How a Research University Responds to Societal Crisis

Wisconsin Technology Council Webinar

Fri May 8, 2020

10:30 a.m.


  1. Introduction

Thanks to Tom Still and WTC for all they do and their partnerships with UW

Special thanks to WTC for its advocacy on improving broadband connections in Wisconsin’s rural areas – one of our biggest hurdles to moving to online instruction.

Nothing shows the value of a major research university like this emergency.

  • Central to the science that tracks the spread of the virus and drives public policy responses;
  • Central to the medical research that will produce a vaccine or mitigating treatments;
  • Central to outside-the-box thinking that helps expand the availability of medical equipment or develop and expand testing;
  • Central to educating the skilled workforce – medical, public health – on the front lines of fighting this pandemic;
  • Close partner with state and county as advisors and data sources fo the policy decisions they need to make.

Value of UW-Madison has never been clearer.

Brief summary of what’s happened on campus:

Just finished the semester.  That meant:

  • Moving nearly 8,000 classes online
  • Moving 7,300 students safely out of the residence halls
  • Making accommodations for nearly 600 others who could not leave

All in about 12 days.  Thanks to extraordinarily dedicated/flexible/resilient faculty, staff, students.

Tomorrow we confer nearly 9,000 degrees…virtually.

Next phase is planning for recovery.  Working on 3 fronts:

  1. Develop phased approach to re-open campus, including bringing back on-campus research
  2. Develop plan for fall semester instruction
  3. Address serious financial issues this crisis is creating for campus


  1. Research that informs our response to the virus

UW is strongly engaged in research related to COVID-19.  More than four dozen pending and awarded proposals for COVID-19 research on campus spanning the sciences, social sciences, arts/humanities.  Examples :

  • Virologists from the School of Veterinary Medicine are leading an international group to develop and test a vaccine against the virus that could be in human trials as soon as fall. Led by our superstar team of flu researchers who are also working on a universal flu vaccine that won’t change every year.


  • UW Health is part of national effort running clinical trials using antibodies from the plasma of COVID-19 survivors to treat patients.


  • School of Journalism and Mass Communication studying social media to understand negative psychological impacts of the pandemic and figure out ways to address.


  • A team from across campus, led by faculty in Geography, Math, Life Sciences Communication, and Population Health Sciences is looking at how communication about risk impacts the spread of coronavirus. Goal is to develop best practices in terms of messaging about social distancing and other behaviors. e., is language or visual content more effective?  What platforms are most effective for messaging?


  • The Field Day Lab that designs educational games at the WI Center for Education Research is collaborating with College of Engineering to create video games to help parents trying to homeschool. Newest game – Lakeland. Students have to figure out how to build a town surrounded by farms on a lake without degrading water quality.


  • Data Science: An interdisciplinary coalition led by the American Family Insurance Data Science Institute, with partners from UW-Madison, local and state government, industry, and other academic institutions, to build models about COVID-19 infectious spread, using the volumes of health-related data that is growing daily.  They use the data others are gathering to create models and visualizations to help policymakers, business owners, and the public respond to the pandemic.


  • Service to the community in the pandemic
  1. Facilities
  • Lowell Center is serving as an isolation facility for the homeless or others who are unable to isolate at home.
  • Dejope Hall is housing healthy first responders and UW Health staff who are worried about exposing their families to the virus or who want to remain close to UW Hospital. 6 to 12 people per night staying there.


  1. Equipment and PPE
  • Lab Equipment for Exact Sciences to increase COVID testing
  • Helped outfit the alternative care facility at State Fair Park in Milwaukee
  • Supplied UW Health with 5,000 N95 masks. Research labs across campus donated PPE. Also collected hundreds of gowns, gloves, and other equipment.
  • Pharmacy school is producing hand sanitizer to supply UW Hospital.
  • Badger Shield created and produced by College of Engineering and others – open source design is being used by manufacturing companies to produce millions of shields.
  • Now creating nasal swabs for test kits and developing a way to quickly santitize face masks for reuse.
  • Engineering faculty have also set up a website to match producers with facilities that need shields – no other institution in a position to serve in this crucial ‘hub of the wheel’ role, creating new supply chains.


  1. Provide People and Expertise to Respond to Crisis
  • Employees from SMPH, Vet Med, Pharmacy are volunteering with the state to fill needed roles (coordinators, contact tracers, etc.)
  • Nursing students who had to suspend their clinical training are providing child care for health care workers.
  • Small Business Development Center is helping business owners around the state navigate the process for accessing federal money, and figure out how to deal with myriad issues related to employment and insurance.
  • Center for Health Enhancement System Studies (CHESS) developed an app to provide pandemic information, support, and resources:
  • Fact-checks misinformation circulating on social media
  • Info in English and Spanish
  • Stress mgt with meditation function by Healthy Minds Innovations
  • Includes an anonymous, moderated local message board
  • UW Extension has moved all of its activities online, and continues to be a valuable, trusted resource to people and communities across the state:
  • In Ashland and Bayfield counties, Extension facilitated daily meetings among county, tribal, public health, and health care representatives to help coordinate response without duplication of efforts.
  • Extension office in Vilas County engaged economic development officials in a coordinated response to help small businesses gear up to allow their customers to purchase coupons and order online.
  • In Milwaukee County, Extension is helping local farmers’ markets to navigate new guidelines and policies so they can continue operating as essential businesses and accept federal nutrition benefits.

Extension’s online resources include:

  • Personal finance help for those suddenly facing unemployment
  • Tools for managing the pandemic’s impact on farming
  • Virtual meetings and trainings for 4-H youth
  • Resources for small businesses and non-profits


Wisconsin Partnership Program at SMPH has announced 21 new awards totaling $2.2M to researchers and community organizations across Wisconsin for efforts to lessen the impact of COVID-19. They are funding:

  • Daily screening of homeless shelter guests
  • Outreach and medical care for low-income people of color in Milwaukee who lack health insurance
  • Physical and mental health support for children with medical conditions that make them especially vulnerable to the virus – a program through MMSD
  • Awards to various organizations across the state will help them provide information and resources to help underserved minority communities navigate the pandemic


  1. Conclusion

Thank WTC & members for many ways they contribute to the university and the state.  The high-tech economy WTC has worked to create has placed WI at the center of important work to control the pandemic and will help get through this recession as quickly as possible.