Teaching and learning – 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 For the Birds https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/for-the-birds/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/for-the-birds/#respond Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:41:23 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=24322 Pair of hands holding notebook filled with birding notes and illustrations

Mason Muerhoff

Nomen est omen, said the ancient Romans, who liked their maxims to rhyme: one’s name is one’s destiny. And while there’s little empirical evidence about this aphorism, put Anna Pidgeon PhD’00 down on the side of support. The professor with the columbiform name has taught Birds of Southern Wisconsin for the last three years.

“I get a bit of office guff,” she says.

Birds of Southern Wisconsin is offered each spring, and most of its students are undergrads studying biology or wildlife ecology. In addition to class work, students take field trips around Dane County and southern Wisconsin on Saturdays through the semester. By the course’s end, students are expected to be able to identify 235 bird species by sight and 145 species by sound alone.

Pidgeon says students also discover how Wisconsin’s landscape is changing. From the 1850s to the 1950s, logging cleared away a lot of the state’s forests, sending arboreal birds into retreat. But in the last 60 years, the forests have been returning; forest and urban birds have returned, while grassland birds are in decline.

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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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Washburn Observatory https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/destination/washburn-observatory/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/destination/washburn-observatory/#respond Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:27 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23793 Stargazers take in a nighttime view using the observatory’s vintage telescope. Washburn hosts regular public observing sessions and posts its schedule on Twitter. Built in 1881, the observatory was a gift to the UW from former Wisconsin Governor Cadwallader Washburn, who directed that the 15.6-inch telescope lens be at least equal in size to a rival instrument at Harvard. The telescope’s rusty tube in 2012: its lenses were removed for the first time to clear out dust and debris. “It’s probably working better now than it did in the 19th century,” says Jim Lattis, director of UW Space Place. The dome was refurbished in the 1990s; the rest of the building was restored and updated in 2009. Washburn overlooks Lake Mendota and sits atop Observatory Hill, where students like to sled on campus dining hall trays.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Money https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/new-money/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/new-money/#respond Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:10 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23697 A store window displays a sign that reads "Bitcoin accepted here"

Thamerpic/Istock

The first recorded purchase with Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency, used 10,000 tokens to buy two pizzas in 2010. But today, the same 10,000 digital coins would buy hundreds of Lamborghinis.

Even though millions of people now use cryptocurrencies, there’s still much unknown — and much feared — about the volatile assets, says Brad Chandler, director of the business school’s Nicholas Center for Corporate Finance and Investment Banking. That’s one reason he’s launching a one-credit cryptocurrencies class this fall.

“I think cryptocurrency use has really rattled traditional financial institutions,” he says. “I came to the conclusion that our students needed to have some exposure to this to be ready for the workforce.”

One way that cryptocurrencies differ from traditional assets is how they’re traded. Dollar transactions are facilitated and tracked by centralized financial institutions, such as credit card companies or banks.

Cryptocurrencies instead work through a decentralized system. When a Bitcoin transaction occurs, the record is shared with everyone in the digital network and is added to a list of transactions called a block. New blocks are verified every 10 minutes by the first person in the network whose computer can solve the block’s equation. After verification, it’s added to the list of verified blocks called a blockchain.

This is what corporations are most interested in, according to Chandler: “blockchain, not Bitcoin.”

Chandler’s class will explore more than how cryptocurrency works. He wants students to examine different enterprise solutions companies could use to harness blockchain technology. For example, how could Walmart use blockchain to track product deliveries from factories to stores across the country?

“There’s no textbook on this subject. My biggest goal for the class, actually, is to engage [students] with new technologies that are undefined,” Chandler says. “If we wait until it’s all figured out, we will be left behind.”

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Campus Construction https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/campus-construction/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/campus-construction/#respond Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:09 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23718 Construction workers standing in a lift inspect second story windows on a campus building

Bryce Richter

Major projects are under way on the UW–Madison campus to remove bottlenecks for students who need access to chemistry classes to graduate, modernize campus dairy operations, and make more room for meat science teaching and research.

Chemistry building expansion and renovation

A new 10-level tower will house undergraduate instructional labs; renovations to the existing chemistry building will modernize teaching labs original to the 1964 building and add more classrooms, study spaces, and offices for undergraduate chemistry staff.

Babcock Dairy plant renovation/Center for Dairy Research addition

A three-story addition will bring the facility that produces ice cream and other products up to date with modern manufacturing practices, as well as provide a state-of-the-art teaching and research facility.

Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery building

The new meat research facility (pictured above) will include a demonstration suite, a biosecurity level 2 food safety lab, classrooms, office and support spaces, and a retail store featuring student-made food products.

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Bridge Builder https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/bridge-builder/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/bridge-builder/#respond Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:08 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23619 After fetching ketchup for fries and plastic utensils, the group settles in for lunch around a table at Union South near the College of Engineering campus. Conversation flows easily as students share updates about how fall semester — now just a few weeks old — is going, which classes are favorites, and how summer internships influenced longer-term plans. The chatter is frequently punctuated by laughter.

You’d never guess that the meal’s host attended college several decades earlier than these students, or that he did so under significantly different circumstances. He has an admirable way of setting aside differences and coaxing out similarities.

• • •

Rod Hassett ’62 excels at making connections. It’s a skill he has brought to lunch tables and conference room tables since deciding — after a nudge from his father early in his college pursuits — that engineering would be a good fit. Engineers analyze problems and suggest solutions within parameters that include affordability and safety, enthusiastically completing complex puzzles while the rest of us may only see the pieces. These specialized skills came naturally to Hassett throughout his lengthy career at Strand Associates, a Madison engineering firm.

After retiring from Strand in 2002, he called upon his knack for mentorship, joining the UW faculty as an adjunct professor and, for 13 years, teaching the capstone design course, which challenges engineering students to tackle real-life projects.

Along the way, Hassett had been nagged by an industry dilemma that couldn’t be solved with carefully designed bridges constructed of steel and concrete. How could a profession heavily represented by white men adequately address the problems found in a broad range of communities and demographics?

“We have huge engineering problems to solve over the next 50 years,” he says, adding that it’s essential to include a diverse societal representation to solve them.

“Diverse groups are going to make smarter decisions than like-minded groups,” Hassett continues. “Those voices needed to be at the table. And many of the problems that we need solved are in the inner cities. There’s no one better to work with the people in the inner cities than the people who grew up there.”

• • •

Hassett knew exactly where to find young people who could be encouraged to follow in his footsteps from the inner city to UW–Madison’s College of Engineering. He graduated from Rufus King High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1958, just prior to the city’s dramatic shift in demographics. From 1960 to 1970, Milwaukee’s African American population increased by 68 percent, due in part to migration from Chicago and the South. At Rufus King, minority enrollment slowly grew, reaching one-third by 1964; today, minorities represent 79 percent of the school’s student body.

Now called Rufus King International, the high school’s nearly 1,500 students take challenging precollege coursework. U.S. News & World Report includes it in the magazine’s rankings of nationally recognized high schools. Eighty-five percent of the 2015 graduating class planned to attend college, with another 10 percent intending to enroll in two-year institutions — a significant change from Hassett’s student days.

“My dad was really pro-education, but he came out of the Depression and World War II, and he didn’t have a lot of formal education,” Hassett says. “I grew up in an area where probably less than half of the kids went to college when they got out of high school, but there was no question I was going to college. Education has always been part of my life.”

As Hassett pondered how to bring more diversity into his field, he talked with Jeff Russell, then chair of civil and environmental engineering and today dean of the Division of Continuing Studies. Together they decided to recruit students to be engineers “like Barry Alvarez recruits football players,” Hassett recalls. He worked with the UW Foundation in 2006 to establish a scholarship program specifically designed to support Rufus King students who had an interest in becoming engineers. He provides scholarships for a student’s first two years, and the College of Engineering supports additional years. So far, 15 Rufus King graduates have been named Hassett Scholars. Nine have graduated from the UW — a track record that makes Hassett especially proud — and are now pursuing careers ranging from jet pilot training with the U.S. Air Force to working as a computer programmer at Google. The other six scholars are currently enrolled.

“The scholarship is a means to solving a problem,” Hassett says. “Now there’s a steady stream of kids coming from King. We’re solving a problem one person at a time.”

• • • Coty Weathersby x’19 was among the students having lunch with Hassett at The Sett in Union South last fall. Now a fifth-year senior majoring in chemical engineering, Weathersby supplements her course work with time in a campus research lab. Her current research centers on analyzing bacteria in wastewater; during a stint in a UC–Berkeley lab in summer 2017, she explored harmful contaminants in groundwater.

Although she’d been juggling honor societies and athletics at Rufus King and leaning toward majoring in chemistry, Weathersby says her selection as a Hassett Scholar spurred her to change plans. And she marvels at the interest Hassett shows in the students. “I never thought I’d actually get to see the face behind the scholarship,” she says. “When I first received the award, Rod came to the ceremony [at Rufus King]. That in itself was exciting because he got to meet my sisters and my mom.”

She adds, “I remember getting an email from him at the end of my freshman year that said, ‘Congratulations. I’m proud of you!’ ”

“That individual touch is just very, very rare,” says Mary Fitzpatrick, director of the College of Engineering’s Diversity Affairs Office. “Rod offers mentoring as a seasoned professional. I would even say Rod has mentored us. He continues to make sure that we understand the intent and the goals [of his scholarship].”

Hassett Scholars are part of the college’s larger Leaders in Engineering Excellence and Diversity program, which is designed to support populations that are historically underrepresented in the field, including low-income or first-generation students, women, and students of color. The college takes steps to make sure incoming students are aware of scholarships for which they can apply.

“Engineering is very competitive, and the climate of engineering can be harsh at times,” Fitzpatrick says. “Our message is that you all can succeed, and we’re going to help you succeed. Yes, you have to do the work yourself, but you’ve got a net that’s going to work with you.” The diversity office provides a comfortable space where students can come to hang out and talk between classes, hold math study sessions, and gather over a meal.

Brian Núñez, former director of the Engineering Summer Program and now the director of career advising and wellness at the UW’s medical school, remembers the first time he met Weathersby. “She gave me her résumé and said she was going to run a company one day,” he says with a smile.

That company may well be in Weathersby’s future, but in the meantime, she is honing her leadership skills. She serves as the academic excellence chair for the campus chapter of the National Society for Black Engineers, and she attended the organization’s conference during her sophomore year. “I remember walking into the convention hall, and it was filled with so many black engineers and engineers of color, and I thought, ‘Wow.’ I just don’t see that on TV. I don’t see that in the media, so it was great. It’s a reminder in times when I’m struggling … that there are a lot of other engineers who felt the same thing, but they’ve made it.”

She was one of three students who helped start the UW chapter of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers. The chapter’s members — numbering about 15 undergraduate and graduate students — do volunteer work and sponsor professional development events.

Weathersby’s motivation for involvement in the organizations, she says, is “making sure future Hassett Scholars have these resources.” She attributes “caffeine and time management” — and learning to say no — to her ability to juggle classes, research, student organizations, and tutoring.

“I don’t want to do something and not do it well,” she says.

Weathersby, who is eyeing graduate school to earn a master’s degree and, possibly, a doctorate, expresses admiration for UW faculty members who both teach and conduct research.

But for now, she emphasizes the powerful force of community. That, she believes, has been the greatest gift of all, in some ways eclipsing the financial support. She keeps in close contact with other Hassett Scholars, including those who have graduated.

Hassett makes sure that current students have ongoing support from each other by scheduling lunch sessions twice a year. “I really want to make sure that the older kids, the more senior people, are sharing their experiences with the younger students,” he says. “They can help each other so much.”

• • •

During last October’s lunch conversation, Hassett encourages each student to tell him what’s new. Weathersby describes her summer at UC–Berkeley. Devin Lafford x’19, a computer engineering student, details an internship at a company that designs medical devices. George Akpan x’19 tells the group that he wants to focus on wind power in his career, plans that earn an enthusiastic “Good for you!” from Hassett. Alexus Edwards x’21 says she’s leaning toward the biomedical field and recounts her summer as an intern with the Milwaukee fire department unit based at the airport.

Hassett nods, smiles, and asks more questions, easily sliding into the mentorship role he enjoys. The topic shifts to Park Street, one of the main thoroughfares to the UW campus, and he tells the students, “Here you had this gorgeous campus, but everyone coming there had to go down this ugly street.” He notes that his firm worked on a plan to give the location new life.

“When you do something like this as an engineer, you have a vision,” he says. “I could see that this was going to be the gateway to the campus.

“That’s one thing that’s nice about being an engineer,” he continues. “You get involved in things like that and you put your footprints in the sand. Early on you can see something, you have a vision for something, and you get it done. And then the rest of the world catches up. You just smile and walk on.”

As the scholars grab their backpacks and head off to their next classes or study groups, Hassett calls out, “Good seeing you guys!” With a smile, he adds, “See you in May — you’ll be a lot smarter by then.”

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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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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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