Strengthening Our Global Engagement

Dean Kate VanderBosch

Dean Kate VandenBosch

“The boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state.” That belief has broadened since the inception of the Wisconsin Idea early last century. The boundaries of the university are now the boundaries of the world—and no college embodies this more than CALS.

CALS faculty members conduct research in some 80 countries around the globe. Their work includes everything from increasing vitamin A content in local produce and breeding hardy crop varieties for challenging climates to economic development and opening new markets for Wisconsin products. Their activities have resulted in a multitude of discoveries that benefit CALS, Wisconsin and communities around the world.

But could we be doing even better? That question was considered when we embarked on our CALS strategic planning effort, and it was answered with a resounding “Yes!” What followed was a thoughtful, committee-led process that included a wide range of voices from within and outside of the college. In a final report the committee stated that “renewed investment in international activities will produce excellence in CALS scholarship and teaching, advance the college’s strategic planning goals, have a significant impact on our stakeholders and generate a substantial return on investment.”

In order to achieve optimal results from that investment, they deemed that a faculty-led International Programs unit is needed—something CALS has not had for about a half-dozen years. Faculty leadership is essential, the committee said, to “reach the threshold level of coordination and expertise required to win large international research and training grants such as those recently awarded to our peer institutions.”

Enter Sundaram Gunasekaran (photo left), a professor of biological systems engineering who has been selected to serve as faculty director of CALS International Programs. Gunasekaran—or “Guna,” as he is widely known—is brimming with ideas and enthusiasm about his new role. This past spring he held a number of “listening and learning” sessions welcoming all CALS faculty, staff and partners to discuss their international work and how a robust reenvisioning of CALS International Programs could help them better pursue it.

“My vision for CALS International Programs is for it to become among the leaders in the nation’s land-grant colleges for international engagement—and for it to effect positive change in global agricultural and life sciences enterprises through research, education and outreach,” Gunasekaran says. “CALS is among the very best land-grant colleges in the nation. Thus it is very appropriate that we envision an international program of a similar stature.”

We’ll be hearing more about CALS’ “new and improved” International Programs in the coming months, including here in Grow magazine. In the meantime, on behalf of the CALS community on campus and around the world, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Guna in his exciting new role.

South of the Colorful Clouds

Not long ago, one of the most biologically and culturally diverse regions on earth—Yunnan Province on China’s southwestern border, with its great river gorges, sweeping grasslands and majestic Himalayan mountains—was virtually inaccessible to outsiders.

Golden snub-nosed monkeys, black-necked cranes, snow leopards, Tibetan bears and an astounding number of other animals and plants thrive in its temperate forests and alpine meadows. And five million people from 26 of China’s 55 ethnic minorities live in the province’s remote high-altitude forests and valleys.

This biologically sensitive region has for the past half-dozen years been a field site for collaboration between the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Yunnan, a partnership that focuses on biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.

The idea arose from conversations between visiting scientist Ji Weizhi, former director of the Kunming Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Yunnan, and Kenneth Shapiro, an emeritus professor of agricultural and applied economics who was then associate dean of international agricultural programs at CALS.

“Ji was impressed by the interdisciplinary approaches that some of the UW departments were using to address complex problems like biodiversity conservation,” says Shapiro. “Ji could see that the traditional narrow ‘stovepipe’ or isolated discipline approach to biodiversity research cannot bridge the gaps in understanding diverse problems in biodiversity conservation. He understood that scientists needed a broader understanding of the relationships between the biology, livelihoods, economics and politics of Yunnan to protect its biodiversity and promote sustainable development.”

Yunnan’s name roughly translates to “south of the colorful clouds”—and indeed, the province’s beauty is self-evident. Less obvious, perhaps, is its environmental importance. The region provides critical ecological services across much of Asia. To take water alone as an example, nearly half of China’s population, along with millions of other southeast Asians, depend on the fresh water passing through the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, which lie within the drainage basins of the Yangtze, Mekong and Salween rivers. If the natural forests in this region were destroyed, vast areas and populations downstream would suffer from severe floods and huge reductions of water supplies and quality.

After centuries of semi-isolation, Yunnan—the northwestern part of the province in particular—has been discovered by China’s new middle class of tourists, most of them Han Chinese, who make up more than 92 percent of China’s population. Where only hikers, horses and mules trod before, roads are being built by local and provincial governments to carry millions of tourists. Old-growth forests are being logged to accommodate them. Yunnan’s ethnic communities are having to transform centuries-old land use traditions. And the government is pressing Yunnan for economic development. Ji was aware that transforming Yunnan could have devastating effects on its biodiversity, on China’s fresh water supplies and on the livelihoods of ethnic minorities.

What Yunnan’s scientists needed was a model of an interdisciplinary approach to sustainable development and biodiversity conservation. Collaboration with UW, it was hoped, would mark a pioneering step toward developing that model.

Shapiro and other UW scientists, led by the late Josh Posner (see sidebar on page 27), found a home and funding for their part of the partnership under the auspices of IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship), a highly competitive National Science Foundation program that supports scientists and engineers pursuing graduate degrees in fields that cross disciplines and are deemed to have broad societal impact. The UW proposal drew on the strong support of the staff of CALS international programs, and the research also benefited from significant supplementary funding from the Graduate School, the chancellor’s office and the CAS.

Nineteen UW doctoral students, called “trainees,” were selected from disciplines ranging from political science and economics to conservation biology and anthropology, and included five CALS trainees from agronomy, forest and wildlife ecology, and community and environmental sociology. All participants were expected to learn Mandarin Chinese and, beyond their own disciplines, become literate in other fields relevant to conservation and sustainable development. While in Madison, trainees also attended weekly seminars on Northwest Yunnan’s history, politics, culture, society and ecology.

While some trainees received help getting their initial permits and contacts in Yunnan, it was up to each of them to work through such daily obstacles as getting around, finding translators for the many dialects and gaining the trust of locals.

Most trainees had done some kind of international work before joining IGERT. For example, Jodi Brandt in forest and wildlife ecology had worked in Guatemala with the Peace Corps, and community and environmental sociologist John Zinda had lived and taught in China.

Give: Experiencing the World

Rachel Glab recently spent time on an idyllic Caribbean island, but she wasn’t there to stick her toes in the sand.

Rather, Glab was in Montserrat on bird business—specifically, researching how to protect the Montserrat oriole, a species facing various threats. Glab spent three days on the island interviewing a range of local residents and members of the United Kingdom-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. She also performed fieldwork including blood collection and banding, working under the direction of CALS ornithologist and animal sciences professor Mark Berres.

“My goal was to gain experience in data analysis and genetic work, along with developing and conducting interviews to gain broad perspectives on how to protect the oriole—what’s working, what isn’t, and what it really takes to get people together to facilitate positive change for a species,” says Glab.

Travel abroad wasn’t really in the cards for her, at least not for now. Glab, 27, is paying her own way through school. She is a licensed veterinary technician with AAS degrees in both veterinary medicine and laboratory animal medicine, and she has a job taking care of research animals at the UW’s Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research (WIMR). Her work at WIMR convinced her to get her bachelor’s degree, and she plans to pursue a degree in medicine after graduating.

International travel would have been beyond her means without funding from the CALS Study Abroad Scholarship Fund, which was just renamed the Kenneth H. Shapiro CALS Study Abroad Fund in honor of the recently retired professor of agricultural and applied economics and former associate dean and director of CALS International Programs.

Throughout his career Shapiro greatly expanded CALS research and service partnerships with countries around the world and raised scholarship funds so that all students could participate.

Numerous studies and testimonials confirm the benefits of study abroad, which include developing a globally minded workforce, allowing students to study natural resources not available in the United States and—perhaps most important—offering students a broader, richer experience of the world.

Glab speaks to some of those benefits. “The experience made me look at our country differently, at the way we live and the access we have to things here,” says Glab, noting that people in Montserrat make do with much less. “My interactions with residents and conservationists there were priceless to me. I’ve come back with greater awareness of what we have and what we can do together.”

To help support the Kenneth H. Shapiro CALS Study Abroad Fund, visit: supportuw.org/giveto/shapirostudyabroad

The UW Foundation maintains more than 6,000 gift funds that provide critical resources for the educational and research activities of CALS.

 

Baker's Dozen

Scientist-turned-entrepreneur Krishna Ella PhD’93 Plant Pathology will receive a Distinguished Alumni Award and speak about global health at the International Convocation in Madison July 26–29. Ella’s company, Bharat Biotech International, Ltd., has supplied affordable hepatitis vaccines to millions of people around the world. Fellow CALS alumni presenters include Abdul Waheed Khan MS’71 Agricultural Journalism (see bio above) and Aman Wirakartakusumah MS’77 PhD’81 Food Science. More info on page 37.

Jwee Tan

Although Jwee Tan describes himself as a “suit,” not a scientist, he focuses on creativity as the guiding force of his work. This drive led to the production of award-winning advertising campaigns while at global marketing giant Saatchi & Saatchi. Tan also headed the consolidation of Tiger Beer and Anchor—both lagers produced by Singapore-based Asia Pacific Breweries, where he is assistant general manager. His education at CALS led Jwee to develop a systematic, analytical approach to problem solving. In his free time? “Collect Star Wars toys I do,” he says.

Anna Lammerding

Ensuring the safety of Canada’s food supply is no small task, so it’s fortunate that Lammerding has a team of food microbiologists, public health veterinarians, risk management experts and epidemiologists to assist her. Lammer-ding was recently named acting director of the Science to Policy Division within the Public Health Agency of Canada, where she focuses on microorganisms that cause disease in humans. Lammerding credits the international network of colleagues she built at CALS for helping her develop her career and her image of the world as a global village. She is an active board member and fundraiser for Friends of the Orphans, a nonprofit that builds homes in Central and South America.

Abdul Waheed Khan

Khan’s journey began in a remote Indian village and has paused, for now, at Bahrain’s Talal Abu-Ghazelah Business University, which he serves as president. Along the way, he worked in radio broadcasting, consulting for international organizations, communications and IT, and established himself in academia as an international leader in technology implementation (he earned a Ph.D in mass communication from UW). For Kahn, the highlight of his career was his role as assistant director general for communication and information at UNESCO, where he promoted the use of communication and IT for sustainable development in 192 member states.

Jessica Jacobsen

Jacobson was born, raised and educated in Wisconsin—but when the opportunity came to work for Kraft Foods in Germany, she jumped on it. Working at the research and development center in Munich, Jacobsen manages a team of product developers for Philadelphia Cream Cheese. The dynamic nature of her job keeps it exciting, she says: “I could be participating in a flavor innovation brainstorming activity, creating new formulas in the pilot plant and testing production for other formulas in the factory—all in the same week.” An avid traveler, Jacobsen has been to all seven continents.

Jon Halpern

When a stint as a studio musician proved fruitless, Halpern’s mother convinced him to go to college. Thirty-five years later, he is the lead infrastructure advisor for energy and water at the World Bank, where he works to assess impacts of energy and infrastructure policies and projects in developing regions worldwide. Halpern leads multidisciplinary teams to help local decision makers improve people’s lives. A professorship at Georgetown University, raising several teenagers and fly-fishing in the Appalachians take up much of his remaining time.

Amitabha Guha

Guha sees exponential population growth and the accompanying demand for food as a serious issue for the next 30 years. “Helping in a small way to build the agricultural resource base to feed all these people is what drives me,” he says. Guha is managing director for the Malaysia-based Agricultural Research & Advisory Bureau, where he spends much of his time working with Southeast Asian plantations to promote productivity and good farming practices. He focuses on teaching better field management and promoting health and quality of the products.

Michael Dunbier

Dunbier moved on from his role as CEO of the New Zealand Institute of Crop & Food Research to become a freelance consultant specializing in agriculture and agribusiness issues. His work revolves around bringing agricultural research to New Zealand farmer groups in an effort to promote better use of research and development investments. The lasting impact of his time in Madison includes a nuanced understanding of agricultural systems and a persisting allegiance to the Green Bay Packers.

Erick Danzer

“Philanthropic capitalism” is the idea behind Danzer’s new company, Photocrati Media, which provides high-quality web publishing and gallery tools for photographers. But for Danzer, the company is much more than that. He has pledged 25 percent of profits to donations, mostly to support international NGOs involved in sustainable growth for developing countries. During his graduate studies, Danzer worked internationally as a photojournalist, an experience that left him with a deep sense of concern for the economic and environmental issues faced by developing countries—and a commitment to support solutions through philanthropy.