Blog – Office of the Chancellor Mon, 18 Sep 2017 21:15:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Finding that piece of research equipment just got easier Mon, 18 Sep 2017 21:15:29 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Have you ever tried looking for a needle in a haystack? Probably not, but you still might know what that feels like. UW-Madison is an expansive and complex campus with many moving parts. That makes it an exciting place to conduct research, but it also makes finding the resources you need to do your job a challenge at times.

Maybe you wanted to know if a certain cutting-edge technology was available on campus, or you were looking for expertise in high-speed digital circuits on campus. There has been no easy way to locate these resources.

Now that’s changed. On June 20, the Directory of Resources for Researchers opened its virtual doors and in less than three months, the directory has grown to include more than 650 resources and services, with more being added all the time.

The directory crosses all divisions — the biological, physical and social sciences, and arts and humanities. This scope makes the UW-Madison website unique among our peer institutions, whose efforts are typically limited to medical schools, biological or physical sciences.

The directory is the first centralized, publicly searchable directory of shared research resources, services and cores at UW-Madison. Information in the directory is organized using categories and keywords so related resources are easily located. The shared resources directory provides information about equipment and instruments, but also databases, technologies, services, training, expertise and consultation. Information in the directory also includes location, rate sheets, primary contacts for resources, and more. To date, the directory has had more than 1,400 unique users.

Resources for Researchers is a product of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education. We are thankful to Dr. Isabelle Girard, director of the Office of Research Cores, for her leadership in the process and OVCRGE information technology support for developing the tool to make the directory a success right out of the gate.

Developing the directory was one of the recommendations of the cross-campus Working Group on Scientific Core Resources in 2014, and follows the model of our peer institutions. The framework was developed over a period of eight months through input from user inquiries and testing, particularly with new faculty members in a range of disciplines. The directory team used a model of continuous feedback to ensure alignment with researcher goals, and regular user testing will be used to make ongoing improvements.

We want this to be a value-added service that is transparent and easy to use, and enhances and expands the collaborative capabilities of the research community at UW-Madison.

If you need help locating a resource or if you would like to add a shared resource to the Directory of Resources for Researchers, please contact Isabelle at 608-890-4268 or (By the way, we need your help in expanding the directory. Please consider adding your shared resources to the directory and sharing information about the resource with your partners.) You also can sign up at the directory website to receive periodic summaries from the Office of Campus Research Cores on core service updates and new, shared resources. To learn more about the Office of Campus Cores visit

We hope that this resource helps you move your research forward, without spending your valuable time searching for a needle in a haystack.

Rebecca Blank, Chancellor

Marsha Mailick, Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education

A #UWSummer to Remember Wed, 13 Sep 2017 23:09:43 +0000 Continue reading ]]> On July 18, hundreds of people enjoyed classes, leisure activities and beautiful views on campus from early morning until late at night. They shared their impressions on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with the hashtag #UWSummer, showing the whole world what UW-Madison’s Summer Term looked like on a typically glorious day.

It’s not surprising that so many students, staff, and faculty members participated in the university’s creative crowdsourcing activity. There’s tremendous energy surrounding Summer Term. As many of you know, we launched an effort two years ago to reorganize and reframe Summer Term at UW-Madison, opening a host of new courses in the summer of 2016. This has provided students with expanded educational opportunities and flexibilities, allowed the university to use more of its facilities year-round, and expanded our tuition revenues by 35 percent over the two-year period. This year’s successes show the benefits of our new approach to #UWSummer.

Let’s start with the biggest advantage to Summer Term: There’s no better time to be in Madison than in the months of June, July and August. This is a wonderful time to invite current students to remain in town and to attract new summer-only students.

Past student surveys indicated that students wanted more online courses that accommodate summer schedules, more high-demand courses that satisfy curricular requirements, and more hands-on learning experiences that prepare them for future careers. As a result, our new summer curriculum includes almost all of the high-demand courses. Academic departments have expanded their offerings, and students have enrolled in record numbers. Total credit hours taken during Summer Term has increased 18 percent over the past two years. Significantly, summer enrollment in online courses has almost doubled from 2015 to 2017. About half of our summer students enroll in online courses and half are in residence.

We are using Summer Term as an opportunity to give more undergraduates research experience with UW faculty, including specialized coursework and faculty mentoring. This year, with help from Educational Innovation, we offered the new WISCIENCE Summer Research Scholarship to 34 students. They worked on projects ranging from treating autism to investigating infants’ brain development to ensuring safe medical procedures in rural communities. We expect this investment to pay off for Wisconsin and beyond as these students contribute to the next great breakthroughs in their fields.

Along with the WISCIENCE scholarships, we awarded an Undergraduate Scholarship for Summer Study to more than 700 students. We also instituted a Transfer Scholars Summer Award for spring transfer students, who took summer courses to work toward their UW-Madison degrees. We’re proud that the increase in scholarship funding over the past two years has made Summer Term more accessible for students with documented financial need. It has also allowed more students to capitalize on one of Summer Term’s key benefits: staying on track to graduate in four years, thus avoiding the expense of an extra semester.

As I scrolled through the #UWSummer posts, I was impressed by the diversity of our campus during Summer Term. We’re opening the door to a wider range of learners, including high school students, adults and undergraduates from other institutions. Along those lines, we created the International Student Summer Institute to ease the way for international students starting at UW-Madison in the fall. The four-week program helped students from nine countries improve their academic English skills before classes began. It also introduced them to the Chazen Museum of Art, the Babcock Hall Dairy Store, the Wisconsin Union, and other one-of-a-kind attractions that make our campus special.

We’re already looking forward to 2018. We’ll expand this year’s successful programs for undergraduate research, first-year students and transfer students, along with creating more residential programs for high school students and undergraduates from other institutions. Thanks to changes we made to the academic calendar, we’ve added a four-week summer session in May that will give students increased flexibility in scheduling courses. And we’ll offer an even more robust array of learning experiences with help from both campus colleagues and external partners. To spur innovative programming, we’re encouraging instructors, departments, administrators and cross-campus workgroups to apply for Summer Term Igniter Funds.

The ability to take courses over three semesters adds flexibility to student schedules. This makes it easier for students to participate in study abroad or internship/work experiences during the fall or spring terms without falling behind in required coursework. If a student experiences a health problem or family crisis that leaves them short of credits during the regular term, summer courses can help them catch up with their cohort. We want students to graduate on time whenever possible. That reduces debt and moves them into their careers more quickly.

As most academic units know, much of the money generated by summer tuition stays within schools and colleges and is used to support faculty and staff in those units. That’s a big incentive to offer courses that attract a good number of students.

So, if you thought there was more activity on campus this summer than you’ve seen in recent years, you’re right. I’m waiting for someone to complain to me that they can’t drive across campus in July because there are too many students around! If you thought #UWSummer 2017 was good, just wait until next year, when there will be even more to tweet about.

Welcome back to fall semester Wed, 06 Sep 2017 19:33:27 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Welcome to a new academic year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As we embark on the fall semester, I want to recap some highlights from the summer, and look ahead to some priorities in 2017-18.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank, left, and Dean of Students Lori Berquam, at right wearing a cap, hand out Kind snack bars on Bascom Hill on the first day of classes for the 2017-2018 academic year. (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

The state Legislature is wrapping up its budget deliberations, and we are thankful that the budget includes a funding increase for the UW System after several years of cuts. We are also grateful that the Joint Finance Committee last week passed a motion to include funding for a new parking structure on the west side of campus and utilities and infrastructure repair in the central campus area. We will continue to work with the governor and legislators to increase investment in higher education in Wisconsin.

A key part of our mission, and a top priority for me, is to expand access to Wisconsin students. This fall we are launching a new program called Badger Promise to create a pathway to a UW-Madison degree for some of Wisconsin’s neediest students.

Badger Promise offers one year of free tuition to first-generation, Wisconsin-resident students who meet our admission requirements and transfer with at least 54 college credits from a two-year UW System campus or technical college partner. Pell Grant-eligible Badger Promise students can receive two years of free tuition. (And by the way, virtually every one of our first-generation transfer students is eligible for financial aid, so this is a good way to target our resources effectively.)

We enter this semester with what will be the largest freshman class in UW-Madison history. Final numbers won’t be available until the second week of classes is complete, but we estimate 6,600 freshmen will be at UW-Madison (out of 35,614 applicants, also a record.)

Another top priority is to help grow revenue sources that allow us to invest in this university. That means funding to hire new faculty in key areas, increase our support for research, expand access to lower-income students, address compensation issues among faculty and staff, and improve both the classroom and out-of-classroom experiences that we offer our students.

Among the things we are doing to create new investment funding: the expanded and revised summer term (I’ll have more to say about that in a blog post next week), expanded professional master’s programs, our All Ways Forward fundraising campaign, efforts to set professional school and out-of-state tuition levels at market rates, some expansion in the number of students, and increases in research dollars.

These efforts are already showing results. The Badger Promise program is possible because of a positive state budget and this new revenue. But other good initiatives are also underway. We are in a very competitive market for faculty and staff, and to retain the best we have to offer compensation on par with our peers. This fall, we will again offer a critical compensation fund to provide salary increases to faculty and staff whose salary has fallen particularly far behind, based on performance, equity and market factors. As we did last year, we will also provide funds for one-time bonuses to exceptional performers.

We are also, after a 15-year hiatus, creating a new cluster hire program. This is designed to recruit groups of faculty from different disciplinary areas but whose work intersects on a key area of research interest. We’ll provide substantial central support for salaries for these individuals, hoping to deepen our research strength on critical topics. We will hire three to five clusters per year for the next five years. We’ll begin receiving calls for proposals from faculty, research centers, or departments this fall, with the goal of hiring the first clusters this spring.

Another important priority is to ensure that our campus is inclusive and welcoming to all of our students, staff and faculty. We continue to work on a variety of projects designed to expand our campus’s ability to live up to these ideas. To learn more about what we’ve done over the past semester and the summer, see our Fall 2017 Campus Climate Report.

For many of us, the scenes from Charlottesville last month are still very vivid. The racism, hatred and violence, along with the images of the KKK and Nazi flags, were deeply disturbing and antithetical to the values this campus represents.

Our campus community cares deeply about the things that affect people’s lives, and we are not afraid of robust debate that allows for many points of view — even those contrary to our values. That’s what free expression is all about, and it’s important that we are and remain a place where a wide variety of opinions can be expressed.

But we will not tolerate threats or violence. So I want to end by reaffirming this campus’s commitment to providing an environment that is safe for the teaching, learning, research and public service that is central to who we are as a university. We value diversity and welcome everyone who wants to learn, to work hard, and to be part of this wonderful community.

Best wishes for the fall semester here in Madison!

A message to our UW-Madison Community Wed, 16 Aug 2017 23:41:30 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Chancellor Blank emailed the message below to all students, faculty and staff on Aug. 16.

Members of our Campus Community,

We had planned to wait until later in August to welcome you to our UW community ahead of the fall semester, but events across the nation compel us to reach out to you today.

We, like many of you, were appalled by the scenes from last weekend’s protest and rally in Charlottesville and horrified by the actions that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer.

The use of violence in the service of racist and anti-Semitic ideology is cowardly and against the ideals this country has fought to preserve for generations. We unambiguously reject violence and the ideologies of white supremacist groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis that express hatred of people because of their identities. These organizations are antithetical to the values that this campus represents.

We’d encourage you to engage in conversations on these issues in the days to come. We also want to reaffirm our commitment on three vital principles.

First and foremost, the safety of our campus community is our top priority. Only in an environment that is safe can teaching, learning, research and service—each central to our mission—take place.

We have worked to put in place policies and plans that ensure our community’s safety as it relates to campus speakers, protests and demonstrations. We reserve the right to cancel or disallow events that threaten violence.

Second, we value the diversity of our campus community as a source of strength that improves learning, creativity and innovation. And, we aspire to build a community where all students can thrive, and challenging conversations can happen in a learning environment, in a respectful manner.

We would invite you to learn more about our efforts at

And finally, our commitment to free expression compels us to allow the exchange of viewpoints, even those that violate the values for which this campus stands. However, our goal is always to ensure that such speech remains an exchange of ideas, not an exchange of threats or violence which could endanger our community.

We stand by these values and plan to continue to communicate about them in the coming academic year.


Rebecca Blank, Chancellor
Sarah Mangelsdorf, Provost
Patrick Sims, Vice Provost and Chief Diversity Officer
Lori Berquam, Vice Provost and Dean of Students


Lands’ End partnership a model of success Thu, 27 Jul 2017 15:29:20 +0000 Continue reading ]]> This week, I went to Dodgeville to meet with the leadership at Lands’ End, a company anchored in southwestern Wisconsin since the 1980s. We were given a great plant tour. If you haven’t seen it, you’d be impressed: The Lands’ End complex in Dodgeville is a major international operation.

But the best part of the visit was our meeting with a number of UW alums who work at Lands’ End, along with 17 UW-Madison students who are interning there this summer.

Lands’ End has long been a partner in helping us build our talent pipeline by creating scholarships and internships. This gives our students an excellent training ground with an international company right here in Wisconsin. And some of those interns get job offers. That’s why more than 150 UW alums currently work at Lands’ End.

One of the things that’s special about our partnership with Lands’ End is that it extends far beyond any individual school or college. Together we have built enduring collaborations through the UW E-Business Consortium and the Kohl’s Center for Retailing. Lands’ End also partners with a host of other on-campus programs in the School of Human Ecology, the Wisconsin School of Business, the College of Engineering and the College of Letters and Science. And they support our athletic programs as well.

The new CEO of Lands’ End, Jerome Griffith, understands the value of innovation to his business. And he understands that UW-Madison can be an important partner. I’m sorry to say that he is a strong supporter of the Penn State football team, which is forgivable since he’s a Penn State alum. In fact, the president of Penn State called me when Griffith was selected for this job earlier this year, to tell me that he’ll be a great person to have in the Madison area. I’ve already invited him to see some Badger football this fall.

Our partnership with Lands’ End is just one example of the kind of innovative thinking that’s going to drive business development and keep both UW-Madison and our industry partners moving forward in the next decade. The legacy we are building together will mean a stronger, better future – for Lands’ End, for UW-Madison, and for the entire State of Wisconsin.

The cost of keeping the research engine humming Tue, 13 Jun 2017 09:19:43 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Among the many unpleasant surprises in the recently proposed federal budget framework is a cap of 10 percent on facilities and administrative costs for awards from the National Institutes of Health. The cap represents a dramatic reduction in the recovery of “indirect costs” universities incur to support research and to maintain safe and productive research environments for their faculty, staff and student investigators.

“Indirect costs” are perhaps an inappropriate name, as it implies to some people that these are not “real” costs. So-called “direct costs” pay for things like lab supplies and equipment, salaries and stipends for researchers and graduate students, and travel costs incurred conducting or sharing the research. Indirect costs cover facility and administrative costs which includes all the other costs of doing research. This includes services like utilities, internet, telecommunications, data storage and hazardous waste disposal. Indirects also pay for personnel outside the lab who provide necessary support to research projects, including security, financial, administrative, technical, maintenance and custodial services. They also help maintain and update lab facilities and equipment needed to conduct research.  Finally, these costs cover expenses incurred in maintaining compliance with federal, state and local regulatory oversight. Things like institutional review boards for human subjects, campus animal care, and biological safety are all paid for through indirect cost recovery.

This differentiation between direct and indirect costs was created decades ago when the federal government decided it was far more efficient to negotiate a fixed rate for facility and administrative costs with each university rather than to monitor these multiple complex costs in every grant.  Our indirect cost rate is negotiated every three or four years with the federal government.

Currently, UW-Madison’s indirect cost rate is 53 percent. In fiscal 2016, UW-Madison researchers brought in about $325.5 million from NIH, meaning that a cap at 10 percent for NIH awards only would result in a reduction of as much as $53 million per year for our campus. (We receive about $500 million in federal research dollars but the federal government does not pay indirect costs on all types of research expenses. A cap extended to all federal agencies would result in an estimated loss of about $110 million annually in indirect cost recovery.) According to the data we submitted in our last renegotiation, UW-Madison’s actual facility and administrative costs on research are more than 60 percent. That means the university already contributes about $7 from its own funds for every $100 we receive in direct costs for research.

If the federal government reduced its support, covering only a small share of the facilities and administrative costs that we bear, we would have to make some tough decisions about our research priorities. We would not have the resources to cover these costs for all of the research projects we currently conduct with federal support. As our faculty know, UW-Madison’s strong reputation for innovation in research is due to its broad research strength across many areas. Like many other public universities, we could not continue to conduct the same breadth and quality of research with lower cost recovery rates.

One of the biggest and most ironic reasons indirect costs are so high is the increasing regulatory burden imposed on research by the federal government. As any recipient of federal research dollars knows, there have been increases in the time reporting requirements, in the conflict of interest area, and in the financial reporting that we have to do. Particularly as these regulatory requirements increase, raising the administrative costs of doing federally-supported research, it is odd to propose cutting back on administrative cost payments.

I am well aware that not all faculty appreciate or understand indirect costs, and would rather receive fewer dollars in indirect costs and more dollars in direct costs. But the indirect dollars cover real costs of their research that have to be paid.  I also know that there is regular dissension about the ways in which indirect costs are distributed here on campus. I’ve now worked at four different universities, each with different models of distributing indirect costs. In every university, faculty grumbled about the distribution. We can have a discussion about UW’s indirect cost distribution formula – that’s a valid conversation to have. But there should be no disagreement about the need for the federal government to pay the full cost of the research for which it solicits proposals.

The proposed indirect cost cap represents an additional and far from insignificant cut to the nation’s research capacity. If implemented, it would reduce both the volume and kinds of research UW-Madison and many other universities would be able to conduct, further eroding the nation’s global scientific and economic competitiveness.


The federal budget proposal and its potential impact on UW-Madison Tue, 06 Jun 2017 11:19:40 +0000 Continue reading ]]> President Donald Trump’s first budget request to Congress has understandably caused some concern on our campus and across the higher education landscape. The $4.1 trillion proposal lays out an aggressive plan to reduce discretionary non-defense spending as a way to offset large proposed defense spending increases. The cuts are broad and deep, but a significant chunk of the savings proposed would come out of student aid and research spending.

  • The budget proposal funds the Department of Education at $59 billion, which is $9 billion less than FY 2017 levels, or a 13 percent cut in funding. While investment in Pell Grants would remain at current levels, President Trump’s proposal would drain $3.9 billion from the Pell surplus, speeding the time when Congress will be faced with increasing the funding appropriated each year or cutting the size of the maximum grant.
  • Beginning in July 2018, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is eliminated.  This forgives the remaining balance on student loans for borrowers who work full-time in public service and who make on-time payments for 10 years. Ending this program would impact students who pursue careers in teaching, non-profit and social service agencies, and with the military and local, state, federal and tribal agencies.
  • The president’s plan also allows the Perkins Loan program to expire on Sept. 30, eliminating a source of low-interest campus-based loans for high-need students.  This program helped 3,265 students attend UW-Madison last year.  The proposed budget also cuts the Federal Work-Study program by nearly half, to $500 million, from $990 million. Cuts to work-study student aid would affect about 2,000 student workers at UW-Madison.  Because our housing office employs a large number of work-study students, ending this subsidy to low-income student wages would also potentially lead to higher student fees and housing costs.
  • Under the president’s plan, the National Institutes of Health would be funded at $26.9 billion, a $7.2 billion decrease from the current budget. This 21 percent cut would result in almost 2,000 fewer grants. A reduction for NIH would severely impact lifesaving research on our campus and will slow the development of new treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases. These cuts will also impact our graduate training programs that educate the next generation of science leaders.
  • The proposal also caps NIH indirect-cost reimbursements at 10 percent. This could result in a loss to campus of more than $50 million per year. Indirect cost reimbursement covers administrative and facilities costs that part of the cost of research. By drastically reducing indirect cost reimbursements, over time, the facilities and support for research that we can afford will decline, reducing the capacity and quality of such research. I’ll have a blog post soon that dives more deeply into indirect costs.
  • The National Science Foundation is budgeted at $6.7 billion, a decrease of $819 million, or 11 percent. While $6.7 billion will fund approximately 8,000 new research grants, that only amounts to 19 percent of the research grant proposals NSF receives. A reduction for NSF would impact groundbreaking work in the areas of advanced manufacturing and material sciences research.
  • The administration’s FY 2018 budget proposal requests $17.9 billion for USDA, a $4.7 billion, or 21 percent, reduction from FY 2017. The proposal would provide $1.3 billion for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a reduction of $110.1 million, or 8 percent. A reduction for USDA would limit our ability to generate innovations in agriculture that translate directly to gains in farm productivity.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is budgeted at $4.8 billion, a reduction of $987 million, or 16 percent. The Trump budget sets funding for NOAA’s Oceanic and Atmospheric Research at $350 million, a $139 million, or 26.8 percent, decrease. A reduction to the NOAA could harm our efforts to enhance weather forecasting capability and preserve coastal areas.
  • The proposed $919 million reduction for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science would threaten innovative research happening at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and high-energy physics.
  • The budget proposal would eliminate the National Endowment of the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. The elimination of NEA and NEH would have ripple effects across campus, hurting programs to study the Constitution, preserve film history and even to assist veterans through innovative programs like the Warrior Book Club. The arts and humanities are also vital to the education of our students and support of our faculty.

I understand why these proposals are alarming, but the president’s budget request is just that – his request. Though the document signals to Congress the administration’s spending and tax policy priorities, it is Congress that makes the final budget decisions.

Unsurprisingly, congressional Democrats rejected the plan. But perhaps more telling was the less-than-enthusiastic response the plan received from Republicans. This suggests that we will likely see major changes before a final budget is adopted.

Next the House and Senate Budget Committees will draft their budget resolutions. These resolutions set the spending targets for each chamber’s appropriations committees. I don’t want to get too far in the weeds on the process, but suffice it to say that the federal budget process is a marathon, not a sprint.  Given disagreements about the president’s budget proposals, it is likely to take longer for all parties to reach an agreement on spending levels.  That means Congress will need to pass a continuing resolution to operate under last year’s budget by the end of September or face a government shutdown.

In the meantime, our federal relations staff has been working to ensure that the importance of these funds to our institution, and to the greater state and national economy, is fully apparent to our congressional delegation. When administration officials come to the Hill to testify, we are arming our representatives with questions to ask. We have encouraged our congressional delegation to sign Dear Colleague letters in support of programs that are important to UW and our students.  Almost every program has a champion in Congress, so we will look for ways to work with them.

In addition to coordinating with national higher ed associations and science coalitions, we also work hand-in-hand with other Big Ten universities. In the past few months we have also coordinated Capitol Hill meetings for campus faculty; more such visits are planned.

In April I was in D.C. to testify at a congressional hearing about regulatory reform, I also led a Big Ten delegation meeting with Speaker Paul Ryan. During that meeting he made clear he understands the importance of federally funded research.

An excellent summary of the complete budget proposal and its potential impact on campus can be found here. You can also receive periodic updates by clicking on the subscribe tab at the bottom of the to the Federal Relations home page.

If you have further questions about how the federal budget will affect your department, or if you have information you think would be helpful to our federal relations team, please contact Assistant Vice Chancellor for Government Affairs and Strategic Partnerships Ben Miller here on campus, or contract our Federal Relations office in D.C. and speak to Director Mike Lenn or Assistant Director Cate Johnson.

Down the Great River Road of the Mississippi Tue, 30 May 2017 20:34:58 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Committed readers of this blog will recall that last Memorial Day weekend my husband and I spent a day driving from La Crosse to Prairie du Chien along the Mississippi River. That was such a fun drive, we decided to do the rest of the Great River Road in Wisconsin this Memorial Day.

We set off on Friday afternoon in an amazing amount of traffic on I-90/I-94 and drove to River Falls for the evening, a small city home to UW-River Falls. A good pizza parlor and a nearby Dairy Queen provided dinner.

The next morning we drove to Prescott, where the St. Croix River (the Wisconsin/Minnesota boundary to the north) merges into the Mississippi as it flows out of Minnesota. From Prescott south, the Mississippi is the Wisconsin boundary. It’s the beginning of the Great River Road (see the selfie Hanns and I took to prove this fact.) By the way, Prescott is named for its founder, Philander Prescott — a great first name and one that has sadly diminished in use in our modern society.

It was a beautiful morning and we rolled alongside the Mississippi, which becomes wider and less channelized as it flows south. The river was full and even spilling over in places. At Hager City we crossed the bridge to Red Wing, Minnesota, just so we could stop in the Red Wing Shoe store. The very dusty and industrial store that I remember from my last visit to Red Wing, probably almost 50 years ago while on a trip from the Twin Cities with my parents, has been replaced by a large new building with its own Shoe Museum, worth a visit.

Back on the Wisconsin side, we next stopped at Stockholm, a small village with a number of lovely galleries. It’s also home to a pie shop that was definitely worth the stop. As my husband said, “Let’s just eat dessert first, and have lunch later.”

Fortified, we next headed inland about seven miles to visit the wayside park located on the land owned by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family. She wrote about their life in a log cabin there in “Little House in the Big Woods.” A replica cabin is part of the park. Despite a complete lack of any signs to point you there, this is was one of the busiest places we visited all day. I insisted on this stop, as a loyal and long-time Laura Ingalls Wilder fan. It’s hard to look around the open fields and farmland and imagine a deep woods, with bears and panthers, only 150 years ago.

Lunch was in Pepin, sitting at a restaurant where we could watch the Mississippi. Then on southward again.   We crossed several very extensive marshy areas, all named “sloughs” (as in Buffalo Slough and Beef Slough). Hanns and I are still debating the appropriate pronunciation of that word — if you have a definitive answer, let me know.

Next stop was just outside Trempealeau at Perrot State Park, where we climbed Brady’s Bluff, which gave us a vast panorama both up and down the Mississippi. We watched the hawks circle, watched the water flow, and watched the trains go up and down either side of the river.

Sadly, at that point we were near La Crosse, our end point, and the sunny day had turned into rain. So we headed back home on I-90 as the sun set. It was another lovely trip through some of Wisconsin’s most scenic areas.

End of Semester Notes Wed, 17 May 2017 18:10:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]> As we reach the end of another semester, I want to look back for a moment and acknowledge a few of the many great individual and collective student achievements over the past academic year.

At UW-Madison, we have 43,000 students from across Wisconsin and around the world, pursuing degrees in more than 200 fields. In this academic year, we have conferred more than 10,500 degrees, both undergraduate and graduate. (By the way, we are among the top five schools in the nation for the number of Ph.D.s we graduate — among the most sought-after workers in our economy.)

And we’ve had an outstanding year in education. The 2016-17 freshman class was our largest and most diverse ever, and we’ve just had a record-breaking number of applications for next fall’s class, with more than 35,000 students applying for about 6,400 slots.

Our retention rate is excellent: 95.4 percent of freshmen return for sophomore year, which means they have a good experience on campus and get the support they need to succeed here.

Graduation rates are also at an all-time high. Our average time-to-degree has now fallen to just over four years, which means students leave school with less debt. In fact, more than half our students graduate without any student loan debt.

Among our student-athletes, our football, men’s soccer, men’s tennis, women’s golf and women’s hockey teams all earned NCAA awards for posting Academic Progress Report scores in the top 10 percent of all Division I teams in their sports. That’s remarkable.

But the statistics aren’t as impressive as the personal stories I experienced at commencement celebrations this past weekend.

I encountered student after student who had wonderful stories to share about their time at UW-Madison and what they hope to achieve in the future. I want to share two that I found especially meaningful.

Deshawn McKinney of Milwaukee came to UW-Madison with support from our PEOPLE program, a pre-college pipeline program that identifies talented young people from communities that have historically been underrepresented on this campus. He not only excelled academically, he seized many opportunities to get involved in campus life. He joined the First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts Learning Community; he worked to promote equity and diversity on campus; and this year he served as president of the Wisconsin Union Directorate. He received two prestigious national awards ­— the Truman and Marshall scholarships ­— and was a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship. Now he’s headed to Britain, where he’ll pursue a master’s degree in social policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

James McGowan made it to UW-Madison despite thinking as a young man that he’d never be able to get here. He’s from Portage and spent about 20 years as a blue-collar worker in manufacturing and construction before deciding at age 42 to go to college. Through persistence and hard work, he achieved his dream and received a bachelor’s degree with a major in personal finance. Now he hopes to launch a career helping other students finance their education.

Not only have James and Deshawn achieved some meaningful personal accomplishments, it’s also clear that they are dedicated to the Wisconsin Idea. Reaching out to serve others is a proud tradition at UW-Madison. This past year, more than 5,600 students volunteered in our community through programs supported by the Morgridge Center for Public Service. Our fraternity and sorority members raised money for cancer charities and also worked on programs aimed at preventing sexual assault in the community, and our student-athletes frequently participate in the “Badgers Give Back” program. While at UW, our students gain valuable knowledge and leadership skills that will remain with them for a lifetime. After graduation, they make meaningful contributions to their communities around the state and around the world.

Our commencement speaker, Steven Levitan, gave a great address — both funny and smart. (View it here.) But I really appreciated the student speech, given by Senior Class Vice President Martin Barron Weiss. Martin talked about the real difficulties he faced when his dad became unexpectedly ill and died during Martin’s time at UW. At first he thought he had to deal with this alone, but when his friends learned what was happening he realized how much support this community could provide to him. Martin learned that we can always deal better with challenges as well as opportunities when among a community with friends.

Congratulations to all of this year’s graduates — and to all on campus who have taught or supported them.

As our graduates enter the next stages of their lives, whether that’s pursuing an advanced degree or beginning a new career, I hope they will find that their time at UW was well spent, even when it brought challenges. As I said to them at commencement, they have been part of UW during their time here and I hope that UW is a part of them after they leave.

2017 Commencement address Sat, 13 May 2017 17:55:22 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Good afternoon.  Welcome to Camp Randall Stadium and to the 164th spring commencement of the University of Wisconsin at Madison!

Today, close to 7,000 bachelor’s and master’s degree candidates will become alumni of one of the world’s greatest universities.

This year’s graduating class is one of the largest in our history and congratulations to each and every one of you!

Camp Randall Stadium is marking a major milestone of its own this year—its 100th birthday.  And just for the record, our first game here in 1917 was a shutout—when we trounced the University of Minnesota.

If the iconic setting and the outstanding graduates aren’t enough, we also have a remarkably talented and successful keynote speaker—UW alum Steven Levitan, who is also here.  Steven, thank you for coming.

The Wisconsin Experience

Class of 2017, you have earned a degree from one of the top 25 universities in the world.

That wouldn’t have been possible without the love and support of the family and friends who are around us at Camp Randall.   Graduates, please join me in giving everyone in the bleachers a round of applause.

Before we talk about what’s next, let me invite you to just enjoy these last few moments together with your classmates, to remember:

  • Remember how unexpectedly delicious orange-custard-chocolate-chip ice cream is … especially when eaten on the Union Terrace.
  • Remember some seriously big Battles for Bascom.
  • Remember the Bowl games … the Women’s Frozen Four … back-to-back trips to the Final Four … and many more great Badger moments.
  • Remember marching side-by-side for justice … for equality … for women… or for science.
  • And remember some of the difficult moments. Moments that I hope have brought us together as a community to think about who we are, and how we want to live.

I also want to say a word in memory of a bright and talented member of the UW family, Wenxin Huai—better known as Wendy.  Wendy’s death by an alleged drunken driver less than a month ago, just weeks before she was to graduate, makes this a bittersweet moment—especially for the classmates, friends, and teachers who knew her best.

There are others in your class who also did not make it to graduation, and we remember them all.

Today is about celebrating your accomplishments.   The Class of 2017 is a remarkable group, with talented, diverse students like…

  • Catherine Finedore, who’s combining a degree in Biomedical Engineering with her interest in fashion design to create high-tech clothing for people with injuries and disabilities.
  • Deshawn McKinney, who won two of this nation’s most prestigious scholarships and is now off to the London School of Economics with a Marshall Scholarship to pursue a master’s degree.
  • And Helena Record and Jackie Laistch, who never imagined when they came here that part of their UW experience would involve bringing Wisconsin dairy cows to a village in eastern Africa. That experience convinced them both to pursue graduate work in public health.

Defining success

All of you are graduating at a time when this nation and world face enormous challenges.   I hope that you will be successful in bringing what you’ve learned here to meet those challenges.

How you do that will be up to you, but the first step is to figure out what “being successful” means.

Let me tell you how one of our alums answered that question.

How many of you own a “Sconnie” t-shirt?  I’m not going to ask how many of you are wearing one under their gown?

For those of you from out of town:  A “Sconnie” is anyone who loves Wisconsin … with extra points if you eat brats, cheer for the Badgers, know what a bubbler is, or own a mailbox shaped like a tractor.

The “Sconnie Nation” t-shirt was born in one of our freshman dorms – the invention of a student named Troy Vosseler.   Sconnie was a runaway success … but Troy wasn’t satisfied.   He realized that being successful meant more than just running his own start-up company.  It also meant sharing what he’s learned with others.  So he formed a business incubator called gener8tor to help entrepreneurs launch new businesses.

Each of you has been educated in the UW tradition of public service—what we call the Wisconsin Idea. I hope one of the things you’ve learned is that success means serving a cause – as Troy does – that is bigger than yourself.

Two rules for success

But knowing what success means, and becoming successful are two different things.  Kind of like the difference between wanting to be a doctor … and actually finishing medical school.

I can’t tell you exactly how to be successful, but I can give you a couple of rules for success.

First, ask the right questions

All of you have made some important choices so far in your life.  You chose to come to UW.  You decided what program of study you wanted to pursue.

You’ll face more choices at every step along the way, in your job, in your future schooling, and in your personal life.  When those choices are in front of you, here’s what you want to ask:

What do I love to do?  What am I good at?  Which of these choices will help me to come closer to the person I want to be?

These are the questions that will lead you in the right direction and help you set your next goal.

Now I know there are a few of you who have already asked these questions.  Some of you quickly decided after arriving at UW to combine what you loved to do … and you were good at … by sampling the menu on every food cart on library mall.

That’s good.

Now try asking these questions when you think about a slightly … larger … goal.  Find the place where your skills and your passion come together, and you’ll find where you can be successful.

Rule #2. Taking risks

None of us succeeds by playing it safe all the time.  I hope that we have taught you to push your boundaries – even when that scares you a little bit.

Trying new things will teach you a lot about yourself – even (and maybe especially) when you don’t succeed.

  • Abraham Lincoln lost 8 elections.
  • Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
  • And before he co-founded Microsoft, Bill Gates started another company called ‘Traf-o-Data” – a major flop.

The key to success is not avoiding risksit’s embracing them, and learning from the result.


Wherever your path leads next, I hope that you will define your success by the difference you make in the world.

I hope you will find work that you love, and have the opportunity to work with people you can learn from, and who in turn can learn from you.

I can’t wait to hear what each of you does next.  But wherever you go, be sure to come back and visit us every so often here in Madison.  You will always be part of UW and I hope that UW will always be part of you.

Thank you for making this university a better place while you were here.

Congratulations to all of you. And On Wisconsin!