Report by President Ray Cross to the Board of Regents

At this time, I’d like to share some news from around the UW System…

  • A generous gift to UW-Stevens Point will establish the university’s first endowed faculty position and enhance one of the nation’s largest wildlife management programs. A $2-million gift from Gerald and Helen Stephens honors the memory of their son, Doug Stephens, a 1991 graduate of UW-Stevens Point. The gift will help create the Douglas R. Stephens Chair in Wildlife, a new faculty position in the College of Natural Resources. Dean Christine Thomas and Development Director Steve Menzel were instrumental in securing this gift. We salute them for their good work on behalf of UW-Stevens Point and offer congratulations to Chancellor Patterson and the Pointer community.
  • The UW System has been awarded a $200,000 planning grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The UW System is one of 12 state systems chosen to participate in this grant and the funding will advance planning to align, integrate, and more effectively implement reform work already underway to dramatically improve access and success for underserved students. The planning grant will begin this spring and conclude in December 2014, with the potential for continued funding from Gates.  Congratulations to Senior Vice President Mark Nook and Senior Special Assistant Rebecca Karoff for securing the grant and moving it forward.
  • The inaugural Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament, funded by UW System and supported by WEDC, American Family, and other partners, held its first state finals event at the Pyle Center last weekend. This innovative program was developed by Eric Steege, of UW-Extension’s Center for Technology Commercialization, and Mark Lange, executive director at UW-Extension’s Division of Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, and featured 10 student-led teams from UW System campuses who were competing for an opportunity to win $100,000 at an international business model competition to be held later this year in Utah. The top prize went to a UWM student company called Grypshon Industries. These students developed a product line to increase maintenance productivity and safety for military aircraft. Mark Lange will feature this start-up company and others (including Ideadvance companies yet to be identified) at a REDI meeting later this year.
  • I’m pleased to report that UW-La Crosse’s “It Make$ Cents!” financial literacy program has received a 2013 Wisconsin Financial Literacy Award from the Department of Financial Institutions. The program was one of only 13 organizations and seven individuals recognized for promoting financial literacy at the State Capitol in February. Congratulations, Chancellor Gow.
  • UW-Marinette’s Office of Continuing Education was recently awarded a generous grant from Lockheed Martin to bring a hands-on educational STEM experience to over 700 local 7th and 8th grade students. Students participated in a variety of activities and demonstrations sponsored by 10 local organizations, businesses and schools. There is nothing better than a hands-on experience to spark interest in young people. Dean Langteau, what a great opportunity for your campus.
  • UW-Eau Claire is enjoying some well-deserved national recognition. Its newly created first-year writing program was recently honored for its innovation and effectiveness in helping students develop the strong communication skills employers say they value in new college graduates. The Blugold Seminar in Critical Reading and Writing — designed to ensure that every student is prepared for the reading, writing and researching demands of college and beyond — has received the Writing Program Certificate of Excellence from the national Conference on College Composition and Communication.
  • So who ever said expanding the mind couldn’t also be fun? At UW-Stout, the first-floor room in the Robert S. Swanson Library and Learning Center is expected to be a popular place for students to relax. Whenever the library is open, the lab there will be open for video game play on one of four retro-style TV sets. The lab is also an applied learning and creative space where students and professors can do research on and teach about all things video-game related. “This is a space designed to do more than play,” said Andrew Williams, assistant professor in the School of Art and Design, one of three people who created the lab. When we talk about new educational mediums, this is an example of thinking outside the box.
  • UW-Extension helped create 45 new jobs last year and received more than $12 million in capital from prior grant submissions. The Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC) provides science and technology-based Wisconsin innovators with expert support on the pathway to commercialization. And as you can see, it is paying off. Congratulations to UW-Extension.
  • This next update is literally out of this world. A UW-Milwaukee astronomer is about to take a ride aboard a NASA aircraft. Jean Creighton, the director of UWM’s Manfred Olson Planetarium, will be a passenger this spring on SOFIA, as it flies 45,000 feet into the stratosphere. That’s NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. Jean will join educators from 10 other states on this flight. SOFIA is a specially-designed Boeing 747 equipped with a 100-foot telescope, which Jean calls the “largest flying astronomical observatory in the world.”  The trip will help astronomers learn more about how galaxies were born. SOFIA can collect data at less cost compared to the Hubble Space Telescope, while still being able to fly high enough to gather information.
  • From the wonder and immensity of outer space, we boldly go next to the miracle and tininess of stem cells. UW-Platteville and Madison College will be collaborating to produce a protein used in the growth of stem cells. UW-Platteville biology professor Esther Ofulue received a Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement grant for her class to produce the proteins, which Madison College needs. The college has been doing a lot of work with stem cells to train students, as well as college educators. The UW-Platteville students will produce an alternative to mouse cells, which have been used thus far.
  • In sporting news, I’d also like to say congratulations to the Coach Bo Ryan and the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team, who provided us with such thrilling action over the past few weeks. It didn’t quite end the way we wanted, but making it to the Final Four is a tremendous accomplishment and we are all extremely proud. I am especially fond of Coach Bo Ryan and his approach to coaching and to developing character in the young men he coaches.  He is the kind of coach you would want your son to play for — he really is! Speaking of sporting success, congratulations also to the UW-Whitewater men’s basketball team, winners of the Division III national title for the second time in three years. And that’s not all! The Warhawks gymnastics team has also come out on top, winning the National Collegiate Gymnastics Association title for the third straight year.
  • One last sporting note. When I hear that one of our students is working with Major League baseball I am not only intrigued, but also a little jealous! UW-Parkside student video producer Justin Helm recently earned an internship with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers were so impressed with Justin’s abilities that the team nominated him to attend the Major League Baseball Diversity Business Summit in New York this month, which also happens to be the premier sports employment conference and supplier diversity trade fair. The two-day event allows job seekers and entrepreneurs the unique opportunity of meeting with both Major League and Minor League baseball clubs. Play ball, Justin!

Student spotlight

  • Finally, I was very impressed – as I’m sure most of you were – with the student presentations made at our last meeting. The only thing that could have made it better was if I was allowed to fly that crop “quadcopter”! But amidst all our talk about budgets and bills, hearing those young people speak so passionately about the research they’ve been involved with and how important and even life-changing their UW experiences have been was a potent reminder of what we’re all here for – and why we worry about budgets and bills.
  • We heard several fascinating stories of student success yesterday as part of Chancellor Van Galen’s presentation.
  • I would like to see and hear more. So, as part of my regular reports to the Board, I am starting a new feature … We’ll call it “Student Spotlight.”
  • The young man I’ve asked to join us here today has quite a story. I am pleased to be able to share some of it. But I should note that while this young man’s story is extraordinary, it is not unusual. When it comes to excellence among our UW students, there are many students like Daniel, with their own unique experiences and examples of excellence. So, in the coming months, I am hoping to turn the spotlight on some of these students and their stories.
  • Today, I am pleased to introduce David Pillman, finishing up his sophomore year here at UW-River Falls. David was born in Ecuador, where his parents were serving as missionaries for the Lutheran Church. At age 3, David and his family moved to Canada, where his mother is from. He spent the next six years moving between Canada and Minnesota. At age 9, his family moved to Menomonie, Wis., where he began helping out at a strawberry farm. David was home schooled and graduated with his high school degree in 2005. He began studying music at a bible school in Minneapolis. After two years, he left school and joined the Marines. He did three tours. The first was at Guantanamo Bay. His second tour was in the Middle East, working security and training foreign nationals from Iraq, Kuwait, Pakistan, Jordan, and Bahrain. For his third tour, David switched from security to regular infantry and served in Afghanistan from 2011-2012. He left the Marines and began attending classes at UWRF in Fall 2012.  He is an animal science and pre-vet major, and would like to attend Veterinary school in Wisconsin. David is President of the Navigator Club and plays on the UWRF Rugby Team. As if all that’s not enough, in January, he purchased the 40-acre strawberry farm he had been working at since age 9. And he is collaborating with Dr. Brian Smith, a professor of Horticulture at UW-River Falls, on the development of a new breed of strawberries. The testing of these new berries is taking place on the UWRF campus. Now, here to tell us more, please join me in welcoming David Pillman.

See February’s “News from Around the UW System