindfulness curriculum originally developed at Google. He’s facilitated meditative programs for teams at the UW, Michigan, and West Point, aiming to help active athletes cope with pressures on and off the playing field.

“The mindfulness [work] has been such a release valve for me,” says Borland, who now lives in Los Angeles. “It’s such a pivot to positivity and to optimism.”

When he meets former players, Borland pays special attention to how they introduce themselves. Some who have been retired from the NFL for as long as four decades will start with their name immediately followed by their past team or position.

“There’s a cliché that athletes live two lives: athlete and former athlete,” he says. “I don’t think it has to ring true. But it takes work to create a new identity.”

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The Big Dig https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/the-big-dig/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/the-big-dig/#respond Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:27 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23640 Pulling a soil sample from frozen Wisconsin ground in January is not impossible, but it certainly isn’t easy.

Armed with a steel pick, plant pathology professor Douglas Rouse sent dirt, grass, and ice flying into the sunlight at the UW Arboretum as a small group of introductory biology students noted the location and condition of the frozen soil. Thawed or frozen, wet or dry, the soil remains an essential hunting ground. Within it lies the key to suppressing what the United Nations calls “the greatest and most urgent global risk”: superbugs — strains of bacteria that have grown resistant to traditional antibiotics. Superbugs could kill more people than cancer by 2050 if left unchecked, according to a 2014 report issued by the United Kingdom’s government.

More than two-thirds of new antibiotics come from soil bacteria or fungi. But since a small sample contains thousands of species of bacteria — and most of the antibiotics they produce are toxic to humans — it requires significant time, labor, and persistence to isolate effective antibiotic producers and to test for new compounds. With the prospects of profitability lacking, pharmaceutical companies have shied away from developing new antibiotics to focus on more lucrative drugs.

Enter Tiny Earth, an initiative based at the UW’s Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID). Rouse’s biology students are just a sampling of the nearly 10,000 students across 41 states and 14 countries who are mining soil to solve the superbug problem.

“Antibiotic resistance is one of the main threats to global health and security, and the students have potential to discover new antibiotics to fill the void that currently exists,” says Jo Handelsman PhD’84, director of WID and founder of the initiative.

Each semester, thousands of students around the world dig into the soil in their backyards, farm fields, stream beds, and forest floors. Just like the UW students, they learn the techniques they need to identify new species and compounds. Along with building a database of new antibiotics with medical potential, Tiny Earth is addressing another looming global crisis: a shortage of students pursuing careers in science.

“One of the best ways to learn is to engage in science actively and to do research so that the thrill of discovery drives the learning process,” says Handelsman, who first developed the program in 2012 at Yale University. She saw too many first- and second-year undergraduates dropping out of the sciences and wanted to reverse the trend by offering hands-on research that pulls in techniques and ideas from disciplines such as ecology, genetics, and molecular biology. For students, it’s a galvanizing introduction to laboratory science: they learn new skills while solving real problems.

The UW introductory biology students spent last spring diluting their soil samples, culturing and isolating bacteria, and profiling the genomes of anti- biotic-producing microbes. Along the way, they made hypotheses about what they might find, learned and selected techniques, and synthesized their findings, all in the hope of discovering new antibiotic compounds. While the samples await final analysis, the initiative is betting on the odds that more participation will increase the chances of unique discovery.

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Science Faction https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/science-faction/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/science-faction/#respond Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:26 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23583 In his autobiography, Tommy, which is out this September, Tommy Thompson ’63, JD’66 shares stories about his small-town upbringing in Elroy, Wisconsin, his days on campus, and his career in government. Thompson devotes a significant passage to his support for stem cell research, both on campus and worldwide. In May 2017, the university opened the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership, which states that it seeks to provide “a multidisciplinary, nonpartisan environment to study, discuss, and improve leadership.” Although some have questioned whether the center will live up to its nonpartisan charge, few would disagree that its namesake is known for reaching across the aisle and for being a tireless promoter of Wisconsin and its state university.

It was at a cabinet meeting that first spring after being named secretary of Health and Human Services when President George W. Bush asked me if I would stay afterward.

“I need to address stem cells,” the president said. “I want to know more about them.”

I nodded.

“I know you are for the research,” the president continued, “and I know Karl Rove [then White House deputy chief of staff] is against it. I am going to schedule a lunch for the three of us. I want you to come in, and I want you and Karl to discuss it.”

I wasn’t surprised. In my 1999 State of the State speech, I introduced James Thomson, a UW–Madison developmental biologist whose lab, in 1998, was the first to isolate stem cells from human embryos. His findings were published in Science magazine in November 1998, and the following month the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) received a patent on the discovery. Even in those early days it was being touted as a breakthrough that could revolutionize modern medicine and health care.

But the research was not without controversy. Though the cells Thomson used were left over from fertility clinics — and the donors had signed off on their use in research — some right-to-life people called it immoral, unethical, or both. They were furious with me for introducing Thomson during my State of the State speech, and it was brought up again by the Bush team prior to my appointment.

“I support stem cells,” I told them. “If that means I can’t get the appointment, so be it.”

My passionate support of Thomson and WARF were part of my larger belief that the University of Wisconsin’s emergence as a leader in biotechnology and biomedical research was great for both our state and humanity in general. Where are lifesaving advances going to come from, if not great institutions like the University of Wisconsin?

As governor, I tried to forge a partnership that would help the UW System grow while at the same time generating new technologies and businesses to pump up the state’s economy. During my time as governor, more than 4,000 building projects at a collective cost of nearly $2 billion were initiated at campuses across the state. It was a mix of public and private money. I helped Donna Shalala, before she left the UW–Madison’s chancellor job to join the Clinton administration, generate private funds to advance the expansion. Later, I called it the New Wisconsin Idea — a collaboration between academia and the private sector that would benefit both and bring good-paying new jobs to Wisconsin.

I can’t understand why any public official wouldn’t see the University of Wisconsin System as an ally, especially in a world that is changing faster than ever.

I remember having a discussion at some point in my last term as governor with John Wiley MS’65, PhD’68, who would later be UW–Madison chancellor but at the time was provost. John said he wanted me to meet Michael Sussman, a biochemist on campus who was doing some interesting work perfecting DNA chips utilized in identifying genetic abnormalities that can eventually lead to new drugs and ways to fight disease.

I said I’d be happy to meet Sussman. During my first term as governor, Chancellor Shalala had approached me about assisting with a new Biotechnology Center on the Madison campus. I agreed to help, and with a mix of federal, state, and private dollars, the center was built on the site of the old Wisconsin High School. By the time Wiley brought Sussman to see me in the late 1990s, the biosciences were exploding on campus, and the center I’d helped fund was already inadequate. Sussman sat in my office in the capitol and for two hours talked about DNA and the potential for all this great science to generate medical advances. I liked Sussman, his enthusiasm and genuineness, though we joked later about how he’s a Democrat from New York and would never have voted for me prior to meeting me. He said that more brilliant students than ever were interested in studying biology at Wisconsin, but because of space limitations, some had to be turned away. He said we weren’t losing them to Michigan State — we were losing them to Harvard and Stanford. We’re a great university, he said, but we need a new building and more lab space.

He impressed me. Within a few days of the meeting, I called Wiley and promised funding for one of the things we had talked about: five new faculty hires in the area of human genomics. I toured the existing facilities, learning more about the science all the time. Then, in my January 2000 State of the State speech, I unveiled the $317 million BioStar Initiative, which included an addition to the Biotechnology Center as well as renovations and additional buildings for biology-related departments.

I’m proud of what I was able to do for the University of Wisconsin. It made sense for all kinds of reasons, including economic development. I was always trying to figure out how to help Wisconsin compete with the technology triangle in North Carolina and Silicon Valley. I wanted Wisconsin to be the third pillar out there.

At some point after I left for Washington and Health and Human Services, word reached me that Mike Sussman was thinking of leaving UW–Madison. He had a very attractive offer from the University of California–Davis, and was considering it to the point he’d already looked at houses.

I telephoned Mike one night from Washington — he later joked that he’d had a couple of drinks by the time I called — and asked if it was true.

“You’re thinking about leaving?”

“Yes,” Mike said.

“You can’t do it,” I said. I talked about all we’d accomplished and all that was still to come. This was when Mike confessed he was a Democrat. “I usually bat for the other team,” was the way he put it.

“I suspected it but never held it against you,” I said. We laughed. “Now, let’s talk about why you’re going to stay.”

I’m sure all my work on behalf of biomedical research at the University of Wisconsin was somewhere in my mind when I went to the White House in spring 2001 to meet with Bush and Rove to discuss stem cells.

The president had us in to the Oval Office. There’s a little room off to the side of the Oval Office, and that’s where we sat for lunch. I had a hamburger, and the president had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I don’t remember what Rove had to eat, but he spoke first, and he was adamant that Bush keep a hard line against allowing the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. He brought up the ethical concerns, but he stressed — and this was not atypical for Rove — the potential political fallout of softening that stance. I must admit I could relate. As I noted earlier, antiabortion groups in Wisconsin were furious with my support of Thomson’s research. They are passionate, and they are vocal.

But as I have also stated, I believed that in the end, the lifesaving potential of the research should carry the day.

A few weeks before my lunch with Rove and Bush, I’d been visited in Washington by Jere Fluno ’63, a classmate of mine at UW–Madison who went on to a vastly successful career in business. Jere was also a philanthropist. I attended the luncheon in 1997 at the Madison Club when Jere’s gift of $3 million to UW–Madison for an executive education facility — now called the Fluno Center — was announced.

Four years later, he was in my office at HHS in Washington to talk to me about his granddaughter, Lauren, who has juvenile diabetes. Jere told me about getting the phone call from his daughter informing him about Lauren’s diagnosis. She was two years old. He talked about seeing that tiny girl in that big hospital bed. And he talked about the need for research to find a cure.

“Stem cells give us hope,” Jere said.

It was an emotional meeting, and I remembered it at that Oval Office lunch, after Rove had finished and it was my turn to speak. I gave myself a quick, internal pep talk, knowing that the next few minutes might be my only chance to make my case.

“Mr. President,” I said, “your mother and father have been great champions in the fight against cancer. They’ve devoted a tremendous amount of time, money, and effort to that cause.

“And you’ve started out your presidency by increasing funding for the National Institutes of Health. I thank you for that. It’s the right thing to do, a great use of federal dollars.

“But Mr. President,” I continued, “if you come out against embryonic stem cell research, no matter if you double the money for NIH, or anything else, if you turn down embryonic stem cells you’re going to be remembered as the president who was antiscience.” The president kept looking at me but didn’t say anything, so I went on.

“Every person in your administration has either a member of their family or a close friend who is suffering from a debilitating illness. You had a sister who died young of a terrible illness. Your mother and father did everything they could for that child.”

I was referencing the daughter George H. W. and Barbara Bush lost to leukemia before she was four years old. “Every parent,” I told the president, “who has a child with juvenile diabetes, and who has to get up every night, four or five or six times, to check that child’s blood, not knowing if that child is going to live or die, those parents are counting on stem cells to come up with a cure. If you, as president, stand in the way of giving those parents the hope and dream of a cure, you’re going to be viewed as antiscience and stopping the great progress being made on juvenile diabetes, ALS, Parkinson’s — you name it.”

“But we don’t know that it will work,” the president said.

“It’s the hope, Mr. President,” I said. “The belief. And the dream.”

About six weeks later, on August 8, I was called to the White House for an early evening meeting. The president told me he was going to give a prime-time address — the first of his presidency — the following night to state his position on federal funding of research using human embryonic stem cells. The president had decided to allow federal funds to be used for research on existing stem cell lines — cells derived prior to August 9, 2001. Federal dollars would not be used for any cell lines derived after that date. It was, essentially, a compromise, and while it didn’t go as far as I might have hoped, I was pleased that the president at least went halfway. It got the federal funds flowing. I think what I said that day at lunch may have swayed him. The president didn’t tell me so, but that’s what I believe.

That night I called Carl Gulbrandsen, then managing director of WARF, which held the patent on Thomson’s research, to tell him what was coming. Carl was at dinner with his wife, Mary, in Colorado. I asked Carl, “Can you make these cell lines available?”

“Absolutely,” he said. “We’ll do everything we can.”

By the first week of September, we had signed an agreement with the WiCell Research Institute, a nonprofit subsidiary of WARF, granting NIH scientists access to the cell lines, along with academic researchers, while also respecting WARF’s patent and license rights.

There is no question in my mind that my coming from Wisconsin and personally knowing people like Michael Sussman, Jamie Thomson, and Carl Gulbrandsen helped us accomplish more in a shorter time frame than would otherwise have been the case. We respected and trusted each other. Carl came to Washington several times during the implementation process and let me know that someone at NIH told him the agency had never moved so quickly on anything. I brought a group of 20 scientists and administrators from NIH to Madison to see where the research was happening and meet the people responsible for it.

I don’t mean to suggest any of this was easy. Throughout the debate, I was caught in the middle between the strict pro-life contingent and those — like Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter — who wanted all restrictions on embryonic stem cell research removed.

In spring 2016, UW–Madison invited me back and awarded me an honorary doctorate of laws degree for meritorious activity “as a dedicated promoter of the Wisconsin Idea and the use of government to enhance the life of its citizens.”

I spoke at commencement at the Kohl Center in Madison, and I shared the story of Mike Sussman — he stayed — while just generally touting the assets of this great economic diamond, the University of Wisconsin.

I didn’t speak long, 10 minutes or so. Primarily I wanted to thank the university for what it had given me — much more than an honorary degree — and once again make the case for how very valuable our great university is to the entire state of Wisconsin, as an economic engine and more.

I thought it was important to tell the graduating students in the audience a little about myself. How I came from a small city called Elroy, where if you dialed a wrong number on the phone you talked to whoever answered, because of course everyone knew everyone else. I talked about coming down to Madison for school with nothing but some dreams, and I told them how, with a lot of hard work, a lot of help, and a bit of luck, I’d been elected to the Wisconsin assembly and then elected governor. I’d gone to Washington and served a president in his cabinet. It still seemed so improbable, talking about it all these years later.

What I really wanted to convey was that my story, so much a Wisconsin story, could be their story, too, if they dreamt big enough and reached high enough.

Later, Chancellor Blank asked me if it would be possible to get a copy of my speech. I had to tell her there were no copies. I’d written nothing down. It came from the heart.

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