Report by President Ray Cross to the Board of Regents (at UW-Oshkosh)

At this time, I’d like to share some news from around the UW System. Much of the power of our great university resides, I believe, in the extraordinary stories that our students, faculty, researchers, staff and administrators have to tell. So, I hope you will not only be proud of these achievements, but that you will be moved by the stories, and that you will help us to share these stories of the positive impact of the UW System on our state and its citizens

  • UW-Madison shares the news that Chancellor Rebecca Blank has joined the Council on Competitiveness, a nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization that seeks to generate public policy solutions to drive the United States’ economic growth. The chancellor, an economist and former acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has noted that only two things really matter if the U.S. is going to stay at the front end of the global economy: first, our ability to build and maintain a highly skilled workforce; and second, our ability to stay on the cutting edge of innovation and new technologies. Public research universities — institutions that focus on both education and research — are at the center of both of those issues, according to Chancellor Blank. The Council on Competitiveness is composed of university presidents, business and labor leaders, and national laboratory directors. Membership is by invitation only.
  • Research and Design Magazine’s R&D 100 Awards – considered the “Oscars of Innovation” – recently honored UW-Stevens Point chemistry professor Mike Zach’s invention, NanoFab Lab…in a Box!, as one of the top 100 technology products added to the market place for 2014. The NanoFab lab, which Dr. Zach developed in collaboration with the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, simplifies nanotechnology concepts for high school and college students. It is a shoebox-sized educational kit for easy, rapid duplication of patterned nanowires without the need for a multimillion-dollar clean room. As Dr. Zach points out, most schools don’t have the resources to perform expensive nanotechnology experiments, but this invention brings nanotechnology into the classroom in a very tangible way.  I had the opportunity to test the NanoFab lab during my recent visit to UW-Stevens Point and I have to say, it was very impressive.
  • The non-profit Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation is dramatically expanding its Career Ready Internship program, awarding $5.2 million this coming year in new grants to 40 colleges and universities across Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Seven UW institutions are among the recipients of these grants: UW-Green Bay, UW-Madison, UW-Parkside, UW-River Falls, UW-Stevens Point, UW-Superior, and UW-Whitewater.  Under this program, institutions collaborate with local businesses and nonprofits to develop new paid internships – and to convert existing unpaid internships into paid opportunities. Why is this significant? While it’s widely recognized that internships give students a real competitive advantage as they enter the workforce, we all know that not all internships are paid opportunities. Many students with financial need simply can’t afford to work without pay and stay enrolled in college, so they miss out on the chance to gain that competitive edge. These grants will help to address that.
  • Dynamic Blade Technologies Inc., a Texas-based start-up company, has entered into a licensing agreement with the UW-Milwaukee Research Foundation to develop and commercialize an energy-storage and power-conversion technology for wind turbines – one of the fastest growing renewable energy options. Developed in the laboratory of electrical engineering professor Adel Nasiri, the patent-pending technology uses ultra-capacitors as an energy-storage element on the turbine. This system also incorporates algorithms that aid in buffering changes in power output to provide grid stability during varying wind and grid low-voltage conditions. A prototype 10-kilowatt-scale wind turbine has been installed outside the University Services and Research building to collect further data for proof of concept. According to Dr. Nasiri, this technology could solve a major problem for wind turbine owners and operators.
  • The UW-Eau Claire Foundation recently shared the news that alumni John and Carolyn Sonnentag, formerly of the Wausau area and now of Mount Dora, Fla., have pledged approximately $10 million in land and money to build a large multipurpose events center to replace Zorn Arena. The Sonnentag Foundation’s gift is the largest outright gift to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation in its nearly 60-year history. The proposed events center, which would include recreation and athletic facilities for the university, would be built on 21 acres of land along Menomonie Street. That land is currently owned by County Materials Corp., the Sonnentags’ third-generation family-owned concrete manufacturing company. Chancellor Jim Schmidt expects the gift will have “a significant and transformative impact” both for UW-Eau Claire and the region.
  • The Oscar Mayer brand has announced a partnership with UW- River Falls to focus on animal welfare issues. The program will train the next generation of animal welfare leaders, including farmers, scientists, processors and veterinarians. The goal is to find solutions that are right for the environment and animals and sustainable for suppliers and their farm families.  The three-year partnership names Kurt Vogel, assistant professor of animal science at UWRF, the Kraft Foods/Oscar Mayer faculty scholar.  The partnership also will help further develop animal welfare education at UWRF and provide research in the area of food animal welfare.  A public, online resource that addresses relevant animal welfare issues will be developed as well.
  • For six weeks this summer, 25 young leaders from Africa lived and studied at UW-Stout, absorbing everything they could about business, entrepreneurship and American culture. It was part of President Obama’s Young African Leaders initiative, which brought about 500 leaders overall to 20 universities around the country.  Before the group headed home, they spent a week in Washington, D.C., where they heard speeches by President Obama, the First Lady, the Secretary of State and other U.S. leaders. A UW-Stout fellow, Hastings Mkandawire of Malawi, was singled out by Obama in his address at the start of a town hall-style event. Mkandawire is trying to improve access to electricity in rural Malawi. At his home, he builds generators from scrap metal and uses water power from streams to help farmers irrigate their crops and provide light in homes at night. Mkandawire was one of six UW-Stout fellows who each received a $25,000 grant from the U.S. African Development Fund to help finance their projects. “It was a forward-thinking, positive experience,” summed up UW-Stout business professor Mark Fenton, who led the Young African Leaders Initiative on campus.
  • Already a national leader in the number of students who study abroad, UW-La Crosse recently joined an initiative that aims to boost UW-L numbers by 40 percent over the next five years. The university is ranked 30th in the nation within its institution type for the total number of students studying abroad during the 2011-12 academic year – the highest of all UW System schools. Seventeen percent of undergraduate students at UW-L study abroad through hundreds of programs in nearly 70 countries. To grow that number, the university will pursue a variety of efforts including increasing the number of study abroad options for underrepresented populations, simplifying the study abroad application process, and increasing the number of scholarships available through fundraising and other efforts through the Office of International Education.  This summer, 119 UW-L students are studying abroad and 10 faculty members are leading study abroad experiences.
  • For the fourth consecutive year, UW-Whitewater is the only public university and only state agency named a Top Workplace in southeast Wisconsin. The regional list, compiled by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, ranks public and private organizations based on employee surveys. About 100,000 people were asked questions about company direction, pay and benefits, management, work/life balance, and career opportunities. Companies where employees feel a connection to workplace goals and have confidence in their direction were most likely to make the list, according to organizers.
  • UW-Parkside has signed a partnership agreement with Gateway Technical College to offer Wisconsin’s first post-baccalaureate teacher licensure program for professional educators specializing in career and technical education and pre-engineering.  The licensure program, approved recently by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, is expected to help address the current shortage of teachers in both areas. UW-Parkside has also signed a new guaranteed-transfer agreement with UW-Milwaukee. The new Technology Pathway Partnership will provide students with a seamless pathway to degree completion in the areas of mechanical or electrical engineering, something that Mark Mone, interim chancellor at UWM, says will have a vital impact on students interested in pursuing STEM-related careers. Kudos to all involved.
  • Finally, I had the opportunity earlier this month to take in one of Wisconsin’s finest traditions – the State Fair. Yes, I know, it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it! And I’m pleased to tell you that, along with the carnival rides, the cows, and the cream puffs, the UW System’s commitment to education opportunity, research, and statewide outreach was on full display. UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee each had special days at the fair, where science exhibits and hands-on displays mixed it up with musical performances, sports clinics and information about what our universities have to offer.  August 5th was 4-H Day at the fair, and UW-Extension helped to celebrate the 100th anniversary of 4-H youth development. I’m also pleased to report that the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Meat Products auction raised a record $152,000 that will be used for statewide program grants, scholarships for 4-H members and to help more students participate in statewide 4-H events. All in all, it was a fun way to share more about how our great university system touches lives and make a difference every day, in every part of the state.

See June’s “News from Around the UW System