Catch up with … Molly Sloan BS’06 Dairy Science/Life Sciences Communication

As a child, Molly Sloan dreamed of one day stepping onto the colorful shavings that cover the floor of the Dane County Coliseum in order to judge dairy cattle at the World Dairy Expo. Her inspiration came from growing up on a small dairy farm in northern Illinois, taking in everything about the business and the animals. From the farm, Sloan took the steps necessary to reach the Expo and make her dreams come true.

After coming to UW–Madison, Sloan quickly got involved in dairy on campus, establishing a network of dairy professionals at CALS. While completing degrees in dairy science and life sciences communication, she was active in such organizations as the Association of Women in Agriculture and the National AgriMarketing Association. Through dairy judging with her team in the Badger Dairy Club, Sloan refined her judging skills and sharpened her eye for prize cattle.

Sloan’s experiences and determination spurred success in both dairy genetics and cattle judging. Judging Ayrshires at the 2016 World Dairy Expo was her second time on the colored shavings she dreamed about as a kid—and it’s not likely to be her last.

How did your time and experiences at CALS help you get to where you are now?

I grew up in northern Illinois, and I knew all along that I wanted to study dairy science. I realized quickly that there was really no other option than CALS, which is world renowned for its dairy science program. I added a second major with agricultural journalism early on and was very involved in extracurricular activities as well as internships with different dairy genetics and reproductive AI [artificial insemination] companies. Through that involvement I was able to meet the industry contacts that I needed to get internships and, ultimately, job opportunities. When I finished college I started with Alta Genetics, and now, as Alta’s global training program manager, I travel the world pretty extensively.

What’s it like to judge cattle at the World Dairy Expo?

This has always been a dream of mine. When I came to the University of Wisconsin I knew right away that I wanted to be involved in the dairy judging team. Through intense workouts and practices I was fortunate enough to be part of a very competitive team with exceptional coaching from Dr. Dave Dickson and Ted Halbach. After that, I knew that I wanted to continue this experience if the opportunity arose.

The World Dairy Expo is considered a bit of a pinnacle for cattle judging. Where do you go from here?

I think you said it best; it really is the pinnacle in this field. I want to keep doing it as long as it’s fun. For me, every new show is a great opportunity and experience. I would love to have the opportunity to come back and do another show here on the colored shavings.

Molly Sloan, BS’06 Dairy Science/Life Sciences Communication, serves as an Arshire judge at the 2016 World Dairy Expo. 
Photo credit: Sevie Kenyon BS’80 MS’06

Catch up with . . . Jacquelynn Arbuckle BS’91 Genetics

Dr. Jacquelynn Arbuckle’s exposure to the medical field began when her younger brother Adrian was born with cystic fibrosis. Arbuckle, only six at the time, recalls a childhood consumed with Adrian’s care. “We spent many days and weeks at the children’s hospital. I watched the doctors and nurses carefully try to find ways to keep Adrian alive,” Arbuckle says. Each year he was expected to have only a limited time to live.

That experience led Arbuckle to dedicate her life to medicine. After graduating from the UW–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) and completing her surgical residency in Massachusetts, Arbuckle returned to Madison, where she is an associate professor and surgeon at UW.

Arbuckle’s path to success was not easy. A native of Spooner, Wis., and an Ojibwe, Arbuckle grew up on the St. Croix reservation. She experienced firsthand how difficult the transition from a reservation community to a college campus can be. Now, as director of the SMPH-based Native American Center for Health Professions, she encourages young people to enroll at UW–Madison. She hopes that, once trained, they can help strengthen communities that often lack medical infrastructure and other resources—the same resources that ultimately saved her brother’s life.

What are some difficulties you experience when recruiting young Native Americans?

Coming from a close, familiar environment to a large campus can leave a student feeling isolated. Our Native culture is part of everyday life, and it can be challenging to feel free to practice our Native teachings without fear of humiliation. The Native American Center for Health Professions attempts to provide a safe cultural home for students and a place for community by providing mentoring, support and guidance as well as opportunities to explore our Native cultures around the state.

Why is it important for more Native American students to enter the medical field?

We need more Native healers in our state and across our nation. We need to be able to provide improved health care in our home communities, and we need to provide good mentors and role models for our young people. Our reservations have limited funds and limited access to health care. We need providers at all levels of health, including public health researchers, nurses, doctors, physician assistants, physical therapists, social workers and pharmacists. At NACHP, we reach out to interested students around the state and encourage them to consider coming to UW for their education. We are able to provide rotations at tribal clinics for those who are interested in this experience. During the rotations, students are exposed to true patient-centered, coordinated care as well as a wealth of cultural experiences.

How do you maintain your connection to the St. Croix reservation?

Mainly through my family. I go home routinely and spend time there. I have made connections with our tribal health director as well as our education director, and we are working on ways to improve resources and motivate young people together.

Photo courtesy of University Communications

Catch up with … Signe Brewster BS’12 Life Sciences Communication

Whether it’s artificial intelligence, virtual reality, robots, 3-D printing, drones or space exploration, Signe Brewster’s got it covered. Brewster puts what she learned during her undergraduate education at CALS to use every day as a freelance science and technology journalist based in St. Paul, Minn.

“I write about emerging hardware, which is anything that’s on the fringe, and I think about if it’s going to be a viable technology that can impact the world,” says Brewster, explaining how she chooses stories. “The Department of Life Sciences Communication really prepared me to write about these topics. In my professional life, everyone does a double take when they hear there is a degree combining science and writing.”

During her time in LSC, Brewster took a slew of classes that covered science writing, photography, marketing, communication theory and risk communication. Along the way she picked up skills and theories she now applies to every word of her writing. After graduation, she traveled to Switzerland to intern for six months at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, writing about physics. She then held a fellowship at the popular tech publication Wired, putting in her time on the West Coast. From there she became a staff writer at Gigaom, a technology research and analysis firm, before becoming a full-time freelancer a little over a year ago.

What are some LSC classes that you feel really benefited you? 

In Shiela Reaves’s photography class, I really enjoyed the class discussions and critiques from my peers. It was just so beneficial being in a place like LSC surrounded by so many others who shared my interests. I still do a lot of photography and go back to those class concepts.

Ron Seely’s science writing class was my first formal training in how to translate technical science and technology issues for a general audience. Having someone watch over my science writing and give feedback was something no one else could provide. I now write for publications such as MIT Technology Review, Wired, Symmetry Magazine, New Scientist and TechCrunch, among others.

What about theory classes in LSC? 

I really learned a lot about communication theory from Dominique Brossard’s risk communication class, as well as from Dietram Scheufele’s “Science, Media and Society.” Learning about risk and communication theory gives me insight into how others think and talk about science.

What makes LSC special to you? 

I knew I wanted to be a science writer since I started writing about stem cell research. Life Sciences Communication educated me in skills and theories that I was able to apply at the Badger Herald on campus, my numerous internships and now my freelance career. The Department of Life Sciences Communication is just a unique place that gave me exactly what I was interested in.

Give: A Fitting Tribute

The late James F. Crow—an outstanding scientist, statesman, public servant and teacher—would surely have been happy with the solution arrived at by his colleagues and friends: a professorship named in his honor to ensure that great work in genetics continues.

The James F. Crow Professorship in Genetics will be made available to attract a world-class scientist to join the faculty in genetics. Endowment earnings will be made available to support the recipient’s research.

The professor who bears the title will build on the legacy of a giant. Crow was a pioneer in genetics. He measured the consequences of mutations—essentially, mistakes in DNA—for humans and other organisms, and he invented models that explain the pattern of DNA differences between individuals.

Crow’s discoveries made many of today’s genetic technologies possible, including commercial services that use DNA to reveal personal genealogy, the criminal justice system’s application of DNA evidence, and public health models that reveal why some diseases are common and others are rare. His work helped establish the University of Wisconsin–Madison as an international leader in genetics.

“Legions of the world’s most renowned geneticists trekked to Madison to visit Jim and meet with the broader community of geneticists on campus,” says John Doebley, genetics professor and chair of the UW–Madison Laboratory of Genetics.

Crow, an active member of the Laboratory of Genetics from 1948 to 2012, seamlessly integrated research with outstanding teaching and a passion for public service. One of his greatest gifts was his enthusiasm and ability to clearly explain genetic concepts to a wide range of audiences. He spoke to people he met in the community with the same admiration and excitement with which he greeted his scientific colleagues.

The professorship will honor Crow’s legacy by ensuring the continuation of discoveries with high societal relevance, notes Doebley. “Jim’s interests spanned the entire range of the field of genetics, but with a penchant for honing in on the most interesting and fundamental questions. As such, we can best honor his memory by following his instincts in this regard.”

You can make a gift to the James F. Crow Professorship in Genetics fund at http://supportuw.org/giveto/CrowProfessorship or contact Kate Bahr at the UW Foundation (tel. 608-308-5120, kate.bahr@supportuw.org).

A fundraising event for the named professorship will be held on Friday, September 23, 1–9 p.m. More info available soon at http://www.genetics.wisc.edu/CrowProfessorship.htm.

Catch Up With … Gary Brown BS’84

Gary Brown BS'84 Landscape Architecture

Gary Brown BS’84 Landscape Architecture

As director of Campus Planning & Landscape Architecture at UW–Madison, Gary Brown BS’84 is in charge of places that hold cherished memories for just about every Badger alum. In addition to overseeing campus master planning activities on the 936-acre campus, Brown serves as director of the 300-acre Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Brown, a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, also serves as the chair of the UW–Madison Landscape Architecture Alumni Advisory Board.

Currently Brown is spearheading the latest Campus Master Plan, a vision for the physical campus that is updated every 10 years.

• Is there an overarching goal you’re aiming for in this iteration of the Campus Master Plan?

This time around, rather than focus on the building capacity of the land, we are specifically looking at the spaces in between our buildings—the campus landscape. As a landscape architect, I find these spaces as important to me as the buildings, and in some cases, more so.

When we ask alumni about their favorite places on campus, they often mention Bascom Hill, the view from Observatory Hill out over Lake Mendota (and “traying” down that hill in the winter!), or the Memorial Union Terrace, some of our most iconic landscapes. We want to make sure all of our campus landscapes support the mission of the university and provide respite, rejuvenation and places for faculty, staff and students to gather outside in the warmer months. In winter, views out to great landscapes can help promote the wellness of our staff and the learning potential of our students. Landscapes and views to them are inherently important for our long-term health and well-being.

• Can you offer any specifics yet?

The plan includes adding new courtyards and open spaces as redevelopment occurs in the south campus, south of University Avenue. We are also looking at significant changes to the area between North Charter Street and Henry Mall, north of University Avenue, as that area redevelops over time.

• Where do you find inspiration for a task like this?

I rely on my landscape architecture colleagues around the country who provide inspiration in their work on campus landscapes. Some say the physical campus soon won’t be needed, with the expansion of online learning. I disagree. The physical campus and all that it stands for—the life of the campus, the heart and soul of the great universities—are in their campus landscapes. It’s what makes each university unique, offering a “sense of place” created by the university’s own history and its part of the world.

• What’s the hardest thing about your job?

Getting people involved and excited. Facilities planning can be pretty dull for some people. I want people to feel free to share their ideas and concepts about how the campus should look, feel and function in 20 years. It’s nice to stop and gaze into the crystal ball every now and then to predict the future. You never know what actually can come true. Look at Alumni Park, the East Campus Mall, a reinvigorated Memorial Union Terrace and the new State Street Mall—all great examples of amazing ideas and visions for our campus landscape that have been, and will prove to be, iconic for years to come.

For more information and to share your ideas, please visit www.masterplan.wisc.edu

Catch Up With … Shannon Strader BS’14 Biology

Shannon Strader BS’14 is no stranger to pain. At age 8 she lost her twin sister, Lauryn, to complications arising from cerebral palsy. Strader herself suffered from an excruciating condition that was eventually diagnosed as posterior nutcracker syndrome, a rare kidney disease where the renal vein is anatomically displaced and compressed by the spinal cord and aorta.

“I never knew what it was like to not be in pain,” Strader says. “I never went a day without a stabbing pain in my lower back and abdomen. I never knew what it was like to eat without feeling nauseated. I never knew what it was like to have a functional body.”

A series of surgeries alleviated her suffering, but not before Strader had reached college age. From her anguish, two dreams arose. One was to work with pioneering stem cell researcher Jamie Thomson in his regenerative biology lab at UW–Madison’s Morgridge Institute for Research. Another was to found a nonprofit that would provide emotional support and financial assistance to college students coping with disease or disabilities.

Strader was successful on both counts. She worked in Thomson’s lab all four years, and for her capstone project as a CALS biology major conducted research involving DNMT3B, a gene that plays an important role in embryonic development.

And—with help from the Thomson lab, the McBurney Disability Resource Center, and fellow students Lauren Wilmet, Harris Sinsley, Kym Ludwig, Al Ritger, Jamie Holt and Matt Anderson—she founded Bella Soul, a nonprofit that in just over one year of operation has provided scholarships to six students and support to countless others.

• Why is Bella Soul needed?
Before Bella Soul, out of the nation’s 1.5 million nonprofits, there was not one directed toward helping college students confronting chronic illness or disability through scholarships and/or emotional support that wasn’t limited to a specific illness. Bella Soul does not favor a particular disease. Another cool thing is that 100 percent of our donors’ money goes to scholarships. We pay for our printers, paper and fundraising galas through corporate donations. We do not pay our “employees,” either.

• What kind of feedback have you gotten?
Individuals who read our stories online say they have been blown away by what some young adults persevere through every day while working hard to accomplish their dreams. Every story and scholarship application we have received I have cried over and really been touched by.

• Can you share a few examples?
In this last scholarship round, we were going to give out one scholarship. Instead we ended up giving out four. How do you decide between Sarah, who has to deal with the difficulties of cerebral palsy financially and emotionally, and Cheyenne, who recently was diagnosed with cancer? We ended up giving a scholarship to both of them, along with two others.

• You’ve just started medical school in Tennessee. What are your long-term hopes for Bella Soul and your career?
Our plan is to start Bella Soul chapters at other universities and provide resources for hospitals to share with teenagers transitioning to college. As for my career, I hope to someday establish my own cerebral palsy clinic as well as be a principal investigator in an embryology/developmental research lab.

Learn more at http://livebellasoul.org

Catch Up With … Luxme Hariharan BS’04 Biology

As a pediatric ophthalmologist, clinical researcher and child advocate, Luxme Hariharan has set herself a challenging goal: To prevent childhood blindness globally and help those with imperiled vision to see better. Born in Hyderabad, India, Hariharan graduated with bachelor’s degrees in biology from CALS and in Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies from the College of Letters and Science. She went on to earn an M.D. at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health and a master’s in public health from Johns Hopkins.

While still in medical school she helped establish an eye-care program in Mysore, India, with the organization Combat Blindness International. It was there that she recognized the global impact she could have as an ophthalmologist. “I will never forget witnessing the wonder of a man who received free cataract surgery and exclaimed, ‘Now I can finally see what my granddaughter looks like!’” she says.

Hariharan also has worked on blindness prevention programs in Argentina, El Salvador and Niger and has collaborated on vision-saving initiatives in Armenia and the Philippines.

A recipient of a “Forward under 40” award from the Wisconsin Alumni Association, Hariharan is currently the Pediatric Cornea, Cataract and Glaucoma Fellow at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

• What led to your interest in pediatric ophthalmology?

I truly love the opportunity to help change the trajectory of a child’s life by helping to maximize
their vision. I remember one child in particular who was held back a grade because teachers thought he was not interested in school. It turned out that he just could not see well. Once he got the correct glasses prescription he was the most lively and participatory child in the class, and his grades drastically improved. I saw the direct impact vision can have on a child’s overall growth and development. I was also excited to learn the intricate surgeries involved to treat pediatric ophthalmic conditions in combination with clinical care.

• What aspects of your work do you find the most challenging?

When we are not able to offer a permanent treatment or cure for certain disorders, and despite our best efforts, a child may eventually go blind. This is very challenging to witness in a young child. According to the World Health Organization, every five seconds a child somewhere in the world goes blind. Over a third of these children never graduate from high school, and half will grow up to become part of the permanently unemployed. The burden that childhood blindness places on society extends far beyond vision impairment alone and has significant social and economic impacts on families, communities and countries worldwide.

• What can we do to help address this problem, beyond making sure every child has regular vision screening?

It’s important for everyone to have an idea of the types of avoidable and treatable causes of childhood blindness. Eighty percent of childhood blindness is preventable. A child’s visual system fully develops by the time he or she is 9 or 10 years old, and up until that time it is possible to improve vision via treatments such as glasses, patching and possible surgery to maximize visual potential. After age 10, however, whatever visual acuity a child has is not likely to change. Therefore, early detection of ophthalmic conditions in children is vital in preventing them from developing further visual impairment and blindness.

To learn more or to donate to childhood blindness prevention programs, Hariharan welcomes your questions at lhariharan@chla.usc.edu.

Catch up with … Kartik Chandran

Kartik Chandran

Kartik Chandran

Kartik Chandran (PhD’01 Biochemistry) has spent years studying an organism that most of us hope never to experience: the Ebola virus. Last year the infectious agent not only spread within West Africa but also for the first time reached the United States. The ensuing panic prompted a number of national broadcast news media outlets to turn to Chandran for answers.

Ebola is a major focus of Chandran’s research as a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. His contributions include helping to identify both the chemical pathway Ebola uses to invade host cells and a specific mechanism inside of cells that acts as an Ebola receptor.

• What fascinates you about viruses?

So many things! They are just these incredible nanomachines, and are often so beautiful to look at. This is what got me into virology in the first place. My Ph.D. adviser at UW–Madison, Max Nibert, showed me some gorgeous image reconstructions of reovirus particles and I was hooked.

Viruses form such a crucial part of life on earth. Indeed, life as we know it wouldn’t exist without viruses. I’m fascinated by the perpetual war, ancient yet modern, that viruses and hosts wage against each other, and by how much that has shaped biology on this planet.

• In light of the recent Ebola outbreaks, do you have any words of comfort or hope? 

It has been horrifying to watch the Ebola epidemic take hold in West Africa. I am hopeful that the resources needed to control it are finally being brought to bear, with the U.S. leading the way. But it’s happening so slowly! We need to multiply our efforts by an order of magnitude and do it quickly— it still feels like the world is in denial about what is happening. I am optimistic also that we will be able to throw vaccines and therapeutics into the fight in the next few months.

But in the meantime, we need to find ways to short-circuit the delays involved in creating infrastructure like treatment centers and the challenge that staffing such centers entails. We have to do more to reduce the spread of the virus at the local level. This seems desperate, but I think we need to help people care for their own family members “in place” by providing the resources and information they need—personal protective gear, chlorine, food. And we have to do this in communities on a regular schedule, not just once by handing out a kit.

• What else would you like to tell the public about Ebola? 

We need a different approach to develop vaccines and therapeutics against emerging agents like Ebola that are not considered major public health threats (or were not, until a few months ago). This and other episodes illustrate the failure of our planet-spanning civilization to act with foresight and plan for the future. The model of letting the marketplace dictate which therapeutics get developed is clearly inadequate to this purpose, since it rewards only short-term thinking. Unfortunately, the government-driven model is not really optimal either—it takes too long to act and disburses funding too anemically.

I don’t pretend to know what the right models are, but I hope we will actively work on coming up with them in the coming months and years. Because this is definitely going to happen again—if not with Ebola, then with some other infectious agent.

Catch up with . . .

Lucas Joppa grew up in northern Wisconsin 30 miles from the nearest stoplight, without a TV or computer. He spent his free time in the woods and became “hugely interested” in how various wild species interacted. So it’s a lot easier to imagine him having a career devoted to wildlife conservation than to developing digital gadgets for Microsoft. In fact, Joppa does both. After going on to earn a Ph.D. at Duke University and a stint in the Peace Corps in Malawi, Joppa moved to Cambridge, England, with Microsoft’s Computational Ecology and Environmental Sciences Group. For the past five years he’s focused on developing technologies, programs and models to support global conservation efforts—work he’s continuing from a new location this fall with a move to corporate headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

Did you come to UW–Madison with an eye toward a career in conservation?
No. That was my passion, but it never occurred to me that your real job could be the thing you’re most inspired by. Then I took [wildlife ecology professor] Stan Temple’s Extinction of Species course. Seeing this guy who was so passionate, so fascinated by what he was talking about, I thought, “He’s talking about exactly what I’m interested in.” It was Stan who suggested that I major in wildlife ecology.

How did that prepare you for what you’re doing now?
What the forest and wildlife ecology department did so well was combine the theory and academic side of conservation biology—the statistics and computer programming—with a very hands-on applied approach. I found afterward that that’s pretty rare. I find I’m often the only person in the room with an understanding of both the natural history and the statistics and computing needed to understand the overall system.

Give us an example of the kind of projects you’re involved in.
One thing we’re doing is developing an extremely cheap, lightweight, reprogrammable tracking device for animals. We want to let as many people track as many animals as possible. Since conservation is a niche market, tracking devices are produced in small quantities, so they end up being pretty expensive. The organizations that most need these devices are least able to afford them. We want to change that. We’re trying to build devices that are cheap and beefy enough to hold up in the wild and are easy for people to re-purpose for their own needs.

What advice do you have for today’s wildlife students?
If you do what you’re passionate about doing, the skills and the job will come. It’s hard to be the best at something if you’re not passionate about it because there’s always somebody who cares more and will work harder. They don’t mind taking the hard classes or putting in the time—not because they have to, but because they’re fascinated. That kind of passion—waking up every day wanting to go to work—that’s rare. But everybody I know with that attitude is hugely successful.

Givers

“It’s the Right Thing to Do”

One of our college’s most loyal supporters is not a CALS alumnus.

Bob Tramburg holds a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering and an MBA in finance, both from UW–Madison. But as president and CEO of Vita Plus, an employee-owned livestock nutrition company, he has a deep sense of CALS’ value to Wisconsin agriculture.

“We look to CALS to provide us some of that green stock coming out of the educational system,”Tramburg says, noting that Vita Plus hires a good many CALS grads. “And we also look to CALS for research that we can utilize in our products.”

Tramburg’s own leap from nuclear engineering to agriculture is not very surprising when one considers his background.

“I sort of had it in my blood. I grew up in a family that owned part of a feed mill. My grandfather owned it originally,” he says. “And that feed mill was purchased by Vita Plus in the early ’70s, right before I joined the company.”

Moreover, Tramburg’s stepfather, Lyle Hill, was one of the founders of Vita Plus. “After I got my master’s degree he made an offer for me to go to work at Vita Plus, which I accepted, and I came to understand the relationship that Vita Plus has with CALS,”Tramburg says.

As an individual donor, Tramburg generously gives to the CALS Annual Fund as well as to Wisconsin Rural Youth Scholarships and the Aberle Faculty Fellow Fund. And each year his company offers the Vita Plus Dairy Nutrition and Management Fellowship, providing financial support to a graduate student in dairy science.

“People who are educated at CALS are really our future,”Tramburg says, noting that they will affect the company’s ability to serve customers in coming years and decades.

This year Vita Plus was also one of the first companies to sign on as a corporate sponsor for events and programs marking CALS’ 125th anniversary.

As generous as Tramburg is to CALS, he and his wife, Angela—a graduate of the School of Nursing—also support a number of other UW programs and activities, most notably The Grandparents’ Network, a Waisman Center–based support and resource group for families whose members have disabilities. The Tramburgs became involved when one of their grandchildren was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

For Tramburg, giving generously is not merely a responsibility.

“It’s more than that. It’s just the right thing to do,” Tramburg says. “You have some success and you want to share it with organizations that have provided something to you or your family or your business—and that’s the relationship that Vita Plus has with CALS, that’s the relationship that I have with the University of Wisconsin in total. One of my hopes is that whatever my wife and I do—whether it’s for CALS, whether it’s for the business school or the nursing school—will help maintain that level of excellence at the University of Wisconsin. That’s our goal.”

Catch up with … Kifle Gebremedhin

As a professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Cornell University for more than three decades, Kifle Gebremedhin MS’75 PhD’78 is in a prime position to offer young people advice about the field. His contributions have been wide-ranging, particularly in the areas of animal thermal stress physiology and design of post-frame buildings. Two of his findings have become the basis for national standards set by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.

But Gebremedhin is in a good position to offer life lessons as well. He recently visited the CALS campus to give two technical presentations—and one, for BSE students, that served to inspire. His talk, titled “Be the Best You Can Be,” emphasized hard work, persistence and flexibility—values that have served him well through many challenges.

Gebremedhin grew up on a family farm in Eritrea, a small country in the Horn of Africa. Although he was gifted academically, his parents could only afford to send him to a vocational high school rather than a university prep school because it offered room and board. That put him on track for a diploma program rather than a more prestigious degree program in college, which he attended in Ethiopia. An uncle who had earlier settled in Wisconsin helped him relocate and eventually attend the University of Wisconsin–Platteville, where he earned a B.S. in civil engineering. For graduate study at UW-Madison, however, he was able to get financial support only if he switched to agricultural engineering—a field for which he developed a great passion.

What made you fall in love with biological systems engineering?
It was through my research. I was working with animals in the Biotron [a controlled environment facility for biological research]. I raised three calves from their first week to eight weeks of age inside a chamber I’d built, measuring how much heat they produced. It was from that relationship that I came to love biological systems—the interface between the biological object and the engineering becomes very interesting. I’m still working on thermal stress physiology of animals.

You have some pretty funny stories about your first day in Wisconsin.
I came here in January. I had no idea about snow. The only thing I knew was hail. When I was leaving the plane, the flight attendant said, “You can’t go out like that. It’s cold outside. Why don’t you take a blanket and throw it around you?” I said, “Don’t worry.” When I got out, it was so cold, I went back to get the blanket. The flight attendant said, “I told you so.”

How does it feel to be back here?
So many firsts happened to me in Wisconsin. My first experience with snow, I got married here, my first child was born here, I got my first degree at UW–Platteville, my master’s and Ph.D. at UW–Madison, and I started my academic career here. So this is my second home. I have a fond relationship with Wisconsin.

Your talk for students emphasizes global challenges (adequate food, water and energy supplies, clean air, soil health, etc.). Why?
I want them to think globally—and to think about how biological systems engineers can help meet those challenges, from the smallest to the largest ecological systems.

Give: Honoring Our Teachers

Robert R. Spitzer BS’44 MS’45 PhD’47 has held such positions as president and CEO of the agribusiness firm Murphy Products, president of the Milwaukee School of Engineering and head of the U.S. State Department’s Food for Peace program.

But as the son of hardworking tenant farmers in rural Wisconsin, he understands the value of financial support. When Spitzer went off to study at UW-Madison in 1940 he received a $100 scholarship from Sears, Roebuck & Co.

“That $100 was a big number back when tuition was very modest,” says Spitzer. “I felt from day one that I owed a lot of people.”

During his time at CALS, where he eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and master’s and Ph.D. degrees in biochemisty and animal nutrition, Spitzer learned from some of the college’s most illustrious figures. “I worked in a lab next to Harry Steenbock,” he says. “Conrad Elvehjem was one of my teachers.” Other early influences included E.B. Hart, Henry Ahlgren and Mike Foster.

“All these men happened to be not only good scientists but people of breadth and vision,” recalls Spitzer. “The teaching was not only about dairy chemistry or organic chemistry—it was teaching about culture, and about obligation and opportunity.”

The importance of good teaching stayed with him. “When I got out in industry I saw research recognized and I got the feeling that the teaching end of things needed more light on it,” he says. “And so in 1968 we established an outstanding teacher award at my company.”

When the company was sold, Spitzer stepped up to personally ensure that the award continued by establishing a fund at the UW Foundation and designating a portion of his estate to benefit future generations. The Spitzer Excellence in Teaching Award each year provides recognition and $1,000 to a worthy CALS educator.

“It’s motivational,” says this year’s winner Ronald L. Russell, a senior lecturer in animal sciences. “It drives me to want to do an even better job on the teaching front.”

Spitzer continues to serve in various civic organizations and on corporate boards—for example, he’s a director and senior mentor with Kikkoman Foods, Inc.—and, with his wife, Delores, advocate for the things he cares about.

Ensuring an adequate food supply for all—the subject of his book, No Need for Hunger—is one of his most abiding passions.

“To me the true avenue to peace in the world is agriculture training and agricultural independence so that people have enough to eat—and the pride that goes with that kind of life,” he says.

For information about establishing funds,
designating a portion of your estate or making a gift to CALS now, please contact Sara Anderson at the UW Foundation, tel. (608) 263-9537, e-mail Sara.Anderson@supportuw.org.