On Wisconsin https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com For UW-Madison Alumni and Friends Mon, 23 Jul 2018 17:36:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.6 The Pregnancy Puzzle https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/the-pregnancy-puzzle/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/the-pregnancy-puzzle/#respond Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:42 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23011 In the maritime city of Rostock, Germany — thousands of miles from their families — Dan and Iris Levitis processed their loss in isolation. Though her ultrasound had been normal just a few weeks earlier, a doctor shared the heartbreaking news: a miscarriage, 12 weeks into Iris’s first pregnancy. The fetus had stopped developing.

Frustrated, Dan wanted answers. As a demographer, he researched the patterns of all manner of populations: their births, survival, and deaths. His dissertation had focused on why people tend to live so long past their childbearing years. But the crushing loss prompted him to turn his attention to the beginning of life. Why was miscarriage so common, he wondered, and were humans uniquely burdened by pregnancy loss, as he’d always been taught?

In the eight years since launching his research, Dan, now a scientist in UW–Madison’s botany department, has discovered that he and Iris were far from alone in their struggle to bring life into the world. Humans have plenty of company: living things from geckos to garlic and cactuses to cockroaches routinely lose their offspring when they reproduce sexually.

Dan’s discovery didn’t provide a fix — if anything, he found that losses like his family experienced are an unavoidable part of reproducing. But this kinship with the natural world gave the couple some comfort.

Dan has spent a lifetime puzzling over the structure of the natural world, and he has a knack for questioning the obvious.

“When I was six and people asked me what I was going to do when I grew up, I would say, ‘I’m going to be a zoologist,’ ” says Dan, whose earliest romps through nature centered on the wild animals that popped up in his suburban Maryland backyard. He spent summers exploring his grandparents’ 46-acre property in Mahopac, New York.

An influential ecology class at Bennington College in Vermont showed him that science was more than a collection of facts in a textbook — it was a way of thinking.

“Science as a list of facts can be exciting for a little while. But science as a way of asking better questions, and getting better answers to them, is much more useful and much more interesting,” he says.

After graduation, Dan joined short-term research projects studying birds in Florida, New York, Ontario, and then California before accepting a graduate position to study ornithology at the University of California–Berkeley.

While there, Dan applied his analytical approach to finding a partner. Inspired by a headhunter he heard interviewed on NPR, he realized the ideal ad gets one response from the most qualified applicant.

“I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to write a dating ad, and I’m going to try and write in a way that I get only one response,’ ” says Dan, who posted his deliberately polarizing ad on Craigslist. “And Iris responded to it. And she was the only one.”

Back from the Peace Corps in Niger, Iris was studying for her master’s in applied linguistics at Berkeley. The two connected over their bewilderment with much of modern American culture, with both generally eschewing drinking, television, and movies. Iris transferred to the University of California–Davis as the two continued dating.

For his graduate work, Dan partnered with a professor of human demographics, Ron Lee, to develop new methods of comparing humans with other primates on their ability to live past their reproductive years. He found evidence that humans are unique in living so long after we stop having children. But in many ways, Dan’s time researching what makes humans special only reinforced his belief that we’re better off remembering that we’re not so separate from the rest of the natural world.

As they both completed their degrees, Dan and Iris married. Dan landed a position at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, and the newlyweds packed their bags for Germany. After Iris’s first miscarriage, Dan buried himself in scientific literature about infant and prebirth mortality for humans and every other species he could get good numbers on.

The crux of his research came down to a U-shaped curve well known to him and other demographers. It charts the risk of death for any given organism, starting high for the young, dipping down low at maturity, and rising again as age sets in. The pattern is ubiquitous across nature.

A half-century of research has focused on the second half of the curve: aging. While scientists had chipped away at explaining the evolution of age- related deaths, they had largely disregarded the half of the curve that shows high rates of mortality for the very young. Young organisms are weak and vulnerable, researchers figured, nothing more. Unsatisfied, Dan sought reasons for why seemingly every species faced the same precariousness with its young, both before and after birth, and why natural selection hadn’t fixed this problem.

While Dan trawled through hundreds of scientific papers on lost offspring, he and Iris got pregnant again. As they neared and then passed the 12th week, the couple felt relief. They told their friends and family the happy news.

But then Iris developed a leaking amniotic sac, threatening her fetus. Bedrest didn’t resolve the complication, and the chances of carrying the pregnancy safely to term dropped steeply.

At her doctor’s recommendation, she aborted the pregnancy at 16 weeks.

Navigating the German medical system twice in one year while grieving their losses was bewildering and isolating.

“I think most of the girls and women that I knew, we spent a lot of time thinking about how not to get pregnant. And then finding out that actually it’s hard to become pregnant, or to have a successful pregnancy, was really a shock,” Iris says. “You’re supposed to worry about unwanted pregnancies, not whether you can [get pregnant].”

At the end of 2010, Iris got pregnant again, and Dan published his research on early mortality. In his paper, he argued for a new field focused on the inherent difficulty of developing a healthy, complex organism, where any one of a million steps can go wrong. His next step was to test his theories by comparing the success of different types of reproduction across nature.

The next summer Iris gave birth to their first child, a girl.

Researchers know that miscarriages are extremely common but can’t pinpoint just how frequently they occur.

Kristen Sharp, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, researches pregnancy loss and its consequences. She says that up to 20 percent of pregnancies that are confirmed by a physician end in miscarriage. But the true rate is likely quite a bit higher because many women don’t realize they are pregnant before an early loss occurs.

Tracking rates of pregnancy loss is extremely difficult. Differences in record keeping and follow-up procedures at emergency rooms and hospitals make a reliable search of records nearly impossible. And any woman who is not receiving medical care will be invisible to researchers studying miscarriage.

Cultural norms — such as concealing a pregnancy until after the first trimester — keep people from having open conversations about their experiences, says Sharp, who also counsels patients who have lost pregnancies. And feelings of guilt stop some women from discussing it, even though most miscarriages are the result of “genetic accidents.”

“It’s amazing, really, that any of us are alive and breathing, because there’s about a million pieces of this intricate problem that need to go right to lead to a pregnancy,” she says.

Among those million pieces that must fall perfectly into place is meiosis — perhaps the most complicated thing that cells do.

Organisms use meiosis (pronounced my-OH-sis) to produce sperm and eggs for sexual reproduction. Dan describes it as a kind of cellular line dance, one that mixes up chromosomes to reshuffle genes. This rearrangement helps produce offspring that are different from their parents, offspring that might be better equipped to survive in a changing world.

Meiosis takes place in the cells that give rise to sperm or eggs. To reshuffle genes, the chromosomes you inherited from your mother pair up with the chromosomes you inherited from your father. They sidle up to one another, attach, and then trade pieces of genetic information, sometimes physically swapping chunks of DNA. Then the chromosomes separate to be dealt into individual sex cells.

The upshot is that each sperm or egg a person produces inherits a set of mixed-up chromosomes with new variations. Because the swapping occurs essentially randomly during each round of meiosis, every sperm or egg created in your lifetime is bound to be as unique as the offspring created when sperm and egg ultimately meet.

This sidling, attaching, swapping, separating, and dealing is a mind-numbingly complex process. A lot of things can go wrong along the way — and they often do. The sex cells can end up with missing or extra chromosomes, almost always a fatal error leading to miscarriage if they create an embryo. Other, less obvious genetic mishaps can also occur, and often prove lethal.

The common wisdom for explaining high rates of miscarriage and fertility problems in humans has been that we have a rougher go with meiosis than other organisms. A woman’s eggs start meiosis while she is still in her mother’s womb, go on hiatus for years, and then finish the process to form a mature egg prior to ovulation. Perhaps this long pause leads to more errors, the thinking went. Dan isn’t one to accept common wisdom. After all, he reasoned, all female mammals pause meiosis, and many wait just as long to reproduce as people do. Plus sperm inherit more genetic problems than eggs, and they don’t wait decades to finish the process. What if humans aren’t unique — what if meiosis is just so complicated that it is bound to go awry?

Sexual reproduction always uses meiosis. But many plants and animals — palm trees and brambles, fruit flies and grasshoppers — also reproduce asexually, meaning they produce clones of themselves. Asexual reproduction typically uses the simpler process of mitosis, which doesn’t reshuffle genes. But certain species still use meiosis to reproduce asexually, a vestige of sexual reproduction. Because meiosis didn’t evolve to work for asexual reproduction, asexual meiosis is even more complicated and error prone than sexual meiosis.

Dan figured that the more complicated the cellular process underlying reproduction, the more likely it was to go wrong and lead to lost offspring. If he was right, then organisms using the most complicated process — asexual meiosis — should lose the most offspring, followed by species using sexual meiosis, and then asexual mitosis.

He wanted to compare as many animals as possible that use these three different reproductive strategies. And he believed his assumption should be just as true for plants, which reproduce using the same cellular machinery as animals.

Unable to do experiments on dozens of plants and animals himself, Dan worked with UW botany professor Anne Pringle and Harvard graduate student Kolea Zimmerman to comb through thousands of scientific articles in search of data collected by experts in each organism.

The study tracked how each species reproduced and its rates of loss during reproduction, ordering them by the complexity of their reproduction. Dan was initially skeptical when he first saw the result: 42 of the 44 plants and animals they studied supported his original idea linking complexity to reproductive loss. A menagerie of creatures and plants fit the pattern: lizards and magnolias; meadow grass and shrimp; stick insects, and dandelions. Each paid a price for reproducing sexually.

“That was the biggest surprise — how strong the pattern was,” he says.

His findings are evidence of an inherent tradeoff: there is no sexual reproduction without meiosis. And there is no meiosis without mistakes, and loss.

Dan wanted to share his results as widely as possible so that more people could understand how fundamentally difficult it was to bring offspring into the world. He and Iris found some solace knowing that their struggles were universal, and they figured other people would, too.

Individual portrait photographs of Dan and Iris Levitis and each of their three children

After the heartbreak of two lost pregnancies, Dan and Iris Levitis welcomed three children (left to right): Tigerlily, 6; Kestrel, 3; and Peregrine, 18 months.

With botany department illustrator Sarah Friedrich ’98, Dan created a short video explaining his family’s story of loss, his search for answers, and the barrier that meiosis poses to healthy reproduction. He shared the video widely, including on a Facebook page for the March for Science.

Some people commented that the research made them feel better about their own miscarriages by making it clear it wasn’t their fault. Another coined the phrase “meiosis mishaps” to describe her own pregnancy losses.

“Every time I’ve talked about this in any sort of public setting, whether it’s online or in person, somebody ends up sharing their story of pregnancy loss and saying that they’re so glad that people are talking about it,” Dan says.

The Levitises now live on a quiet street on the east side of Madison with their three children, each born in a different country: Tigerlily in Germany; Kestrel in Denmark; and Peregrine in the United States, after they moved to Madison. (Each was also given a conventional middle name to turn to should their parents’ natural-world choices ever fail to suit them.)

And years after losing their first two pregnancies in Germany, Dan’s findings have given the couple a springboard to talk about their losses and work through them together.

“I thought it was kind of cathartic research,” Iris says. “It makes you feel less alone. More than just having somebody say, ‘Oh, I lost a pregnancy, too.’ More than just anecdotal evidence from other humans. It’s more widespread than that.”

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Audio Philes https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/audio-philes/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/audio-philes/#respond Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:42 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23077 People seated in chairs face each and operate audio recording equipment

Sarah Morton

Four years ago, Jeremy Morris launched his podcast class at the UW — and the word podcast wasn’t even in the title of the communication arts course.

Then Serial debuted. The true-crime monster hit was part of a wave of new podcasts that turned the tide, to the point that last year, Nielsen reported a full 40 percent of the U.S. population — or 112 million people — had listened to a podcast.

Now, in the midst of the golden age of podcasts, the course has a new name — Sound Cultures: Podcasting and Music — and increased demand. Morris, an associate professor of media and cultural studies, exposes students to a wide variety of podcasts and gives them hands-on experience with manipulating audio.

“I like to remind them that the software is going to change,” says Morris, who produced a music podcast as a graduate student and recently received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to make podcasts easier for scholars and the public to research. “It’s more about understanding the role sound can play.”

From a first assignment of making a sound “playlist” of their day to the final project creating a pilot episode of a new podcast, Morris hopes students critically analyze how sound constructs their everyday lives and the ways it is linked to issues of age, race, class, gender, history, and culture.

“I want students to think about why they hear what they hear,” he says. “Sounds aren’t as universal as we think they are.”

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Agriculture by Air https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/agriculture-by-air/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/agriculture-by-air/#respond Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:42 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23064 Illustration of drone flying over farmland

John Miller

Right now, cranberry growers who suspect that pests have invaded their crop have two options: hunt around in the beds themselves, examining each individual plant, or spray the entire field and risk wasting costly resources.

But agricultural engineers at UW–Madison are trying to change that by experimenting with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more commonly known as drones, that could take a more comprehensive look at cranberry plants that might be infected.

They fitted a UAV with two special cameras that capture temperature and other information. Unhealthy plants exhibit signs of stress that the device can detect, including how leaves reflect light patterns.

Healthy plants are key for Wisconsin, which has 21,000 acres of cranberry marshes in 20 counties and grows more than half of all the cranberries in the world. Cranberry country lies east of the Wisconsin River, beginning at the Wisconsin Dells and stretching north.

The ultimate goal for Brian Luck, an assistant professor of biological systems engineering, and his research team is to use machine-learning technologies, much like facial recognition on Facebook, to predict what exactly is wrong with diseased plants. But for now, the research is in its primary stages as they collect baseline data in greenhouses and move out to cranberry beds this summer for real-world deployment.

As with any new technology, there are a few hurdles to clear before the practice can be widely implemented. Though UAVs are commercially available, the cost is high. And to fly one for commercial purposes, a farmer must be licensed through the Federal Aviation Administration.

Still, researchers say the potential benefits for farmers are exciting. “The more precise data you have on the field, the more precisely you can manage it, which can lead to more efficient and sustainable agriculture,” says Jessica Drewry PhD’17, a postdoctoral assistant on the project.

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Good as Gold https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/good-as-gold/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/good-as-gold/#respond Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:42 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23108 The USA Women's hockey team holds American flags and gold medals after a win at the Pyeongchang Olympics

Associated Press/Scott McKiernan

“They should make a movie,” U.S. women’s hockey forward Hilary Knight ’12 (number 21, middle) said, summing up her team’s 3–2 win in a shootout over archrival Canada to win gold at the PyeongChang Olympics in February. Knight was one of four Badgers on the U.S. squad, which included Brianna Decker x’13, Meghan Duggan ’11 (right), and Alex Rigsby ’15. Team Canada had five Badgers: Emily Clark x’18, Ann-Renée Desbiens ’17, Meaghan Mikkelson ’07, Sarah Nurse x’17, and Blayre Turnbull x’15. “We had all the drama,” Knight said. “It’s sort of a storybook ending to an incredible series of accomplishments.”

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Parental POV https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/parental-pov/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/parental-pov/#respond Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:41 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23119 Ronald Reagan waves to supporters in front of plane with "Reagan '80" painted on side

The Reagan Era takes wing: Ronald Reagan waves to supporters at Van Nuys Airport before a set of presidential campaign rallies in the Los Angeles area in October 1980.

For the sake of learning — and with occasional family healing — a UW history course is asking students to turn their parents into historical subjects.

Professor Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen’s History 221 course, The History of Your Parents’ Generation (1970s–90s), tackles a tumultuous few decades through a generational lens, assigning students to interview their parents (“compelling figures in the drama of American life in their own right,” the syllabus states) about their upbringing and their memories of music, fashion, and historic milestones.

Responses have ranged from the stereotypical — dads waxing poetic about Bruce Springsteen, moms admitting to wearing disco sequins — to the unexpected. One student learned that her mother, a nurse, rushed to the front lines of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s to work at a specialized clinic. The mother cried as she recounted the death, terror, and antigay backlash she witnessed. Another student leveraged the assignment to ease tensions between a mother and grandmother who hadn’t spoken to each other in years. One student even found out about a half-sibling for the first time.

“It seemed to me that [the course’s approach] could get students to connect to history,” Ratner-Rosenhagen says. “History is nothing other than actual human beings in time and space having thoughts and feelings and being affected by their world.”

She challenges students to keep their parents’ answers in mind during the course’s traditional lectures and readings, which cover the cultural fracturing and economic upheaval — or the “great shift” — that defined the ’70s and ’80s. The course concludes as it started, with students conducting follow-up interviews with their parents and connecting them with subject matter from the course.

Lindsey Brugger ’18, who took the class in 2016, wrote her final essay on childhood nostalgia and its association with political identity. She posits that her father’s happy upbringing on an isolated farm may have contributed to his lasting fondness for Ronald Reagan, even though he can’t recall any of the former president’s policies or actions.

“A really great takeaway was getting to know my parents a little better and getting to understand how they came into a political awareness at the same time that I was discovering mine,” Brugger says. “I grew closer to my parents because of [it].”

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From Wisconsin, With Humor https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/from-wisconsin-with-humor/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/from-wisconsin-with-humor/#respond Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:41 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23020 Manitowoc Minute, a comedic take on the news.]]> Fresh out of UW–Madison with degrees in journalism and geography, Charlie Berens ’09 was ready to break into broadcasting. But whether he was working in Texas, California, or Washington, DC, he received essentially the same feedback: you talk funny.

He stressed the o in opinion too much. He drew out the a in bag. He used strange words like bubbler when he was thirsty.

What was a Wisconsin guy — let alone one raised in a big family with a passion for fishing and the Green Bay Packers — to do? Ditch the accent to become more marketable?

Let’s just say Berens did the opposite, and the internet is grateful.

In June 2017, Berens posted a short video online that he called the “Manitowoc Minute.” Wearing a camouflage jacket that he stole from his dad and sitting at a bare-bones “news” desk, he gave a shout-out to a bait shop in Plover and poked fun at Stevens Point before getting into the headlines: the misconception held by some Americans that chocolate milk comes from brown cows, Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, President Trump’s latest approval rating, and Bill Cosby’s mistrial. Each bit of news served as a setup for a joke, and Berens delivered it all in his thickest Wisconsin accent.

Peppered with comments that would soon become his catchphrases — “Ohmygosh,” “Holy smokes,” and “Keep ’er movin’ ” — he ended with a heartfelt wish — “I hope this was the best minute of your life” — and a none-too-subtle plug for the Packers and a dig at the Chicago Bears.

To date, that first episode has racked up more than a half million views on Facebook, but it almost didn’t happen.

“I was almost hesitant to release it, like, I don’t know that people want to see this,” Berens says. “And then I put it out, and it did well, and then I thought, well, I guess I’m going to do a second episode.”

And he did. And a third and a fourth and another and another each Monday, serving up a mix of headlines from his home state and beyond with a hearty dose of Wisconsin charm. The show, with Berens a constant as the affable host, has garnered fans around the world, inspired a collection of Manitowoc Minute merchandise, and even sparked a tour of sold-out live shows across Wisconsin. Before Wisconsin culture became the bread and butter of his comedy career, Berens lived it as a kid. The second oldest of 12 siblings, he grew up in New Berlin and Elm Grove, with frequent trips up to Fond du Lac to visit his grandparents. He loved the Packers, waterskiing, hunting, and public-access fishing shows.

At the UW he dabbled in music — “guitar, mandolin, kind of folk stuff,” he says — playing covers and original songs at coffee shop open mics and the Memorial Union Terrace.

During the 2008 presidential election, Berens got a gig with MTV’s Choose or Lose campaign, which deployed “citizen journalists” across the country to serve as correspondents. It opened his eyes to less formal, more entertainment-focused modes of reporting.

After graduating, Berens embarked on a career that took him around the country and had him working as a correspondent for a millennial-focused news website; a reporter and host for a Dallas television station, where he won an Emmy; and a host for entertainment and sports outlets in Los Angeles.

All the while, comedy brewed in the background. Berens had been doing stand-up and writing when he posted a video online in 2016 called “If Jack Dawson Really Was from Wisconsin,” dubbing in his own voice for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Titanic character, said to be from Chippewa Falls, to give him a more “accurate” way of speaking. It’s been viewed more than 13 million times.

The success of the video, as well as how audiences responded when he revealed his exaggerated accent in stand-up, reassured him that the world was ready for more Wisconsin. To create each episode of the Manitowoc Minute, Berens culls headlines from politics to sports to pop culture. “And that really actually helps with joke writing,” he says. “The news is basically your setup. Every day you have new setups. So it does help to be a little bit of a sponge for pop culture.”

Occasionally he goes out into the field for a segment. He’s gone fishing with his unamused father, water-skied in the summer, downhill skied in the winter, and taken a yoga class with a bottle of beer perched next to his mat. And while in Madison for a performance at the Wisconsin Union Theater in January, he stopped by the state capitol.

“I went to the capitol expecting to hop on a tour or something,” he says, “and ended up really lobbying to get a bipartisan deal done to just change the Wisconsin flag a little bit.”

His proposal: replace the rope and pickax that the flag’s sailor and miner have been holding since 1848 with bottles of Miller Lite and Spotted Cow, swap out one of the guys for a woman, and change the “Forward” motto to “Keep ’Er Movin’.” The state legislature may not have adopted his changes, but a revised flag is now available for purchase on his website.

In addition to the supper clubs, taverns, and other Wisconsin locales that Berens namechecks in his show, he brings his geography background to bear in his favorite segment: the Craigslist Kicker.

“I feel like you can tell a lot about a place just by looking [at] the classifieds,” he says. “For example, there are so many silos for sale. … Coming from the perspective of a geography alum, what does that say about where we live? It’s almost symbolic of the larger farming community — you’re selling your silo? It’s interesting.”

Ultimately, Berens’s goal with the show is bringing folks together.

“When everyone is laughing, we’re all on the same page, even if it’s just for a joke,” he says, adding that the show has become a platform for his audience to donate to causes like Wounded Warriors, the Boys and Girls Club, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. “Fans always seem to jump at the opportunity to support a variety of causes. It’s a great reminder that there’s a lot of common ground we share.”

These days, Berens and his wife, Alex Wehrley ’09, a communication arts grad and former Miss Wisconsin, split their time between Los Angeles and the Badger State to make the most of this Manitowoc moment.

As he continues to do stand-up, as well as write and produce comedy sketches and pilots, Berens is thinking about what comes next for the web series.

“I think there’s a way to bring the show to outside of Wisconsin, of finding a way to engage and potentially create a network of other people doing similar things around the country,” he says. “So maybe there can be a full-on newsroom. I think it would be fun to have other people who represent where they’re from and do it in the same way the news networks do it.”

What will never change, though, is his love for Wisconsin, and the way he shares it with the world.

“This is who I am,” he says. “I like to laugh at myself, I’m self-deprecating, and I think Wisconsin culturally has that sense of humor. I think people get it. It’s all in good fun.”

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Hooked on Comics https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/hooked-on-comics/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/hooked-on-comics/#respond Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:41 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23036 Jeff Butler x’18 has always loved the company of superheroes, starting with Batman and Bart Starr.

As a kid, he devoured comics. He read them over and over, studying the art. His mother, Bonnie, was convinced reading anything was a good thing and encouraged her energetic son to draw.

“I suspect it was a welcome break for her to have me sitting quietly for any length of time,” Butler says.

But his father, Tom ’50, wasn’t keen on his comic book obsession: “He thought they were trash,” says Butler. The two bonded instead over a shared love of football and his dad’s stories of sports legends.

Butler’s competing passions for art and athletics continued as he entered college in 1976, where he joined the Badger football team as a walk-on. But art ultimately won out, or as Butler puts it: “Mom won the argument.”

During his time at UW–Madison, Butler created a comic book and launched a career as a commercial artist that included illustrating Dungeons & Dragons, a landmark role playing game in which each player is assigned a character to inhabit during imaginary adventures that take place in a fantasy world. D&D has influenced pop culture for decades.

He grew up watching the Green Bay Packers every Sunday with his father, a longtime sports writer who covered Badger basketball and football for the Wisconsin State Journal. At Madison West High School, Butler played quarterback under coach Burt Hable ’53, MS’65, a former UW defensive back.

Butler arrived on the UW campus in 1976 and joined the football team in the spring of 1978, during Dave McClain’s first season as the Badgers’ head coach. But he subsequently struggled with headaches following a concussion during a scrimmage and gave up football after one season on the advice of his doctor.

A fine arts major, Butler focused on school but stayed connected to athletics by illustrating posters for the UW’s football and wrestling teams. His painting classes provided the firm foundation he needed as an aspiring illustrator and comics artist.

“Before college, drawing was just an intuitive thing that I did,” Butler says. “College was the first time I started paying attention to the formal and academic aspects of creating art.”

In 1982, writer Mike Baron ’71 recruited Butler to draw The Badger for Madison-based Capital Comics. The independent comic featured a Vietnam War veteran suffering from multiple personality disorder. One of his personalities was The Badger, an urban vigilante who could talk to animals.

Butler had drawn several issues of The Badger when he left the UW without his degree to work as an artist for a Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, gaming company called TSR, Inc., the maker of Dungeons & Dragons.

For five years, he worked on D&D illustrations. The company created the role playing game industry that laid the groundwork for computer games such as World of Warcraft, as well as the Game of Thrones books and HBO television series. “Simply put, this seminal game made these later multibillion-dollar pop culture phenomena possible,” Michael Witwer wrote in his 2016 book, Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons.

TSR also had the license for the Marvel Super Heroes role playing game, for which Butler became the primary artist. The game received critical praise and still has an active following more than 30 years after its initial release. And the assignment reunited him with the characters that captivated his childhood imagination. “I was just thrilled to get paid to do this stuff,” Butler says.

He left TSR and returned to comics in 1989, working on The Green Hornet, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and Hercules. He also reunited with Baron, his collaborator and cocreator on The Badger, to create Godzilla vs. Charles Barkley, based on a Japanese TV commercial for Nike with the NBA great taking on the movie monster.

Butler came home to Madison in 1997 and, in his words, “began a crash course in digital art.” For 13 years, he created video game character art for Raven Software, including uniform designs and storyboards for Star Trek: Voyager — Elite Force. Raven’s work on the game caught the eye of LucasArts, which “borrowed” the studio for two Star Wars games, Butler says. Digital art also kept him close to some of the characters he fell in love with when he worked as lead character artist on video games based on Marvel properties.

In 2012, Butler began teaching comic book art and cartooning classes at Madison College. He now leads courses in the school’s graphic design and illustration program. Earlier this year, he reenrolled full time at the UW to complete the 25 credits he needed to earn his art degree. One of his courses — Making Comics — was taught by renowned cartoonist and writer Lynda Barry, whose methods have inspired Butler in his own teaching.

“I appreciate [being a student] so much more now that I’m older,” Butler says. “But I still feel like a kid.”

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Dream Maker https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/dream-maker/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/dream-maker/#respond Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:41 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=22999 Star Wars universe to the big screen.]]> The Star Wars films transport us to adventures in a galaxy far, far away, and computer sciences alum Rachel Rose MS’03, PhD’07 helps bring them to life. She joined Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), the visual effects company in San Francisco founded by George Lucas, right after leaving UW–Madison. One of her duties as a research and development supervisor is leading a group in the burgeoning area of virtual production, which makes virtual reality tools for filmmakers so they can make everything from dinosaurs to rebel starfighters. While she helped create a virtual camera for production of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, her love for the saga began a long time ago …

When did your interest in technology start?
It started really, really early, even though we didn’t have a computer until I was a junior in high school. When I was seven or eight, I became interested in computers and would read the ads in the back of magazines. Just the whole idea of computers being able to execute ideas fascinated me.

What’s the best part of your job?
One of the most awesome and one of the most challenging parts of my job is this place is full of extraordinarily talented people — the best artists you can find, the best technologists you can find. We don’t always agree on everything, but ideally we come up with something that’s better than we’d do on our own.

Have you always been a Star Wars fan?
I had Star Wars sheets on my bed as a kid. I wore what were probably boy clothes with C–3PO — he was my favorite — on them. It was a part of my childhood. So many of us are here at ILM in part because of that love.

What’s it like to work at a place known for employing a high number of women, especially in leadership positions?
I feel really lucky to be able to work with a bunch of women at the top. But there are still times when I’m the only woman in a meeting. I try to do a lot of outreach, a lot of presentations, a lot of standing in front of people to let them see I’m out there.

What from your time at UW–Madison has been the most helpful?
The [computer sciences] program is full of fantastic professors who were really motivating. They helped me make connections, so by the time I was out of grad school, I already knew a lot of people.

Is it hard to escape into movies, knowing as much as you do about what goes into making them?
If you’ve watched a shot many times, it’s hard to divorce yourself from it. But with work that others have done, most of the time I’m able to separate myself and enjoy the story. I do notice things, though. There’s always that kind of balance.

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Monarch Guardians https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/monarch-guardians/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/monarch-guardians/#respond Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:41 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23164 Monarch butterfly perches on orange flower

A Monarch butterfly dines on the nectar from a colorful hillside planting of orange Tithonia (Mexican sunflowers) along Observatory Drive. Jeff Miller

UW–Madison’s Arboretum is participating in a nationwide effort dedicated to researching monarch butterflies, conserving their habitat, and educating the public about these charismatic insects. Arboretum director Karen Oberhauser ’81, a leading monarch researcher, cofounded the Monarch Joint Venture while at the University of Minnesota. The UW’s is the first arboretum to join the more than 70 institutions involved in the effort, and Oberhauser says the new partnership recognizes efforts already under way at the Arboretum. Projects include establishing habitats friendly to butterflies and other pollinators and identifying threats to monarch populations.

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Madison, Revisited https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/madison-revisited/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/madison-revisited/#respond Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:40 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=22970

We’ve been there before.

Visiting Madison to revive Badger memories, we order up the usual, frequenting the same places and reliving time-honored activities again and again.

That bowl of Berry Alvarez ice cream is calling our name at Babcock Hall. A plastic pitcher of beer awaits on the Union Terrace. The burgers, brats, and sticky-floored college bars that drew us away from textbooks, term papers, and 8:50 classes beckon.

Following that script is easy. Occasionally, though, it’s fun to venture beyond our comfort zone and build fresh traditions. So, we spent 36 hours traipsing to untested venues, sampling innovative tastes, and plowing ahead with untried activities.

Along the way, we met an Iron Chef champion, admired Frank Lloyd Wright’s rare Japanese art prints, soaked in a shimmering view of Madison’s lakes from a brand-new roost, put on our dancing shoes, checked out a Huey helicopter, and browsed 13 types of cheese curds.

Nighttime view of the capitol building and State Street in Madison, WI.

An action-packed visit to Madison puts the capital city in a new light. Andy Manis

We scarfed a raft of cuisines, cruised museums, and got a little exercise.

Madison has enjoyed a rebirth as its people and tastes have morphed and diners’ expectations have kicked up. It’s become a foodie town, awash in creative restaurants.

“Dining has to offer an experience,” says Sara Granados ’10 at the Eno Vino Downtown Wine Bar and Bistro atop the AC Hotel. “Madison has a lot of restaurant options. Having good food and drinks isn’t enough. You need to have the whole package.”

Push away from the table, and you’ll find that Madison deserves high marks as a destination. National Geographic Traveler named Madison one of America’s top small cities, ranking it on such things as green spaces, coffee shops, breweries, and music venues.

We put those assessments to the test. At noon on a Wednesday, the Good Food cart on East Main Street on the Capitol Square is running with choreographed efficiency. Workers in the cramped cart crank out signature veggie dishes, some with lean meat, and all with a low-carb profile. The line lengthens as offices empty for the lunch hour.

The cart is the brainchild of Melanie Nelson ’08, a zoology major and runner who had trouble finding healthy eating options as an undergraduate. She saved money from her bartending job and sank it into the food cart in 2010. She now has two carts — on Capitol Square and Library Mall, open weekdays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. — plus a brick-and-mortar restaurant, the Good Food Café, on Cottage Grove Road on Madison’s east side.

Working originally out of a commercial kitchen in a converted garage, Nelson built a reputation for her tasty menu. “We were fast as hell, but there was always a line,” she says, noting that many of her customers are repeaters. “Attorneys would come down and I thought, ‘You guys are earning $150 an hour, and you spend 20 minutes waiting in our line?’ That says something to me.”

At $8.50, the pad Thai salad melds spiral-cut veggies with red cabbage, onions, peanuts, greens, cilantro, and a wedge of lime — plus a choice of grilled chicken or tofu — all drizzled with a spicy peanut dressing.

Around the corner is an often-overlooked gem — the Wednesday Dane County Farmers’ Market. With tables laden with beans, beets, and onions, Yeng Yang sells produce and carries on a family tradition at the corner of Wilson Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

His Hmong immigrant parents began growing vegetables in 1989 and have been selling at the market since 1992. “My parents did not want to accept welfare, so they began farming,” Yang says. “I grew up farming most of my life.”

The family operation grows vegetables in nearby Brooklyn, Wisconsin, and works both the Wednesday and Saturday markets.

“Wednesday is more of a buyers’ market,” says Yang, as he sells two bags of fingerling potatoes to a shopper. “We see the same people every week.”

The Saturday market rings Capitol Square and commands a sea of visitors, but the Wednesday affair is more laid back. A wild rainbow of produce is heaped on the tables: broccoli, cauliflower, herbs, poblano peppers, melons, spuds.

Dairy farmer Tom Murphy’s family sells 13 varieties of cheese curds, plus fresh-baked cookies and bars. Murphy Farms has also been at the market for a quarter-century.

“This market saved my family farm,” says Murphy, of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin. “We’re in our sixth generation on the farm and people saved it by buying our products.” A 15-minute walk lands us at Madison Sourdough on Williamson Street. A popular breakfast and lunch spot, it has a bakery producing breads, rich French pastries, croissants, scones, macarons, and cheesecakes.

Dessert tarts from Madison Sourdough bakery

Dessert from Madison Sourdough Emily Hutchinson

A dense, rich pistachio Breton ($5) and a chocolate-almond croissant ($3.75) make up our midday snack, along with cups of steaming coffee. Executive chef and general manager Molly Maciejewski uses traditional French techniques.

“We source many of our products locally and mill much of our own flour,” she says. “It keeps more money in the local economy [and] supports farmers, and milling our own flour helps bakers, because it gives them more control.”

The bakery has a friendly energy. “It’s very neighborhood centered, with a family vibe, and we like that,” Maciejewski says.

With only wayward crumbs remaining, it’s back to downtown and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, which occupies the prow of the Overture Center on State Street.

The State Street gallery featured the metal sculptures of Jaume Plensa in a display titled Talking Continents. The suspended steel forms appeared to float in the gallery. Other galleries feature works in video, film, painting, prints, and fabric and are staffed by knowledgeable docents. In May, the museum welcomed Far Out: Art from the 1960s.

One can’t-miss feature is the museum’s store, which has a stunning array of goods from designers and studio artists — including jewelry, wood, leather, glass, and metal work as well as children’s gifts, art books, and cards. Soon, dinnertime arrives. Just off State Street, we find out whose cuisine reigns supreme.

Tory Miller began his restaurant career working in his grandparents’ Racine, Wisconsin, diner — the Park Inn — and today he owns four Madison fine-dining restaurants: Estrellón, Graze, L’Etoile, and Sujeo.

Chef Tory Miller Sam Egelhoff

Award-winning chef Tory Miller Sam Egelhoff

His skills, honed at the French Culinary Institute in New York, have earned him the James Beard Award as the Best Chef: Midwest. Then, in January, his friends and fans gathered at Estrellón’s bar on West Johnson Street to watch him defeat rarely vanquished celebrity chef Bobby Flay on the Food Network’s Iron Chef Showdown.

“It’s very intense,” says Miller. “You’re pretty much competing against the ingredient. It’s wild to be on a show I grew up watching and take out somebody like Bobby Flay.”

We tried Estrellón, a Spanish restaurant with elegant, creative cuisine and a warm feel. “We wanted people to feel like you were coming into our house,” Miller says.

Paella at Estrellón

Paella at Estrellón Sam Egelhoff

The Spanish Experience Chef’s Dinner for Two ($90) includes a selection of tapas, a mixed-beet salad with smoked goat cheese and a subtle horseradish sauce, and a sweet treat of Basque cake with frozen custard and fruit compote. In between, there was a crusty bread with tomato; Tamworth ham pintxos; a tortilla with egg, potato, onion, and aoli; croquettes made with smooth Spanish manchego cheese; grilled octopus; and a paella made with bomba rice, chicken, shrimp, clams, mussels, and chorizo.

Miller locally sources ingredients. “Proximity to great food and agriculture is what keeps me here,” he says. “People rave about the Rhône River valley in Europe or Napa Valley, but to me, the Driftless Region is something untouchable for growing super-delicious food prolifically.”

Sated, we head off for a novel nightcap. For some at The Brink Lounge, Wednesday night is beer night. For others, it’s date night or a break from the routine. But for more than 30 souls — a mix of regulars, curious onlookers, and the experimental few — it’s time for some high-energy dancing.

The lounge is part of a trio of bars and entertainment venues in what was once a secondhand store. It’s also part of a neighborhood teeming with new residential, commercial, and entertainment developments at downtown Madison’s eastern gateway.

Every Wednesday at 9 p.m., The Brink features Jumptown Swing Dance, a group born as a UW–Madison student organization. Eventually, Jumptown became a community-based group that holds classes and events to teach people to swing dance — especially the Lindy Hop. With a DJ playing the swing rhythms of Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and a variety of more contemporary swing artists, people discard their inhibitions and dance.

“It’s people trying to have fun. You can have a party for two for three minutes,” says Sarah Zabinski, a Jumptown instructor and a 14-year member member of the group. “We’re all dorks, so silly things happen on the floor.”

On day two, the dawn finds us confident we can outsmart cholesterol science. That puts us at The Curve, a Madison diner just six blocks south of campus, next to Spike-O-Matic Tattoo, at the bend in Park Street.

The Curve is owned by Bill Antonie ’90, a Badger outside linebacker in the late 1980s. He’s still beefy, with an easy baritone laugh that erupts after summarizing what satisfies him most: “Everybody yaps and yaps and then, all of a sudden, they get their food and they shut the hell up.” Antonie started working in his parents’ Monona truck stop diner at age nine. “If I was working for the state or any other company, I’d be retired with a gold watch, but instead I’m sweeping the damn floor.”

Eggs, wheat toast, and corned beef hash arrive on an oval platter, delivered by Kathy Tracy, a 26-year veteran waitress behind the U-shaped Formica counter where politicians, students, hospital workers, university administrators, and neighbors gather.

Antonie is a jack-of-all-trades, flipping eggs and bacon on the flat-top. He whips up his special-recipe corned beef hash every other Saturday (and every Badger football Saturday). To work off the $6 breakfast, it’s off to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum on the Capitol Square.

The free museum, operated by the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs, is compact but jammed with fascinating artifacts and exhibits.

World War I Beyond the Trenches marks the war’s centennial. It combines displays and artifacts such as trench periscopes, a German MG08 machine gun, and uniforms, and features compelling interviews with Wisconsin soldiers.

It also features exhibits on 20th-century military conflicts, including a World War II Jeep, artifacts from the battleship USS Wisconsin, and a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter. Peckish again, it’s time to seek and destroy some pizza.

This time, we turn to vibrant Monroe Street, with its wealth of shops and restaurants. Pizza Brutta is tucked behind a stone-arched façade and offers wood-fired Neapolitan pizza.

“Neapolitan pizza is simple,” says co-owner Derek Lee, a professional pizza maker, or “pizzaiolo,” certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana, the association for authentic Neapolitan pizza. “There’s no sugar, no extra ingredients. It’s just crushed tomatoes, handmade fresh mozzarella, sea salt, olive oil, and our dough. It’s an exercise in restraint.”

Employee places pizza inside the wood-fired oven at Pizza Brutta

The wood-fired oven at Pizza Brutta Andy Manis

Of course, there are other toppings, too. We chose the $12 salame funghi, featuring oregano, salami, cremini mushrooms, and saracene olives and delivered steaming after just 90 seconds in the 900-degree brick oven.

Lee’s co-owner, wife Darcy Lee ’96, says Pizza Brutta uses locally sourced organic products. “In Naples, they depend on a local food system. It was a way for us to marry business with helping the environment.” By now, exercise seems appropriate, so it’s off to a nearby BCycle rack to use the city’s convenient bikeshare program for a junket west of campus.

In 2017, renters rode 300,000 miles, burning off 11.9 million calories. With several dozen stations around Madison, you can rent one of the red bikes, outfitted with a basket and a lock. A $6 daily pass, which covers unlimited 30-minute rides, is required. Additional time goes for $3 for 30 minutes.

“Badgers and bikes are a great blend,” says Morgan Ramaker ’06, MBA’17, director of Madison BCycle. “It’s a way to cover more ground and see Madison without parking hassles.”

Headed west on the smooth-riding bikes, we begin a mini–Frank Lloyd Wright x1890 tour. First stop: the Eugene A. Gilmore House, known as the “airplane house.”

Wright built the house for Gilmore, a UW law professor, in 1908 on the highest point of University Heights. Its copper-roofed wings extend from a center pavilion with a triangular balcony — which gives the home the appearance of an airplane. It remains a private residence, unavailable for tours.

Ten minutes away is the First Unitarian Meeting House. A National Historic Landmark built in 1951, it’s a magnet for Wright devotees. Its design, with a soaring copper roof evoking a church steeple and a triangular auditorium, has influenced religious architecture since it was completed.

Two bicyclists ride past Frank Lloyd Wright house

Touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s “airplane house” via BCycle Andy Manis

Our guide points out Wright’s signature plywood furniture and Hiroshige’s early-nineteenth-century prints — once part of Wright’s collection — in the loggia. Wright said the simplicity of Japanese art, which he sold early in his career to supplement his income, greatly influenced his work.

After the tour, there’s still time for nature. Just more than a mile away is Frautschi Point, part of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, a lesser-known area west of Picnic Point. There’s a parking lot off Lake Mendota Drive, and a short walk yields an elevated view of Lake Mendota, beneath a canopy of burr oaks, white oaks, and shagbark hickories.

A wooden staircase leads to the lake’s edge at Raymer’s Cove. The spot offers a view of the Middleton shore and of sandstone cliffs where Raymer’s Ravine meets the lake.

With the clock ticking on our rented bikes and our 36-hour adventure, we pedal to a new vantage point.

Eno Vino Downtown Wine Bar and Bistro combines urban attitude with panoramic altitude. It offers a 10th-floor penthouse view of the state Capitol, just a block away, and Lakes Mendota and Monona.

The eclectic menu features a globally fused array of cheese boards and dishes with small-plate influences ranging from Greek to Korean to Italian. Its floor-to-ceiling windows and a ninth-floor outdoor terrace provide a vivid atmosphere.

Interior of Eno Vino Wine Bar and Bistro shows view of capitol building

Eno Vino Downtown Wine Bar and Bistro Sara Granados

After Eno Vino opened in 2017, social-media selfies helped drive success. “People started asking, ‘Where is that view? We’ve never seen it before,’ ” says general manager Jennifer Cameron. “It was a snowball effect.”

Eno Vino commands a big-city vibe and a glass wine case holding hundreds of bottles. After glasses of wine with small plates of goat cheese tortellini ($12) and lamb meatballs ($13), there was just enough time to crown our 36-hour expedition.

Just a 25-minute walk away, we settled into sunburst chairs on the Memorial Union Terrace with bowls of Berry Alvarez ice cream to catch a perfect sunset.

New adventures are great, but some habits die hard.

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