Minnesota-Wisconsin Friendship Day at the Minnesota State Fair

My husband, Hanns, and I put on our Badger red this past Friday and brought Bucky along with us to the Minnesota State Fair. We joined President Eric Kaler of the University of Minnesota, his wife, Karen, and (of course) Goldy Gopher. The result was a rare sight: the mascots and leaders of two rivals posing together arm-in-arm.

pasted_image_at_2016_08_29_12_54_pmEarlier this year, President Kaler invited Bucky, Hanns and me to the fair to celebrate our world-class universities. Having grown up just a mile from the fairgrounds, attending the Minnesota State Fair was part of my childhood, so I jumped at the chance to visit it again many years later. I was amazed to see how much of the fair has stayed the same over the years!

The joint visit by myself and President Kaler, along with our two mascots, presented a unique opportunity to celebrate the importance of these two land-grant research universities. We may be Big Ten border rivals on the field, but we share a common mission in the classroom: to give our students a great education and do outstanding research. Competition ­— athletic and academic — makes us each stronger.

Together, UW–Madison and UMN–Twin Cities educate more than 60,000 undergraduate students. Our tuition reciprocity agreement provides students from Wisconsin and Minnesota more options for a quality education (UW System enrolls more than 15,000 Minnesota students). The universities combined spend nearly $2 billion on research. We serve as economic engines for the Midwest, with a combined impact of $23 billion on our respective states. And we collaborate on a number of initiatives, including a study abroad program in Kenya, the Hmong Studies Consortium, and the Great Lakes School of Turfgrass Science Online.

Both universities are also important contributors to the agriculture industry. Fittingly, President Kaler and I kicked off the day by competing in a veggie race hosted by the UMN College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. (It was only slightly embarrassing when a 6-year-old beat both of us.) Agriculture is a core theme of the state fair, and I enjoyed touring the Dairy Building and learning about the newly born farm animals at the Miracle of Birth Center.

Goldy and Bucky joined President Kaler and me for a trivia quiz and a mascot competition. Naturally, Goldy won the head-spinning contest, while Bucky won the headstand contest. The stalemate was settled by a pushup contest, in which Bucky regrettably came up short (though I suspect he was just conserving his pushup energy for our football game against LSU this weekend). The mascots also joined us for a bumpy ride down the Giant Slide!

Although we left Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Madison, where it rightfully belongs, we found the giant himself — all 15 feet of him — in the Eco Experience Building. The larger-than-life statue’s outfits draw attention to a giant-sized problem: clothing and textile waste.

Adjacent to Mr. Bunyan was an equally sizeable display from Wisconsin: a 14-foot living greenwall exhibit from the University of Wisconsin–River Falls. UWRF researchers have found that adding foliage in classrooms, such as vertical vegetation walls, enhances students’ well-being and academic performance.

Other highlights throughout the day included state fair staples: the food (in addition to the Wisconsin cheese curds and summer sausage, I can now recommend the candied bacon BLT); the Princess Kay butter sculptures (always one of my favorites); and, most importantly, the people.

The state of Minnesota is home to more than 17,000 UW–Madison alumni and one of our largest Wisconsin Alumni Association chapters in the country. It was a tremendous pleasure to see so much red at the fair and chat with generations of proud Badgers — alumni and their children, current students and their parents, and (I hope) many future Badgers.

Thank you, President Kaler and the University of Minnesota, for your warm hospitality. I’m looking forward to another fun, fruitful year of competition and collaboration — on and off the field.

On, Wisconsin!