International – 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 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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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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Diplomatic Dilemma https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/diplomatic-dilemma/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/diplomatic-dilemma/#respond Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:13 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=24295 Russ Feingold

Tom Williams/AP

It’s been 47 years since Russ Feingold ’75 first walked up Bascom Hill as a freshman from Janesville, Wisconsin. He would go on to earn degrees in history and political science, win a Rhodes Scholarship, and eventually serve in the Wisconsin State Legislature and the U.S. Senate.

This fall, he made the same walk — as a visiting lecturer in UW–Madison’s African Studies Program. Feingold is teaching a capstone course for international studies based on his experiences as a special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa, which includes Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and surrounding countries.

Millions have died there since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, as armed groups fight for control of lucrative land and minerals. From 2013 to 2015, Feingold worked with envoys from the African Union, Europe, and the United Nations to successfully get Rwanda to stop supporting the March 23 Movement, a brutal rebel group. But conflict and violence remain in the region, which has a multilayered history.

“By the time we get to the end of this course, you’ll want to pull your hair out. Some things aren’t knowable,” Feingold told his students in September. “Some things are simply that complicated.”

And that’s one reason why Americans don’t know more about what Feingold calls “one of the greatest catastrophes in human history” during a class discussion on Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa. (The author, Jason Stearns, worked for the UN in Congo.) The book — from a reading list Feingold received when he was appointed to his diplomatic position — explains how the conflict has involved at least 20 rebel groups and the armies of nine countries.

“There’s no one bad guy” — no single figure like Hitler or Mussolini, Feingold tells the class. That ambiguity has led to less news coverage compared to other parts of Africa, such as Darfur, despite how many have suffered and died in the Congo.

Like Feingold, most of the course’s 17 students are Wisconsin natives. “I really feel at home here,” Feingold says. “There couldn’t be a more special place in my life and the lives of many Wisconsinites.”

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Deadly Cold https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/deadly-cold/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/deadly-cold/#respond Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:09 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23722 A chimpanzee sits among green leafy plants

Richard Wrangham

It wasn’t poachers or predators who killed some of the wild chimpanzees living in Uganda’s Kibale National Park — it was the common cold.

UW researchers made the startling discovery when investigating a 2013 outbreak of severe coughing and sneezing among a community of 56 chimps. Five of them died from the human cold virus known as rhinovirus C, including a two-year-old whose body was quickly recovered and autopsied after her death.

“It was surprising to find it in chimpanzees, and it was equally surprising that it could kill healthy chimpanzees outright,” says Tony Goldberg, a professor in the UW’s School of Veterinary Medicine who for years has worked in Uganda tracking viruses in animals. Goldberg was featured in the spring 2017 issue of On Wisconsin.

The findings, says Goldberg, are a cautionary tale about human interactions with wild apes. In Africa, people encounter chimpanzees and other apes when human settlements expand into habitats and when the animals leave the forests to raid crops.

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Jessica Weeks https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/conversation/jessica-weeks/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/conversation/jessica-weeks/#respond Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:09 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23724 Head shot of Jessica Weeks

Jessica Weeks is fascinated by the “dark side” of international relations: dictatorships. But her award-winning research combats the black-and-white view of authoritarian regimes and democracies. Dictators at War and Peace, published in 2014, classifies regimes to better understand them: bosses/strongmen, with an unchecked personalist leader; juntas, with influential military elites; and machines, with influential political elites. Weeks, a UW associate professor of political science, spoke to members of the U.S. intelligence community in Washington, DC, last year as they grappled with how to contain North Korea.

How do authoritarian regimes differ?

Who is inside the regime really matters. Boss and strongman regimes have the stereotypical dictator, like Saddam Hussein, Mao, Stalin, Hitler. One person has a lot of power and, because of that, can make decisions without too much concern that people within the regime will disagree or try to get rid of him. But when you don’t have people helping you make a decision or [holding you accountable], that often leads to suboptimal outcomes. These leaders tend to fight really risky wars, start more wars, and lose a lot more frequently. … Machines, I argue, are the most peaceful kinds of regimes. These include the Soviet Union after Stalin and China after Mao. They don’t fight as many wars and tend to have much better outcomes when they fight. Juntas are more likely to [engage in war] because the military officers are more likely to see force as a viable option and policy tool. They end up falling in between the machines and the bosses.

According to your book, machine regimes are just as risk averse as democracies when it comes to initiating force — and are just as successful when they do go to war. Why?

It’s because of the risks that the leader would face if they undertook foolish foreign-policy decisions. A leader in a democracy needs to think about what the electoral consequences would be if they lost a war. You don’t pick wars that you can’t win. You have the same dynamic going on in these machines. The leader knows — they’re not thinking about the public, per se — but they know that if they start a war and it goes badly, then they could be ousted by the other top people in the regime. The accountability is coming from other people within the regime rather than the public at large.

How do nuclear capabilities fit into this discussion?

I have [research] that finds that boss and strongman regimes are more likely to pursue nuclear weapons than machines and juntas. It’s similar dynamics. These leaders face fewer constraints. When a country tries to pursue nuclear weapons, it often faces a lot of costs from the international community. But the leaders don’t really internalize those in the same way. So you end up seeing that the same regimes that fight a lot of wars are often also trying to acquire these weapons.

What did you think of the summit with North Korea?

I think the U.S. [needs] to be extremely cautious about any promises [from] North Korea. … If Kim [Jong-un] made a promise and then went back on it, there are going to be no domestic consequences for that — because there’s no one to criticize him. It’s the quintessential boss regime.

Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Preston Schmitt ’14

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Peace Out https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/peace-out/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/peace-out/#respond Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:08 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23125 A collection of international flags serves as a buffet table centerpiece

A collection of international flags serves as a buffet table centerpiece during a Global House Party event at the University Club. Jeff Miller

The UW sent 85 Peace Corps volunteers around the world in 2017 — the most among large universities.

Mozambique 5
Senegal 5
Tanzania 5
Uganda 5
Thailand 4
Cameroon 3
Colombia 3
Namibia 3
Nicaragua 3
Paraguay 3
Peru 3
Togo 3
Benin 2
Costa Rica 2
Dominican Republic 2
Ethiopia 2
Gambia 2
Georgia 2
Guinea 2
Liberia 2
Mongolia 2
Morocco 2
Albania 1
Armenia 1
Belize 1
Botswana 1
Cambodia 1
China 1
Comoros 1
Fiji 1
Ghana 1
Indonesia 1
Kyrgyz Republic 1
Madagascar 1
Malawi 1
Mexico 1
Moldova 1
Myanmar 1
Panama 1
South Africa 1
Swaziland 1
Tonga 1
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Origins https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/exhibition/origins/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/exhibition/origins/#respond Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:07 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23105 UW–Madison researchers in South Africa are at the heart of work that is unraveling the mysteries of the universe, determining when and how life on Earth began, and identifying the origins of humankind. A team from University Communications — videographer Justin Bomberg ’94, photographer Jeff Miller, and science writer Kelly April Tyrrell MS’11 — traveled to Johannesburg to capture those stories in words and images that now appear in a vivid project published at origins.wisc.edu. The journey begins at one of the world’s largest optical telescopes, which gazes into the dark skies over Sutherland, South Africa (pictured above), to help astronomers understand how planets, stars, and galaxies form and behave. It continues with geoscientists looking at rocks to find the earliest signs of life on Earth. And it concludes with a closer look at anthropologists who have unearthed some of our earliest known human ancestors. The takeaway: the beginning can be the most captivating part of a story.

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Alex Frecon ’09 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/recognition/alex-frecon-09/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/recognition/alex-frecon-09/#respond Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:07 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23230 Alex Frecon and teammate wearing hockey gear pose on ice rink with hockey sticks

Courtesy of Howe International Friendship League

When Alex Frecon ’09 left his home in Minnesota to play hockey against the North Korean men’s national team in Pyongyang in March 2017, he didn’t tell his parents — or anyone else except for two close friends.

“I didn’t want to hear everyone’s opinion,” Frecon says. “I wanted to do it for myself.”

Frecon had read and admired Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” as an English major at UW–Madison after transferring from Connecticut College his junior year. And today, working in advertising in Minneapolis, he retains the nonconformist, seize-the-day spirit the campus gave him. Which might explain how Frecon ended up spending a week on skates in one of the world’s most notorious dictatorships.

In late 2016, Frecon came across an internet link to the Howe International Friendship League, which promotes goodwill sports trips around the world. One of them was an opportunity to travel to Pyongyang and play hockey against the North Korean national team.

“It looked like a real trip,” Frecon says. “But I had no intention of going, originally. It was just so crazy.”

Still, he was intrigued. Frecon had played hockey growing up in Minnesota and recreationally as an adult. He emailed Scott Howe, the league’s founder, and peppered him with questions. Was it even legal for an American to go to North Korea? Could he take his GoPro camera? Yes and yes. Frecon signed up.

In Pyongyang, the visitors were met by English-speaking guides, who were a constant presence during the trip. “If you’re not provocative, they’re very polite,” Frecon says. “They were curious about life as an American.” Frecon found the city to be modern with respect to auto traffic, though lacking in electric stoplights and indoor heat.

The tourist team was outclassed on the ice, but the camaraderie with the North Korean players was the highlight of the trip. Although the Friendship athletes typically competed against their hosts, they did play one game mixing the visitors with the North Koreans. With everyone wearing Friendship League jerseys, laughing, and scrambling after the puck, it might have been an outdoor rink in Minneapolis.

“We knew we had the love of the game in common,” Frecon says. “A government doesn’t always represent its people.”

Afterward, Frecon traveled to Beijing and called his parents.

“They were in a state of shock,” he says. “But I think they came to realize it was a profound experience — a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

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58 Frozen Landmarks https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/58-frozen-landmarks/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/58-frozen-landmarks/#respond Fri, 03 Nov 2017 23:02:37 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=21664 Illustration by UW–Madison Cartography Lab | Research by Marie Dvorzak, C.K. Leith Library of Geology and Geophysics

Badgers have made their mark on Antarctica, thanks to the UW’s long history of research and exploration of the continent. This map shows the known Antarctic features named for UW–Madison faculty, staff, and students. The names include glaciologist and geophysicist Charles Bentley, who spent 25 consecutive months in Antarctica beginning in 1957 and made at least 15 trips to the continent over seven decades. He died in August at age 87. Mount Bentley, the highest peak in what are now known as the Ellsworth Mountains, and the Bentley Subglacial Trench, an ice-filled trench the size of Mexico, are named in his honor. In 2008, Bentley told an interviewer: “I claim to be the only person with a hill and hole named after him.”

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The Voice https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/the-voice/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/the-voice/#respond Wed, 23 Aug 2017 19:28:36 +0000 http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=20714 A scrum of reporters crowds around Carlos Martinez, the staff ace and $51 million man in the St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching rotation. Today’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers was his sixth start of the 2017 season, but only his first win. As the reporters launch their questions, they direct them not at Martinez, but at the woman standing at his side: Alexandra Noboa-Chehade ’09, the Cardinals’ Spanish translator and international communications specialist.

Had Martinez been working on his sinking fastball? How did the movement of his sinker during his warmup set his game plan for the night? Noboa-Chehade translates each question into Spanish and listens intently as Martinez responds in the rapid-fire style of Spanish spoken in his native Dominican Republic. Noboa-Chehade doesn’t look at Martinez’s face. Instead, she gazes down or into the distance as she focuses on his every word, nodding repeatedly in affirmation and encouragement before giving the English translation.

The last question brings a quick smile to her face: “How much has he been waiting for a night like tonight?” As she shares Martinez’s response, the words that Noboa-Chehade speaks could easily be her own story: “I have been working really hard. I always had faith in myself and my team. I knew it would come eventually, but I really worked hard for this, so it feels great.”

She graduated from UW–Madison with a bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies, political science, and Spanish literature — hardly the credentials a ball team would look for. But her upbringing in a Spanish-speaking family with a father obsessed with baseball — as well as her subsequent bilingual media training and experience — made her the right person, with the right skills, at the right time when Major League Baseball mandated last year that all teams with Spanish-speaking players hire full-time translators.

“Many people only wish they could do this,” Noboa-Chehade says, as she pulls open the doors to the Cardinals’ locker room and strolls in before another early season game. Songs from AC/DC and the Scorpions are blasting on the sound system. A couple of players chat at their lockers. Martinez — today’s starting pitcher and her main translation “client” — strolls through the locker room, but makes no eye contact with Noboa-Chehade or anyone. “No one talks to the starting pitcher,” she says. “That’s the rule.”

Noboa-Chehade is one of five women working as major-league translators. Her presence in the locker room is a given now that she has been on the job for a year, but that wasn’t the case at first. “There was that initial feeling of intimidation, walking into a clubhouse with 20-plus men and being the only woman,” she says. “I had to remind myself, ‘Yes, I have the qualifications and the skills to be here.’ ”

“Code switch” is the current buzzword for her skill, the ability to fluently switch between languages within a single conversation. Noboa-Chehade performs nimbly for the Cardinals’ 162 regular-season games, plus spring training, public appearances, and (fingers crossed) the post season. “You eat, sleep, and dream baseball,” she says. The truth, however, is that Noboa-Chehade was code switching long before the term was coined.

Born in Puerto Rico to a Dominican father and Colombian mother, she was not even a year old when her family moved to Middleton, Wisconsin, so that her mother, Nayla Chehade MA’90, PhD’99, could pursue her PhD in Spanish literature at the UW. Outside their front door, it was an English-speaking world; but at home, her parents spoke to her and her older sister, Nadia Noboa-Chehade ’03, JD’09, only in Spanish. “I remember coming home and wanting to speak English, and my parents wouldn’t let me or respond to any of my questions,” she says. “When we would travel to Colombia for the summer and then come back to Wisconsin, I would forget English. I’d sometimes make words up. I grew up with this duality, living this double life.”

To tweak a famous line from the movie Field of Dreams, one constant amid the dueling languages in Noboa-Chehade’s childhood was béisbol. Her father, Diogenes “John” Noboa, had been a promising player in his youth in the Dominican Republic and continued to play in recreational leagues in Middleton. The family’s TV was constantly tuned to baseball games.

“We didn’t so much follow teams as players,” Noboa-Chehade recalls. Pedro Martinez on the Red Sox. Sammy Sosa on the Cubs. They were definitely not Cardinals fans. “They beat everybody — they were too good,” she says with a laugh. The family’s favorite player was, well, family: cousin Junior Noboa, a utility player who spent eight seasons in the majors.

When it came time for her to choose a college, Noboa-Chehade admits that, as a local, she initially resisted attending the UW. But she came into her own identity during her time on campus. As a freshman, she joined Lambda Theta Alpha (LTA), a Latina sorority that her sister had helped to form a few years earlier. “Through LTA, I was able to bring cultural awareness to campus and be a part of a bigger movement that empowers Latinas in higher education,” she says.

That year she also took professor Francisco Scarano’s class on Latin American history. “I found it so interesting, to understand where I am from,” she says. “He inspired me and added so much to who I am today, to be bilingual and bicultural and to gain so much knowledge about both cultures.”

After graduation, Noboa-Chehade struggled for a year to find her path: she tried acting and modeling in Los Angeles and translated for social service agencies that served children and families in Madison. Then she firmly set her sights on a career in broadcast communications. She took a public speaking course in Colombia to polish her broadcast Spanish, then moved to Miami to complete a master’s degree in Spanish-language journalism and multimedia at Florida International University. “It was in Miami that I came to appreciate my UW–Madison education,” she says. “Compared with my fellow grad students, I realized how well formed I was in terms of my study habits and my level of accountability.”

In Miami, she connected with her family’s favorite player, Junior Noboa, now an executive with the Arizona Diamondbacks. “He became a mentor for me,” she says. He encouraged her to consider baseball as an outlet for her skills. When she called home to tell her parents she’d landed a job as a social media reporter for MLB.com, her father was thrilled.

For two years at MLB.com, Noboa-Chehade coordinated the Spanish-language Facebook and Twitter feeds for several East Coast teams. “You have 140 characters in English, but Spanish is so much longer when it’s written out, so that job made me a concise writer and thorough reporter,” she says. She relished the work trips to the World Series and All-Star Game, but MLB.com’s large-scale operations and the isolation of working from home weren’t the best fit for her outgoing personality.

“I wanted something smaller; I wanted to be with one club,” she says. When the Twitter announcement for the league-wide Spanish translator mandate crossed her desk, she saw her opening. “The fact that I am a native speaker was a big advantage,” she says. “I am able to understand the players’ culture and where they are coming from.”

That mutual understanding is greatly appreciated by the Cardinals’ players. “She has helped us tremendously since she came,” says Aledmys Diaz, the Cardinals’ Cuban shortstop. “When we don’t understand the question, she helps us to elaborate more when it comes to our response. Especially now that there are young Latino players coming up, the work she is doing is fundamental.”

  While Noboa-Chehade never has to make translation trips to the pitching mound — manager Mike Matheny is fluent in Spanish — the Cardinals call on her language and broadcast skills in many other ways. Behind the scenes, she helps players with everyday issues such as tax forms, housing deposits, travel arrangements, and ticket requests. For the Cardinals’ weekly TV show, she’s recording a series highlighting all the diverse backgrounds — Korean, African American, Hawaiian, and more — represented on the team.

During games, as the crowd cheers and the wave ripples around the stadium, she follows the action — especially Martinez’s performance — from the surprisingly quiet press box with her communications staff colleagues. With each major play, she updates the Cardinals’ Spanish-language Twitter and Facebook feeds, which she launched last year. “Our Spanish-speaking players have such a passionate following,” she says. “Any time I want to do an interview for our Spanish-speaking fans, the players always say, ‘I am so there — I’ll do it.’ ”

And when the players need her translation skills — signaled by a quick shout of “Ale” or a subtle nod — she is right there, at their sides. “What I most love about having Alexandra as my translator is that when I make a mistake in the interviews or I didn’t have a good game, she always helps me show my best side,” Martinez says. “She makes the interviews fun and helps me keep my cool. She truly helps me as a person on and off the field.”

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