A final look back on Fall 2014

Photo: Bascom view

As we head into a new calendar year and new semester, I want to reflect on the many honors and achievements of our faculty, staff and students this fall. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just some highlights that caught my attention.

With the many distractions and challenges we face in the current climate, it’s important to remember that our core mission is to educate the next generation of leaders and foster research that creates tomorrow’s knowledge. An example of someone engaging in both of these activities is sophomore Keven Stonewall, whose research on colon cancer has already drawn national attention.

Other accomplishments of our faculty, staff and students over this past semester:

  • Two exemplary seniors were finalists for two of the top awards in higher education: Neil Damron, a political science and economics major for the Rhodes Scholarship, and Rachel Dvorak, a biochemistry major for the Marshall Scholarship.
  • Seven UW doctoral students have been awarded grants through the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad. The group includes: Jacob Blanc, history; David Chambers, geography; Amy Porter, educational policy; Brett Reilly, history; Nancy Rydberg, educational policy and development studies; William Shattuck, geography; and Sarah Stefanos, environmental studies. The grants will be used to conduct research in other countries for six months to a year.

The final item I’ll mention doesn’t fit neatly into the list above, but it merits recognition all the same. On Dec. 14, hundreds of our students participated in a #blacklivesmatter campus demonstration to voice their outrage over grand jury decisions in Staten Island, N.Y., and Ferguson, Mo. Many more added their voices to this important discussion during campus forums.

Racial prejudice and inequity in our community and our nation continues to create deep scars. I commend our students for their commitment and passion to this important issue and appreciate their leadership. I also respect and appreciate our university and local police for all they do to keep our community safe and for their efforts to deal fairly with all individuals.

At UW–Madison, these are issues that will continue to command our attention and I hope that we continue the dialogue that our students have started. You’ll hear more about this in the new semester. Meanwhile, we are addressing larger issues of diversity and inequity in many ways.

On campus, a new Diversity Framework is being implemented by interim vice provost for diversity and climate Patrick Sims. Off campus, we will soon open a satellite office in south Madison to enhance and leverage our outreach into the city. I am proud to be co-chairing a United Way effort looking at the reasons for and solutions to high poverty rates among young families in Dane County, and I know that many students, staff and faculty work on related community issues. Everett Mitchell, the university’s director of community relations, is collating all of the many ways in which the university intersects with the Madison community to address opportunity gaps.

As you all know, this is a very special place filled with world-class teachers, researchers and students. I am proud to lead this university into 2015. I wish all of you a productive and joyful new year.