MADISON – Insightful research findings and innovative proposals from University of Wisconsin System undergraduates were on display at the Wisconsin State Capitol on Thursday (April 7) as members of the Board of Regents joined legislators in congratulating undergraduate researchers from across the state.

Part of the April meeting of the Board of Regents, the event, “Posters in the Rotunda: A Celebration of Undergraduate Research,” featured the research of more than 100 students from across the UW System. Their work ranged from analyzing forest fires, to isolating new anti-infective agents in plants, to studying child-learning impairments, as well as dozens of other accomplishments.

“I believe that the undergraduate research experience represents what is best about our great public university – providing top-quality education, while harnessing the knowledge and talent of the UW System to provide benefits for all,” said UW System President Kevin P. Reilly during a presentation. “The professional and thought-provoking research of these students is as diverse as the students themselves.

“Our long-standing commitment to fostering and celebrating these research opportunities has enabled us to teach and mentor some of the world’s brightest young minds, right here in Wisconsin,” he added.

Amanda Lederer, an undergraduate researcher from UW-Platteville, explained that her research experience as a student has prepared her for further study in her field.

“Undergraduate research has been very important to me,” Lederer said. “It has not only opened many doors for me, but I have gained a better understanding of science through hands-on experience.”

Lederer said her research with the Great Lakes WATER Institute led to other opportunities, including a scholarship, and graduate studies.

“My experiences with undergraduate research have given me the ability to determine if a career in science was the right choice for me,” she said.

Dr. Jeff Johnson, a UW-Madison researcher whose groundbreaking studies could mean promising therapies for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, spoke about the contributions undergraduates have made as a part of his research team.

Through research, Johnson said his team of colleagues and students has identified two independent proteins in the brain that hold the potential to halt the progression of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, and Huntington’s disease.

“Over the next two decades, the number of Wisconsin residents affected with Alzheimer’s is expected to grow by almost 60 percent,” Johnson said. “The kind of research that my colleagues, students, and I are doing has the potential to give benefits to thousands of Wisconsin adults who suffer from Alzheimer’s, and hope to their families as well. ”

Johnson congratulated the students on their impressive research and noted the amount of time and effort necessary for success on such projects.

Board of Regents President Toby E. Marcovich of Superior said the event was particularly important to the Regents, who appreciate the chance to talk with students.

“We spend a lot of time in meetings, and we never get enough time to spend with students and UW employees,” Marcovich said. “We are especially pleased to meet many of our undergraduates, and talented faculty and staff as well, and to see first-hand the results of the teaching, learning, and research that takes place on UW campuses.”

Marcovich also called upon the state to support undergraduate research, which brings teaching and learning benefits to all involved.

“Undergraduate research is a growing priority at all UW System campuses, and for good reason,” Marcovich said. “Students remain the UW System’s #1 priority, and it is important that we are able to provide them the chance to have experiences like these. This kind of work is definitely worth the investment.”

Business and Finance Committee

Past successes and future entrepreneurial opportunities in the UW System WiSys Technology Foundation, Inc., program, and trends in federal grants at comprehensive campuses and UW-Milwaukee, were outlined to the Business and Finance Committee Meeting on Thursday.

Speaking to WiSys’s achievements in transferring technology since it was founded in 2000 was Beth Donley, WiSys managing director, and Maliyakal John, general manager. Donley noted that WiSys was launched as a result of the success enjoyed in technology transfer at UW-Madison through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

John reported that 137 faculty projects at the comprehensive campuses and Milwaukee have been explored to share with Wisconsin’s industries, with 54 actively under consideration for patents, 16 pending patents, and 11 licenses issued.

Faculty research has split into the general categories of physical sciences such as software, materials, electrical and mechanical; and life sciences, such as pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Approximately 25 percent of the projects have fallen into other categories.

According to John, a comparison of licensing between WARF and WiSys shows the greatest success rate for licensing in the areas of therapeutic pharmaceuticals and medical imaging. He noted that seven of the comprehensive campuses have developed expertise in chemical molecular research that can be directed toward exploring the potentially profitable areas of pharmaceuticals.

He also cited a variety of innovative research technology transfer projects, including the development of winter hardy Lydecker plum at UW-River Falls; fluorescent dyes for medical research at UW-Eau Claire; nanostructural metal compacts at UW-Oshkosh; microscopic imaging in the Mars Exploration Rover at UW-Green Bay; and NovaScan scanning mechanisms for diseased and healthy cells through UW-Milwaukee.

WiSys also has linked with the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs Network to find innovative ways to encourage faculty to engage in technology transfer. Additionally, he said WiSys is seeking to work with faculty who hold their own patents to move the products out of the laboratory and into industry.

Vice President for Finance Debbie Durcan reported on grant trends at the comprehensives over the past seven years.

“It’s a good news report,” Durcan said.

Offering examples of how research and teaching grants have aided their campuses were Bill Campbell, director of grants and research at UW-River Falls, and Sue Foxwell, research administrator at UW-Stout.

While both of them spoke to the efforts of faculty on their campuses in securing grants, they also took the opportunity to praise WiSys in moving ideas from the laboratory to business and industry.

Foxwell was enthused that faculty find the results of their research not only keeps them up-to-date in their discipline, but it also enables them to incorporate the results into the classroom and laboratory to excite students.

Campbell noted that aggressive efforts by the comprehensives to pursue grants has energized younger faculty members. He said that while they were recruited with the expectation that their obligation is to teach undergraduate classes, many also want to engage in research, but find that difficult to do because of their teaching loads.

“The best way to accomplish this is to bring undergraduates into their research projects,” Campbell said. “It not only gives them extra sets of hands in the laboratory, but it keeps them energized.”

Regent Peggy Rosenzweig of Wauwatosa wondered whether charts in the report that showed dips in the amount of funding coming to comprehensive campuses were a reflection of cutbacks in federally funded programs.

Campbell responded that the campuses benefit from a variety of gifts and grants that can run on a cyclical basis.

“There will always be jags when a grant runs out,” he explained.

Regent Charles Pruitt of Milwaukee praised the report, saying the progress the comprehensives have attained is a “marvelous celebration.”

Regent Gerard Randall of Milwaukee suggested that the campuses continue with their emerging trend of pursuing statewide collaborations on grants. He explained that this would be necessary when confronted by competition from other statewide initiatives, such as those in California with stem cell research.

Foxwell agreed with Randall’s conclusion that System Administration would be the best agency to provide the coordination on those efforts. She and Campbell praised the efforts of federal relations coordinator Kris Andrews in assisting the campuses in identifying federal research priorities and forming collaborations.

In other business, the committee:

  • Heard a report on issues posed by the Joint Committee on Finance during the UW System agency budget hearing on March 29;
  • Received an analysis of effective real estate asset investment;
  • Heard an opinion that state statutes would allow Regents to set tuition based on the ability to pay. The Regents concluded that the committee and full board should re-visit a two-year-old study that analyzed three tuition models: high tuition/high aid; cohort tuition; and a sliding scale based on the ability to pay.
View the WiSys presentation pdf

Education Committee

The Education Committee engaged in substantial discussion Thursday regarding an expanded role for the Board of Regents in facilitating undergraduate research and scholarship.

UW System Executive Senior Vice President Donald Mash noted the recent emergence and growing preeminence of undergraduate research as a learning modality. He explained that studies addressing factors that lead to success and satisfaction with the undergraduate educational experience place interaction with faculty outside the formal classroom above all other factors.

Regent Roger Axtell of Janesville commented on the many projects and undergraduate researchers who participated in the morning’s Posters in the Rotunda event. Axtell challenged the committee to elevate the significance of the undergraduate research experience through specific inclusions in the UW System budget.

Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Cora Marrett, in providing an update on Plan 2008, the systemwide diversity plan, noted that institution Phase II plans are available on the web.  She emphasized that the value of this medium is that ideas and best practices can be easily shared with colleagues in and beyond the UW System.

The committee approved several items for consideration by the full Board:

  • Approval of requests to the Trustees of the William F. Vilas Trust Estate for support of scholarships, fellowships, professorships, and special programs in arts & humanities, social science and music at UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee;
  • Approval of a contract for the UW-Milwaukee Charter School – Inland Seas School of Expeditionary Learning;
  • Delegation of Authority to the UW System President to appoint and set salaries for UW Colleges Interim Campus Deans;
  • Approval of a resolution directing the UW System to work to ensure Allied Health programs in the UW System are efficient and meet accreditation requirements;
  • Statutorily required Minority and Disadvantaged Student Annual Report
  • Approval of a statutorily required report on orientation programs and information provided to students on sexual assault and sexual harassment. The report will be held to send to the Legislature after the May meeting with a cover letter from Board.

Physical Planning and Funding Committee

The Physical Planning and Funding Committee opened Thursday’s meeting by discussing a number of action items, including the Design Report for the UW-Oshkosh Student Recreation and Wellness Center.

UW System Senior Facilities Architect Jeffrey Kosloske noted that the current building design is based upon sustainability principles, including the use of natural and sustainable materials for construction, and the incorporation of natural lighting in the window design.

UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells told the committee of the interest and support from the Oshkosh community for the construction of this new facility. He noted that community and business leaders are viewing this project as part of larger Fox River corridor revitalization projects.

“This facility will be welcoming and hit the broadest number of students possible, as they are paying for it,” Wells said.  “It is long overdue.”

The committee members voted to approve the Wellness Center Design Report, and approved authority to increase the project budget by $794,000 Residual Program Revenue Supported Borrowing.

The committee also discussed the naming of buildings on the UW-River Falls and UW-Madison campuses. UW-River Falls Interim Chancellor Virgil Nylander asked the committee for authority to name the campus’ new residence hall, the “George R. Field South Fork Suites,” after the former UW-River Falls Chancellor. Chancellor Nylander noted that Chancellor Field led the River Falls campus for 17 years, starting in 1968, and was instrumental in numerous campus facility and academic quality improvements.

In addition, the UW-Madison Athletics Department asked for authority to name the newly constructed boat house, the “Porter Boat House,” after the Benjamin G. and Cheslee M. Porter family. The Porter family donated more than $1 million to the boat house construction efforts, the single largest private contribution for this project. Both naming resolutions were approved as presented.

The committee also heard the report of the Assistant Vice President David Miller, who updated Regents about planning for 2007-09 major projects in response to the Department of Administration’s and the Building Commission’s request to plan projects within predetermined funding targets. The report outlines future approvals for planning that will be coming back to the Regents as the projects develop, he said.

Miller said nine projects were on the Regents’ original budget request for 2007-09; while the UW-Milwaukee project is already advance enumerated in the 2005-07 Capital Budget. Of the remaining eight, four will be developed for 2007-09 and four will be developed for 2009-11, he added.

The committee expressed appreciation to President Marcovich for his work to ensure that prioritizing future projects remained with the Board of Regents.

In other business, the committee:

  • Approved authority to increase the budget of the Central Campus Utility Improvements Project at UW-Madison;
  • Appointed Sarah F. Canon to serve on the Design Review Board for the University Research Park; and
  • Approved authority to conduct various maintenance and repair projects at UW-Eau Claire’s Sutherland Hall and UW-Milwaukee Physics Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory.

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents will reconvene its April meeting on Friday, April 8, at 9 a.m. in Room 1820 of Van Hise Hall on the UW-Madison campus.

Related: Read Apr. 8 (day 2) news summary