For the Birds

Slipping into a patch of woods in western Dane County, Jim Berkelman ignores the swarming mosquitoes and strains to sort through the early- morning chatter of warblers, robins and vireos and the nearby drum of a pileated woodpecker. “I’m hearing something I wouldn’t expect to hear,” says Berkelman, a lecturer in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at CALS and a volunteer contributor to the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II, a comprehensive, volunteer-powered survey of birds that nest in Wisconsin.

Experienced birders use their ears as much as their eyes to identify species, and Berkelman thinks he hears a northern parula, a small warbler that doesn’t typically nest this far south. Finding a bird, Berkelman explains, is only the start. The point of the Atlas, he notes, is to identify and map where birds in Wisconsin are courting, nesting, breeding and raising their broods.

To be sure of that, “atlasers,” as volunteer observers like Berkelman are called, must find tangible evidence that a species has actually taken up residence. A nest, of course, is the most obvious clue. But most birds are assiduously covert in their nesting and only conspicuous players like robins, herons, orioles, house wrens and bluebirds construct their nests in ways that make them easy to find and identify.

Other definitive hallmarks of breeding birds include observations of birds carrying nesting material or food for nestlings; distraction displays where birds seek to draw animals, other birds or humans away from a nest; and, of course, fledglings. Some bird species are fastidious as well and carry fecal matter away from occupied nests. Such an observation is also a telltale sign of breeding and can be used by an atlaser to confirm breeding activity and provide a new data point that science can ultimately draw on.

Following a rising wooded path to the top of a hill, Berkelman’s rounds on this warm June day encompass two different types of ecosystems: forest, and open fields and prairie. His block is designated as a “priority block,” a specified block within a six-block “quad” on a grid of more than 7,000 three-mile-by-three-mile blocks that covers Wisconsin. Within that grid are 1,175 priority blocks, each of which requires at least a year’s documentation of breeding birds within a five-year period to ensure that the state is uniformly surveyed for the new Atlas. In addition, there are 153 “specialty blocks” that have unique habitat, are of high conservation value or are of particular interest to ornithologists.

Today, Berkelman is recording his data the old-fashioned way: with pen and notebook. Later, he can plug his observations into Atlas eBird, an online checklist program that is a direct conduit to the database that is the bedrock of the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas.

Data, of course, are the raw material of science. Astronomers gather it by measuring and parsing starlight. Molecular biologists get data by plumbing the sequence of the chemical base pairs that make up a gene or genome. Meteorologists numerically dissect the many variables of weather—temperature, precipitation, wind, clouds.

To be sure, most data collection is a laborious and numbing process—the antithesis of the eureka moment. Harvesting data can be very expensive, too, as the tools of modern science have become bigger, more complex and more powerful in their ability to see farther or smaller, drill deeper, or accelerate particles to higher energies. Indeed, much of what we hear about modern scientific discovery rests on the pillars of sophisticated technology. Think of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Large Hadron Collider, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory and the Human Genome Project as just a few examples.

But while technology is taking science to new heights, it’s also giving a boost to the age-old methods of data gathering like the ones Berkelman uses in his efforts to document the presence of breeding birds. The Internet and personal computing technology are being used like never before to crowd-source traditional observational data collected by a growing cadre of citizen scientists. Groups of people or individuals armed with laptops and app-laden smartphones are collectively logging everything from trash in the ocean and flying ants to cosmic rays and precipitation, giving working scientists access to oceans of new data and the revelations that come from subsequent analysis and interpretation.

In the realm of ecology, citizen science has gained a new standing as researchers have tapped into the potential of an interested public. Citizen science projects, mapping things like the presence and behaviors of bumblebees, manta rays, butterflies and bats, have fueled dozens of published studies.

It’s proven to be a powerful resource for Ben Zuckerberg, a professor of forest and wildlife ecology at CALS. North American birds and their distribution on a changing landscape are a primary focus of his research, a significant portion of which depends on data gathered by volunteer observers.

For instance, Zuckerberg and post-doctoral fellow Karine Princé drew on citizen science data to tell us that the cast of characters we see at our bird feeders in the winter is shifting, most likely due to climate change. Their study of wintering songbirds shows that some species, once rare during the Wisconsin winter, are shifting their ranges north, remaking the resident communities of birds that visit our backyard feeders.

The conclusions of the study rested on two decades of data gathered by thousands of citizen scientists through the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology’s Project Feederwatch.

“Birds have always been important environmental indicators,” Zuckerberg explains. Rapidly declining songbird populations in the 1950s and 1960s, he notes, were used to help ascertain the consequences of widespread use of the chemical insecticide DDT, which was subsequently banned, first in Wisconsin and then nationally.

The DDT story was famously informed by the unintended involvement of ordinary citizens who gathered baseline data in the form of bird eggs. In the 19th century, collecting bird eggs was a widespread hobby, an artifact of the Victorian obsession with the natural world. Many collections ended up in museums where, decades later, CALS ornithologist Joseph Hickey and his students used them to document the thinning of eggshells subsequent to the widespread introduction of DDT into the environment in the 1940s and ’50s.

Today the contributions of citizen scientists tend to be more directed, and the advent of personal computers and smartphones, in particular, are making participation easier, more immediate and more effective. And a prime example of that trend is the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas, a collaborative project by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative and the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory.

This year, the group launched a second iteration of the Atlas. Zuckerberg and other scientists are working with Atlas coordinators and waiting in anticipation of a flood of new data from the project, which recruits volunteers statewide to survey thousands of designated blocks over a five-year period for evidence of breeding birds.

The first Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas featured data collected by nearly 1,600 volunteers between 1995 and 2000. As its name implies, the Atlas is a survey that documents the distribution and abundance of birds breeding in Wisconsin. It provides critical baseline information about bird species that live in our state and is an important benchmark in terms of assessing potential changes in bird populations over time due to things like habitat loss and climate change. It also helps document avian diversity, the state of endangered and rare bird species, and habitat needs in Wisconsin.

Such data, explains Zuckerberg, help scientists make sense of a world that involves players ranging from microbes to plants and animals, including birds. There are so many moving parts that capturing a wide snapshot of what exists where at a given point in time can give scientists insightful information about the dynamics, nuances and health of an ecosystem.

“Ecology is necessarily a messy endeavor,” Zuckerberg observes. “But at certain scales, it all becomes very clear.”

Drawing on things like Breeding Bird Atlas data, Zuckerberg and other scientists can get at the scales that matter: geography and time. As the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II effort gets under way, ecologists are laying the groundwork for analyzing the data by formulating hypotheses and ideas about what the data might show and how it will compare to data in the first iteration of the Atlas, which, according to the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology, “represented the largest coordinated field effort in the history of Wisconsin ornithology.”

Data collection for the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II began in 2015 and runs through 2019. In September the DNR released findings for the first Atlas season. Volunteers submitted nearly 24,000 checklists documenting the location and breeding activity of 229 species of birds. These early data show that wild turkeys are on the move, now populating nearly every corner of our state. And eight species of birds new to the Wisconsin breeding landscape since the last survey—including the iconic whooping crane—have cropped up in the new Atlas data.

“The stories that come out of the data are so robust,” Zuckerberg says. “We go in with our ideas of what we’re going to uncover, and some of the patterns just jump out at us.”

The major advantage of the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas, according to noted ornithologist Stan Temple, a CALS emeritus professor in forest and wildlife ecology, is that it documents the relationship between birds and the places they require to successfully reproduce. “Habitat affinity is where the Atlas works best,” Temple explains.

Temple cites other long-standing citizen science efforts to document birds. The North American Breeding Bird Survey was officially launched in 1966. Conducted during the breeding season, volunteers traverse by car more than 3,700 randomly selected 24.5-mile road transects in the United States and Canada. Stopping every half-mile, volunteers document every bird seen or heard in a three-minute span before moving to the next observing station. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Temple argues, is the gold standard for measuring population trends among birds.

A more recent citizen science effort—one that capitalizes on personal computing technology and helps inform the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas—is the aforementioned eBird. Taking old-fashioned pen and paper checklists into the digital age, eBird is an online checklist linked to a central database. Used by amateur and professional birders, eBird logs millions of bird observations worldwide in any given month through a simple and intuitive web interface. The Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II is the first state Atlas effort to employ it.

“We’re in the information age now,” explains Nick Anich, the Wisconsin DNR Breeding Bird Atlas coordinator. “We have eBird. We’re excited to use this new system. The developers have put an awful lot of effort into the checklist input, and they just launched the maps function. And the data update at least every 24 hours, so we can see things in real time.”

But can the information gathered by armies of citizen scientists be trusted? Can it help researchers predict the future of Wisconsin’s environment? How is it validated? Can scientists get over any qualms they might have about data collected beyond the strict parameters of controlled experiments and expert observation?

Zuckerberg, who has published on the use and value of crowd-sourced data, believes that many scientists are coming around to the idea that the data indeed represent an accurate picture of the natural world. “There has always been some skepticism about it in ecology. But studies show it is valuable data that are relatively accurate for picking up ecological patterns and processes,” Zuckerberg says.

“There are entire subfields of ecology dependent on these data. Theories in macroecology and how species respond to widespread environmental changes, such as pollution or climate change, for example,” Zuckerberg observes, referencing the study of relationships between living organisms and their environments at large spatial scales. “We wouldn’t be able to do anything like that without citizen science.”

That kind of insight is essential, Zuckerberg stresses, as broad-scale environmental change due to pollution, deforestation, reforestation and climate change will have significant and possibly lasting effects on birds in many different types of ecosystems.

According to Temple, the power of citizen science lies in the sheer numbers of observers. As a new CALS faculty member in 1976, Temple launched the Wisconsin Checklist Project. “The Wisconsin Checklist Project did in the predigital age what eBird does now,” Temple explains. “It is a rigorous way of engaging lots of bird-watchers in a very systematic way.”

For the most part, Temple says, the data are trustworthy. “Bird-watchers are used to keeping records, so you’re not asking them to do anything that already isn’t part of the culture. Mistakes in observing and recording happen, but it is safe to say those few errors become insignificant noise in comparison to the strength of the signal: the overwhelming number of accurate observations.”

For atlasers like Florence Edwards-Miller, a 31-year-old communications specialist from Madison, the chance to go into the field and gather data blends neatly with her deep-felt appreciation of the natural world.

Trekking through the prime birding habitat of Madison’s Nine Springs E-way on a rainy midsummer morning, Edwards-Miller is on a mission. An experienced birder, she knows she can confirm any number of breeding birds that use the settling ponds of Madison’s Metropolitan Sewerage District to raise their broods. And she is eager to contribute those little bits of data to the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas effort.

“You can’t make good decisions unless you know what’s out there,” says Edwards-Miller. “I believe in science. I believe in the importance of the data.”

In a little more than an hour, she confirms the presence of breeding mallards, Canada geese and red-winged blackbirds—all pedestrian wetland species—by noting offspring and, in the case of the blackbirds, a cantankerous distraction display.

It takes a little longer to find the killdeer fledglings, but at the end of our circuit around the pond, there they are: little puffballs on stilts trailing behind their foraging parents. It’s a beautiful sight. And another valuable data point for the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas.

A Portrait of Hmong in Wisconsin

Image provided by UW–Madison Applied Population Laboratory

Image provided by UW–Madison Applied Population Laboratory

The population of Hmong in Wisconsin is still growing, but more slowly than in the 1990s—and, as of 2010, most Hmong living in Wisconsin were born in the United States. While the 1990s saw a significant reduction in poverty among Hmong, they made fewer gains in this century’s first decade. Nearly one in five Hmong remain below the poverty level.

These are some findings recently published in Hmong in Wisconsin: A Statistical Overview, a report by the UW–Extension/CALS-based Applied Population Laboratory, drawing upon data from
the U.S. Census, the American Community Survey and Wisconsin state health and public instruction agencies.

The report provides valuable information for state and local agencies, educators and other organizations that work with Hmong in Wisconsin, notes Dan Veroff, a UW–Extension demographic specialist and report co-author.

“It provides a broad range of data to both contextualize and understand the assets and needs of Hmong communities,” says Veroff. “Information in the report has been used to design educational programs, improve services for Hmong communities, apply for grants, and set the table for more focused outreach or research.”

One example comes from Yang Sao Xiong, who joined UW–Madison in 2013 as the first tenure-track faculty member in Hmong American Studies. Xiong notes that the high percentage of Hmong K–12 students (including those born in the U.S.) who are classified as limited English proficient, or LEP, is “alarming”: “It is likely that in some Wisconsin counties and school districts, Hmong students are over-identified as LEP students.” Making those circumstances publicly visible in a report is important for encouraging further investigation, he says.

Other findings include:

• The 2010 U.S. Census reported that some 47,000 Hmong live in Wisconsin, the state with the third-largest Hmong population, after California and Minnesota.
• The Hmong population is concentrated in a handful of counties. Milwaukee County has almost twice the Hmong population of the second-highest county, Marathon.
• The percentage of Hmong who speak English at home more than doubled between 2000 and 2010.
• Labor force participation and educational attainment both improved significantly for the Hmong between 2000 and 2006–2010. However, the recession appears to have attenuated some of the potential economic gains that might have occurred otherwise.

The report is available for viewing or downloading at http://www.apl.wisc.edu/publications/hmong_chartbook_2010.pdf

New Frontiers for No-Till

New Frontiers for No-TillWhen Jason Cavadini, assistant superintendent of the CALS-based Marshfield Agricultural Research Station, first started working at the station in spring 2013, he was told that no-till wouldn’t work in the area, with its heavy, poorly drained soils. But he still wanted to give it a try.

“Here in central Wisconsin, a big concern is, what do we do with the water? How do we get it to drain better? If no-till allows the soil to do that naturally, in our opinion it’s the best way,” says Cavadini. His interest in the method stems from experience on his family’s farm near La Crosse, where they have successfully used no-till planting for nearly 20 years.

Conventional tillage often involves turning and pulverizing the soil before planting with multiple passes of a tractor to chisel-plow, disk and smooth out the field. There are many advantages to this approach, including setting back weeds, helping the soil to dry and ensuring good seed-to-soil contact. However, it’s also fraught with issues such as soil compaction and erosion.

No-till, on the other hand, involves the use of a planter that seeds directly into the soil without the complete disruption and inversion of the surface. This alternative option, which has been shown to work well in other areas with other soil types, has reduced environmental impacts and helps build long-term soil structure. There’s also an economic benefit. “Fewer trips across the field with equipment means less fuel used,” notes Cavadini. “We have cut fuel usage and labor associated with spring planting by more than 50 percent since implementing no-till.”

Making the switch to no-till, however, involves some trial and error. Cavadini thought, “What better place to give it a try than the Marshfield station?”

“We started a group we’re calling Central Wisconsin No-Tillers,” Cavadini says. “We set a planter here on the station with different combinations of no-till tools. After we finished planting in the spring of 2014, we invited people to the station and told them what we found with our research planter. About 10 farmers showed up, but it was a very productive meeting, and we tried to address things that they were questioning.”

When Cavadini held a meeting for the group the following year, 46 farmers appeared.

So far, the no-till approach is working well at Marshfield, and the research station has expanded its use to include more crops. Corn was the starting point—“We experienced some of our highest corn yields ever on the station this year in no-till fields,” notes Cavadini—and now about 80 percent of the station’s plantings are done with no-till, including soybeans, wheat and alfalfa.

“A long-term, no-till soil that is firm at the surface but takes in water readily is what we are really trying to achieve here,” Cavadini says. “If we are successful, that will solve a lot of the challenges that central Wisconsin farmers face here every year.”

PHOTO—Jason Cavadini has had success with no-till on crops at the Marshfield Agricultural Research Station.

Photo by Sevie Kenyon BS’80 MS’06

Keeping Us Safe

It’s hard to believe now, but when the Food Research Institute (FRI) was established in 1946—two years prior to the founding of the World Health Organization—botulism and salmonellosis were poorly understood, and staphylococcal food poisoning was just beginning to be elucidated. Many otherwise well-known diseases were only alleged to be food-borne, and the causes of many known foodborne illnesses had yet to be established.

Now the oldest U.S. academic program focused on food safety, FRI moved from the University of Chicago to the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1966 under the leadership of bacteriology professor Edwin “Mike” Foster.

And ever since, FRI has served as a portal to UW–Madison’s food safety expertise for food companies in Wisconsin, in the U.S. and around the world. Housed within CALS, the institute is an interdepartmental entity with faculty from bacteriology, animal sciences, food science, plant pathology, medical microbiology and immunology, and pathobiological sciences, drawing not only from CALS but also from the School of Medicine and Public Health and the School of Veterinary Medicine.

FRI offers a wealth of educational opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students. Since 2011, FRI has coordinated its Undergraduate Research Program in Food Safety, which provides students with hands-on experience in basic science and applied investigations of food safety issues. FRI faculty and staff have trained hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students, post-docs, visiting scientists and research specialists throughout the years, and FRI alumni have gone on to hold positions in industry, government and academia across the country and abroad.

In keeping with the Wisconsin Idea, FRI’s reach extends well beyond campus boundaries through industry partnerships, especially with its 40 sponsor companies. The Applied Food Safety Lab and laboratories of FRI faculty collaborate with food processors to identify safe food formulations and processing techniques. The institute also provides outreach and training to both food companies and the greater scientific community through meetings, short courses, conferences and symposia.

“FRI is an outstanding example of how a public-private partnership can benefit the academic mission of UW–Madison and the needs of the Wisconsin food industry,” says FRI director Charles Czuprynski.

During the past 70 years, FRI has made many insights into the causes and transmission of foodborne diseases. Early on, FRI research established methods to identify and detect staphylococcal enterotoxins. Work conducted by FRI scientists pioneered understanding of the molecular mechanisms of botulinum toxin production and led to the harness of the toxin for biomedical uses. FRI faculty are leaders in mycotoxin research and have made important contributions to understanding the shedding of E. coli O157 by cattle, survival of Salmonella in stressful conditions and the role of Listeria in foodborne disease. FRI research also identified the health benefits of conjugated linoleic acid in foods of animal origin and conditions that might result in formation of undesirable components in processed foods.

Looking to the future, FRI research is investigating novel mechanisms to prevent food-borne pathogen growth in meat and dairy products, interaction of plant pathogens and pests with human food-borne pathogens, food-animal antibiotic alternatives, and the role of the microbiome in health and disease.

FRI will celebrate its 70th anniversary at its 2016 Spring Meeting May 18–19 at the Fluno Center on the UW–Madison campus. There’s also a reception on May 17 at Dejope Hall, near the grounds of the original FRI building. For more information about FRI and anniversary events, visit fri.wisc.edu.

Cows for Kids

Ruth McNair, a senior editor at the CALS-based Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, recently published a charming children’s book titled Which Moo Are You?

The picture book, illustrated by McNair’s daughter Molly McNair, introduces young readers to a variety of calves, each one distinguished by a key personality trait, as they explore, play, eat and sleep on a farm. Characters include a shy calf, a curious one, a friendly calf and many others. The story ends with a positive message about how we are much more than the labels that others assign to us.

The book, appropriate for ages 2–6, is full of fun rhymes and engaging pencil and watercolor illustrations.

Ruth McNair lives on a farm that hosts grazing dairy heifers during the growing season, and has also been the home of sheep, goats, donkeys, chickens, rabbits and even a llama. Seeing animal-loving kids at farm events inspired her to write the book, she says.

Molly McNair is a costume designer and maker, with a special interest in historical costume. She has a variety of artistic interests and a love of animals.

The book is available for $16.99 from No Bull Press at nobullpressonline.com.

Milk, Motherhood and the Dairy Cow

In the 1990s, dairy farmers were seeing a troubling trend in their herds. As cows produced more milk, their reproductive performance declined. This downward slope in reproduction, related to changes in the hormone metabolism of high-producing cows, spurred researchers into action. And CALS scientists found a solution—a reproductive synchronization system that could save Wisconsin dairy farmers more than $50 million each year.

“The development of these systems has been one of the greatest technological advances in dairy cattle reproduction since artificial insemination,” says Paul Fricke, a CALS professor of dairy science and a UW–Extension specialist. “It is highly, highly significant.”

For the past 20 years, Fricke has been working on the synchronization systems with fellow dairy science professor Milo Wiltbank. The systems, called Ovsynch, consist of treatments with naturally occurring hormones and are based on Wiltbank’s research into the basic biology of the cow reproductive cycle. The hormonal treatments synchronize the cycles so that farmers know when their cows are most likely to become pregnant.

Pregnancy rates in a herd are a product of two numbers: the service rate (the percentage of eligible cows that are inseminated) and the conception rate (the number of inseminated cows that become pregnant). Historically, farmers relied on visually recognizing when cows were in heat in order to time insemination—a tricky feat that often resulted in missed opportunities and low service rates.
“One of the biggest problems in dairy cattle reproduction is seeing the cows in heat,” says Fricke. “If you can proactively control the reproductive cycle, you can inseminate cows without waiting for them to show heat.”

Synchronization systems take the guesswork out of insemination, increasing service rates and pregnancy rates. Since the technology was first published in the mid-1990s, Fricke, Wiltbank and their colleagues have worked to optimize the systems. Researchers now see conception rates of more than 50 percent, and pregnancy rates of 30 percent or higher. Just 15 years ago, average conception and pregnancy rates were around 35 and 15 percent, respectively. A 30 percent pregnancy rate in herds producing high volumes of milk was unimaginable.

With impressive pregnancy rates and the safety of the system—the natural hormones used are short-lived and do not end up in food products—researchers and farmers alike are excited about further adoption of the technology. The payoff is substantial, considering the costs and benefits of breeding dairy cows, says Kent Weigel, professor and chair of the Department of Dairy Science.

“If we say that this technology will result in a 6 percent improvement in pregnancy rates, and we assume that it costs about $4 for each extra day that a cow is not pregnant, the technology could save Wisconsin dairy farmers about $58 million per year with just 50 percent of farmers using it,” explains Weigel. “This is a prime example of basic biology that turned out to have a practical application with huge economic benefits.”

PHOTO—Dairy scientist Paul Fricke has developed a way to inseminate cows before they show signs of being in heat.

Photo by Sevie Kenyon BS’80 MS’06

Class Act: Erik Sanson

Entomology might seem like an unlikely research area for an undergrad whose goal is medical school. But biology major Erik Sanson has clocked in many hours of lab time studying deer ticks—more specifically, Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacterium transported by deer ticks—because of its role in causing Lyme disease.

“Entomology sparked my interest as a young undergraduate because it deals with public health issues throughout the state of Wisconsin,” says Sanson, who works in the lab of entomology professor Susan Paskewitz.

His research on genotypes of Borrelia burgdorferi is a good example, he says. “Lyme disease is prevalent in the Midwest, and analyzing possible new strains of the disease can help alert physicians in the area. This would allow them to establish better treatment plans and prevention for their patients.”

Sanson’s been conducting research in medical entomology since his freshman year under the auspices of the Undergraduate Research Scholars (URS) program, which offers research positions to freshmen and sophomores from historically underrepresented groups on campus. Sanson now serves as a URS Fellow, a position in which he mentors a group of URS underclassmen in their projects.

That’s not his only service gig. He’s president of the CALS Student Association, a CALS Student Ambassador, and a mentor with the PEOPLE Program, offering support and guidance to a dozen freshmen throughout the year. Off campus, he has provided in-home patient care as a Certified Nursing Assistant and a Certified Phlebotomy Technician, and he has volunteered at Meriter and William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans hospitals.

Sanson hopes to continue that path of service as a physician.

“I’d like to pursue a career relating to research or public health in urban areas,” he says. “For research, I’m interested in pursuing an MD–Ph.D. dual degree, where I can focus on infectious diseases relating to human illnesses. If I choose the public health route, I’d like to focus on urban areas, working to reduce health disparities and promote health equity to all communities.”

Ecuador: Better Health through Messaging

Some communities in Ecuador face high incidences of water-borne illness because of contaminated water or poor hygiene and sanitation. It’s a multipronged problem calling for an interdisciplinary approach combining natural, medical and social sciences. Bret Shaw, a CALS professor of life sciences communication, last year helped implement a social science approach with funding from the UW–Madison Global Health Institute.

“I used a social marketing perspective, which utilizes psychological and communication tools, to try to help villagers make lasting behavior changes in how they interact with water and sanitation,” explains Shaw.

Shaw worked with two undergraduates, Lauren Feierstein and Brenna O’Halloran, to create health behavioral prompts—small signs in Spanish left in important areas where a reminder to wash hands is vital, such as in bathrooms, near sinks and on bottles of water. Since many people in the community have limited literacy, it was important for the prompts to use images and very few words.

While the concept can seem intuitive, years of research show that the most effective prompts focus on self-efficacy—showing individuals how easy a behavior is—and making sure that the people in the graphic are relatable to the target population. The images and words Shaw’s team used were as specific as possible, showing an individual washing his or her hands with just a simple phrase underneath.

“Understanding the perspectives on why someone wouldn’t do something such as boil their water or wash their hands was very important,” says Feierstein, who also worked with residents on making and distributing organic soap. “Knowing those barriers was crucial to addressing the issue from all angles.”

The project was an extension of a course called “Water for Life Sustainability and Health,” a partnership between the Madison-based Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation and the Global Health Institute. The course is led by Catherine Woodward, a faculty associate with UW–Madison’s Institute for Biology Education and president of the Ceiba Foundation. Shaw was brought in to offer guidance about how social marketing strategies can encourage healthy behavior.

“I’m a biologist and most of the people we work with are biologists, so having a communications person on board was a critical part of getting the message out,” says Woodward. “And not just about the message and having people understand why it’s a good idea to conserve natural resources—but also to actually get them to change their behavior.”

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

Max Pfeffer MS’79

Max Pfeffer is a senior associate dean and an international professor of development sociology with Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. His interest in community and environmental sociology was fueled by a personal experience. His parents were farmers in Germany, and when they immigrated to the United States after World War II, they continued farming in their adopted home amid the fluctuation of agriculture and the broader economy of the post-war period. His studies at CALS eventually allowed him to examine those changes from a scholarly perspective. His CALS experience also gave him the perspective and confidence to go into the world and make meaningful contributions through his work, he says. That work includes teaching environmental sociology and sociological theory as well as researching rural labor markets, international migration, land use and environmental planning. Pfeffer, who earned his Ph.D. in sociology at UW–Madison, has published a wide range of scholarly articles and has written or co-edited four books. In his spare time, he enjoys gardening and hiking with his wife, Pilar Parra PhD’89, who is also a CALS alum.

Lisa Wilson-Wright PhD’01

As a director at the Massachusetts-based NMR Group, Inc., Lisa Wilson-Wright leads studies that evaluate energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. She has extensive experience in the use of quantitative and qualitative research techniques to help inform energy efficiency, clean energy and environmental policy. Clients of NMR include electric and gas utilities, energy regulators and nonprofits. “I find it extremely fulfilling to see firsthand how clients use the results of our studies to improve programs, thereby saving energy, reducing customers’ bills and limiting greenhouse gas emissions,” she says. Working at NMR, Wilson-Wright finds the skills developed in CALS useful on a daily basis in developing surveys, analyzing data, authoring reports, presenting findings—and, ultimately, in asking difficult questions and delving deeper into the data to find answers. Wilson-Wright also serves on the board of the Farm Direct Coop, a nonprofit member organization that distributes locally grown organic food.

Kimberlee Wright BS’85

Kimberlee Wright was born and raised in central Illinois. Living where Abraham Lincoln first practiced law inspired her to value and strive for social justice, she says. Her love of the natural world was inspired by her grandmother, a master gardener and naturalist. Earning a bachelor’s degree in community and environmental sociology at CALS, followed by a JD from the UW–Madison School of Law, allowed her to combine those two passions—a course she has continued pursuing throughout her career. Wright serves as executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates, a nonprofit environmental law center that strives to protect and improve the health of water, land and air throughout the state. Previously she served as the director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy and as the executive director for Domestic Abuse Intervention Services. “More than anything, my education at CALS connected me to the families of rural Wisconsin and their love of place,” says Wright. “It’s such a privilege to be working with people who stand up for the rights of future generations to clean water, air and land. Our conservation ethic in Wisconsin is second to none.”