In Vivo: Passing the Torch

It was baptism by manure.

My first story for Grow, as the new editor, was talking with students in John Parrish’s reproductive physiology class over in the Old Dairy Barn during their first attempts to artificially inseminate a cow.

Grow editor Joan Fischer retires after more than six years with CALS.

This was only one of many hands-on tasks students performed as they learned the fundamentals of modern cattle breeding, including syncing a cow’s reproductive system and using ultrasound to determine pregnancy. But as students prepped for the procedure with gloved hands and arms, one could see it was the most daunting.

“The students are nervous,” I observed. “The cows, not so much. But only because they don’t know what’s coming.”

It was a great introduction to CALS. The openness and patience of the instructor, the enthusiasm and good humor of the students, the pursuit of knowledge that promises tangible improvements to our world: those were all qualities I came to recognize and value as the CALS signature, and I had the good fortune to see them again and again over the course of six-plus years and 20 magazines in stories that I wrote and edited.

As you may have surmised, I am moving on—heading off to retirement in California, where I grew up. In departing I am joined by two other retirees: Diane Doering, a graphic designer with CALS for 38 years—she designed Grow when it launched in 2007, and she’s designed every issue since—and Sevie Kenyon, whose superb photographs have graced so many issues (see the beautiful sunflower on page 2), in addition to his other communications and audiovisual work with CALS over the past 15 years.

But no worries, we will be succeeded by talented people who will keep Grow strong. I say this with certainty because we’ve already got a great new editor, starting with the next issue: Nik Hawkins (photo left), who comes to us from the UW–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, where he has been director of communications and public relations since 2012. His duties included serving as the chief editor, writer and photographer for the school’s flagship publication On Call, which Hawkins last fall transformed from a tabloid newsletter into a magazine.

Hawkins is excited about coming to CALS. “I’m a longtime admirer of Grow, and I’ve always been impressed by what it showcases within its pages,” he says. “CALS and its alumni seem to produce an endless supply of wonderful work that can improve the lives of people in Wisconsin and beyond. And so often this work engages the people it’s designed to help in the search for better solutions. Through Grow, I hope to continue telling compelling stories of these partnerships.”

It has been a genuine pleasure to highlight these compelling stories and share them with the wider world. Thank you, CALS community, for making my job so gratifying.

Growing Veggies with City Kids

Natalie Hogan, a sophomore majoring in dietetics and Spanish, hopes to practice nutrition education in schools, teaching kids about healthy foods. This past summer she honed her skills by gardening and cooking with school-age children in the Young Scientists Club, a program run by the Milwaukee-based Urban Ecology Center. Most of the kids were of Latino and African American backgrounds, and many live in neighborhoods where fresh produce is hard to come by.

In addition to preparing dishes like whole wheat pizza with fresh veggies—a big hit, Hogan says—kids took part in lessons about nutrition, sustainability and climate change, including such concepts as sustainable agriculture and carbon footprints from farm to table.

Hogan and her project partner, sophomore Katherine Piel, developed their curriculum through a Wisconsin Open Education Community Fellowship, an award totaling up to $6,000 offered by the Division of Continuing Studies and the Morgridge Center for Public Service.

Hogan learned as much from the children as they learned from her. The kids at the Urban Ecology Center’s Menomonee Valley branch were excited about gardening— planting, watering, harvesting and even weeding—while kids at Washington Park loved to cook. Hogan and Piel tailored lessons to suit those preferences, recognizing that enthusiasm is a key ingredient in learning.

The experience led Hogan to broaden her career goals. She still wants to teach children, but she’d like to include families and the larger community. “The parents are the ones buying the groceries and cooking the meals,” says Hogan. “In order to make a difference, I must work to make an impact on parents, educators, policy makers—on all those who play a role in the health of our planet and people.”

And she relished the small victories, like getting 8-year-old Victorio to eat a radish. Initially he made a “yuck” face, but out in the garden, after being the first to spot the red tops, he took charge of harvesting, washing, cutting and adding them to a salad.

“When it came time to eat them, he described them as ‘crunchy and spicy, but still pretty good!’” says Hogan. “That was a positive experience because we could see his change in attitude. And he wasn’t the only one!”

A Place to Belong

They sell holiday roasts and turkeys, fix lawn mowers and snowblowers for the public, grow and give away fruits and vegetables and volunteer in school classrooms. They present posters, hold fun runs and bike rides, give talks at national conferences and help manage wildlife around the state. They conduct community service and research projects around the world, doing their part to keep the Wisconsin Idea global.

And for the most part they do it themselves, with minimal assistance from faculty and staff.

These are just a few examples of activities conducted by members of student organizations, the hands-on social and preprofessional groups— nearly 1,000 of them are registered on the UW–Madison campus— that allow students to cultivate significant life skills while also creating community.

And they’re a vital part of student life at CALS. Sarah Pfatteicher, CALS associate dean for academic affairs, sees student orgs—along with such activities as internships, independent research and study abroad—as a crucial component for students to take their learning “beyond the classroom,” to make their time at CALS an experience they have tailored by pursuing their unique blend of interests.

They’re also a great way to make a big campus feel more like home, Pfatteicher notes. “We tell students, ‘You wouldn’t move to a city of 60,000 people and expect to suddenly know everything about the city,’” she says. “You pick a neighborhood within that city, and you get to know your neighbors, you get to know the restaurant on the corner.”

Of all the enriching activities available to students, Pfatteicher notes, the key advantage of student organizations is embedded in the name. “Student orgs are student-organized, right? They allow students themselves to identify interests, develop their own bylaws, set their own membership requirements—to come together and really be in charge of what they’re doing. That helps develop student autonomy and maturity in ways that other experiences maybe can’t.”

And let’s not forget they’re a lot of fun. Here’s what a half dozen student orgs at CALS are up to.

Helping Wild Wisconsin 

Once upon a time, elk roamed plentifully throughout the land that would become Wisconsin. By the late 1800s they had vanished from the landscape, victims of overhunting and loss of habitat. Efforts to reintroduce elk in northern Wisconsin have expanded in recent years—and the UW–Madison chapter of The Wildlife Society (TWS), the nation’s premier society for wildlife professionals, has been part of the effort.

Over the past three years, students have worked with elk herds alongside wildlife managers and volunteers. They put their muscles and passion into building fencing for large pens— one of them 1,600 feet long and eight feet high, encompassing four acres— used to contain elk being moved from Clam Lake to vacant elk habitat southeast of Winter. Recently students helped take down that fence and move materials to the Flambeau River State Forest, where a seven-acre pen will be built to quarantine elk brought in from Kentucky.

Laine Stowell, an elk biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, is grateful for the students’ assistance. “Their participation provides an abundance of enthusiasm and youthful strength,” notes Stowell. “We get a lot of work done in a short period of time, and all it costs us is food and lodging. We share our experience and time, they share their efficient effort, and we all accomplish excellent things for Wisconsin elk!”

Recent chapter president Lucas Olson BS’16 counts working on elk reintroduction among his most cherished TWS memories. As icing on the cake, he received a scholarship from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in part for his student leadership in that effort.

Like many TWS members at UW, Olson is proud of the group’s special legacy in Wisconsin. “Wildlife management’s roots can be attributed to one of UW–Madison’s own—Aldo Leopold,” he notes. “Leopold’s tie to our department gives me a huge sense of pride. Leopold’s connection to TWS is one of great importance as well, as he was one of the first presidents as the society was taking off in the late 1930s. My involvement with TWS has been richer because of this, and has made my experience at UW– Madison extremely significant.”

In addition to hands-on wildlife management help, UW TWS activities include birding, helping with prairie burning and research projects, participating in regional and national conferences (including an annual quiz bowl at the national meeting), and holding an annual game dinner and fundraiser.

“I am in my major—wildlife ecology—because of the club,” says senior Daniel Erickson. “Through all the classes and field trips, I have made such a great group of long-lasting friends and connections with professors. TWS allowed me to realize that I have always had a passion for animals, nature and the great outdoors.”

Good Food for All 

Students who study nutrition understand the importance of healthy food. And, as members of the Dietetics and Nutrition Club (DNC), they are committed to sharing their knowledge and excitement about healthy food with people of all ages, from all walks of life.

Hanna Hindt participates in a club program with Porchlight, a Madison nonprofit offering emergency shelter and other support services for the homeless. “We get to talk with members of the community and answer questions about their own diet and food choices and those of their friends and family,” she says. “It’s a great way to apply what we’ve been learning in our nutrition classes.”

And, since Hindt hopes to have a career working with people for whom buying food is a constant challenge, the experience offers good professional training as well. “I’m able to get a feel for what a typical diet is for the low-income population—the daily challenges they face, and common health problems within this group,” Hindt says. “This background will help me approach and personalize nutrition counseling and offer reasonable and manageable options and advice within their limitations.”

Fellow DNC member Jackson Moran participates in club activities with REAP, a nonprofit that strengthens ties between growers, consumers and community institutions. DNC students help out at REAP events including Chef in the Classroom, where local chefs prepare meals with kids, and Family Food Fest, a community farm-to-school event. Moran has learned a lot about getting kids to eat their veggies. “It’s important for parents to be on board with a healthy diet, and to keep healthy foods available in the home,” Moran says. “Also, children will be much more likely to eat new, healthy foods when they can be involved in preparation, or have some interactive role.”

Other DNC activities include running exploration stations at Saturday Science in the UW–Madison Discovery Building and holding nutrition-themed Lunch & Learns—expert talks for faculty, staff and students. The club’s biggest annual event is “Dinner with Dietitians,” where club members pre-pare a meal for nutrition professionals at an evening of networking and panel discussion.

Recent DNC vice president Maria Gruetzmacher BS’16 helped plan that event, and cites that experience and many other DNC activities as pivotal to her personal and professional development.

“These experiences have taught me how to be more proactive and work collaboratively, and have strengthened my event-planning skills,” Gruetzmacher says. “With each event I participated in, I met new members, each with a different path and unique ideas. I was also able to meet practicing registered dietitians who allowed me to shadow them and provided meaningful advice.”

Ringing Success 

What makes a perfect dairy cow? It takes a trained eye to notice bovine features that hold great promise for the milking parlor. A tight udder, yes, but also the more subtle points: lean thighs, a sweeping rear slant to the ribs, a long neck, a fluid stride. And a skilled judge has to back up numeric scores by stating reasons in terms the dairy industry recognizes.

In other words, dairy judging takes some training. And that’s what students receive when they participate in the UW–Madison Dairy Judging Program, run through the CALS Department of Dairy Science. Students hailing from the Dairy State have a long, proud history of success, winning nearly a dozen national dairy judging team championships and scores of individual awards.

That success is extremely gratifying to coach Chad Wethal, who feels that the program offers students benefits well beyond academic credit. Dairy judging, he says, allows students to develop their decision-making and verbal communication skills—and it helps them build confidence.

“I am always amazed at how much they learn from each other,” notes Wethal. “There are many life skills that are built through participating in this program, but the key benefit is the camaraderie that is built within the team. Students can expect to form lifelong friendships with their fellow teammates.”

Students attest that the benefits run deep.

“When I entered the program I felt as though I saw cows very well, thanks to my 4-H dairy judging coaches and also my parents,” says Jordan Ebert, raised on a dairy farm, whose team placed second at a recent National Intercollegiate Dairy Judging Contest at World Dairy Expo. “Once I got into the program, my judging ability and public speaking expanded and improved. I added more terms and vocabulary, along with having more confidence and energy.”

And the rewards last long after students graduate. “You get to see all of your work and determination pay off when you realize just how much you have learned, not only about cows but also about yourself,” says Laura Elliott BS’12, reflecting on her team’s many honors during her dairy judging time at UW.

A Warm Welcome 

It can be tough to attend a school where you’re a racial or ethnic minority—and even tougher to choose a major in which others of your background are rarer still.

Enter “Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences”—MANRRS for short—a national professional development society with a vibrant student chapter based in CALS. Through regional and national conferences, scholarships, competitions, service activities and development opportunities that begin in middle school, MANRRS offers a warm welcome and support to students who might not otherwise see themselves in STEM careers.

“On a social level, MANRRS allowed for me to meet and be connected with individuals who looked like me working on higher degrees in academia,” says Maya Warren PhD’15, a longtime member and past national officer of MANRRS. “On a professional level, MANRRS has allowed me to hone in on my leadership skills in ways that I would have never expected.”

Warren is now a lead food scientist, aka “tastemaster,” with the food franchising company Kahala Brands, focusing on their portfolio brands Cold Stone Creamery and Pinkberry. She became a highly visible face of UW– Madison—and a role model of grit and grace for MANRRS members—when she and fellow food science grad student Amy DeJong two years ago won “The Amazing Race,” a reality show on CBS with a $1 million prize.

For many students, MANRRS comes to feel like a second family. Abagail Catania, a junior majoring in agricultural business management, joined Junior MANRRS while attending the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, a public magnet school. Over the years she went on to hold numerous leadership positions, including serving as UW chapter president beginning in her freshman year and also serving as a national officer.

“MANRRS has had a huge impact not only on my undergraduate experience, but on my life in general,” Catania says. “It provided me with a lot of support not only academically but professionally and personally as well. MANRRS has contributed to many of my successes while attending UW, including being offered an internship with John Deere as just a freshman.”

MANRRS secretary Emma Lopez, a senior food science major, credits MANRRS with helping her land an internship with Covance, a contract research organization providing drug development and animal testing services. Covance is one of several companies that regularly recruit MANRRS members.

“Covance values students who demonstrate a personal investment in their learning and development through participation in organizations such as MANRRS,” says Rebecca Verhulst, a senior manager with Covance in global university and diversity relations. “In our experience, the diverse perspectives and experiences of MANRRS’ talent helps us to think in new, different and insightful ways, delivering innovation in every patient room, at every lab bench and every client meeting.”

Meet Your Major 

Here’s a little-appreciated fact about biochemistry majors: they have to be a bit more patient than most students. A long run-up of science prerequisites keeps most of them busy their freshman and sophomore years, so that often their introduction to biochemistry gets pushed back.

They can help bridge that gap by immediately joining the Undergraduate Biochemistry Student Organization (UBSO), which brings biochem students together for faculty presentations and discussion, leads on job and internship opportunities, preprofessional advising, national conference attendance and “just fun” stuff like Picnic Point bonfires and ice-skating socials.

“It’s important for students to begin understanding their major as soon as possible,” says biochemistry professor Doug Weibel, who frequently gives talks for the group. “The biochem department has been actively reorganizing the curriculum to introduce biochemistry courses earlier. UBSO provides a complementary resource to our majors.”

It’s a resource that students appreciate. “UBSO is the one organization where everyone understands what you’re experiencing academically, as a biochemistry major, in terms of classes, research and applying for grants and internships,” says recent UBSO academic chair Quinn Vatland BS’16. “This meant that it was really easy to receive advice on which classes to take, what scholarships to apply for and even the best way to study the trp operon. The UBSO meetings themselves also let me get a lot of professional advice—resume workshops, career advising and research tips—but they are also pretty casual, so I made friends, too.”

Members take the “pay it forward” approach to heart when it comes to mentoring younger students.

“Every time there is a scared little freshman or sophomore that walks through the door and wants advice about getting into research or about classes, and what to take and how to study, I love it,” says recent UBSO president Amal Javaid BS’16. “I love answering questions and reassuring people that I’ve been through what they are going through, and it will be okay. Past officers did that for me when I was an underclassman, and now I take a lot of pleasure in giving back. This year we, as a board, have helped at least five underclassmen find research jobs, and that is definitely super refreshing and rewarding.”

Faculty members do some serious mentoring as well. Every year biochemistry professor Michael Cox takes a group of seniors to the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), where they compete in an undergraduate research poster competition.

“Our students always do very well,” Cox says with pride. “Our students this year represented less than 5 percent of the some 230 students from across the country in the competition. However, we took 25 percent of the prizes.”

UBSO is in the process of reorganizing to become a student chapter of the ASBMB, Cox notes. “This will make it part of a national organization, with a number of benefits,” Cox says.

Team Temptations 

They bear names like “Blissful Bites,” a vanilla yogurt nugget coated with crunchy oats, flax and puffed rice; “Pixie Dust,” freeze-dried, powdered fruit that becomes a smooth, nutritious drink when mixed with milk or water; and “Walking Wok,” a chicken and vegetable stir-fry wrapped in a gluten-free tortilla.

But as fun and delicious as these treats sound, they required the CALS student teams who created them to draw on everything they’d been learning in food science. The products were developed to compete in national food industry contests sponsored by Disney and Mars, Inc. And they had to meet exacting standards on everything from nutrition, taste and texture to food safety, shelf life, pricing and market appeal.

“Being on a product development team helped develop my critical thinking skills while teaching me more about the industry and how to be flexible, because in the competitions you are responsible for all aspects of the product,” says Amy Parr BS’16, who helped develop the Walking Wok. “It gives you at least a little bit of insight into everything.”

The food product development teams from CALS regularly take top prizes for their work—and no one is more impressed than food science professor Rich Hartel. “We teach them the basic science for them to apply—but other than that, these teams are completely student-driven. The students form their own teams, develop their own products and submit the product ideas to the competitions.” They also present their products at national conferences, where they have an opportunity to network with industry professionals.

These professionals, too, are impressed by CALS students, according to Tracy Matteson BS’99, an associate principal scientist at the Kraft Heinz Company who spent several years as a company recruiter and as a student competition judge— and who participated on food product development teams while at CALS. “The only thing that looks more impressive to an employer, beyond demonstrating strong communication and leadership skills, is being an engaged member of the product development teams,” she says.

Learn more about these and other student organizations at https://win.wisc.edu/organizations. 

CRISPR: The Promise and the Peril

DIETRAM SCHEUFELE, a CALS professor of life sciences communication, serves on a national panel examining the implications of human genome editing.

The committee, appointed late last year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, is examining the clinical, ethical, legal and social implications of the emerging technology. Genome editing holds great medical promise but also poses risks of off-target genetic alterations and raises fears it could irrevocably alter the human germline.

Led by UW–Madison law professor Alta Charo and MIT biologist Richard Hynes, the committee will specifically advise on questions about how risks should be quantified and whether some aspects of the technology should or should not go forward.

The ability to “edit” genes to target genetic defects became a much more plausible process with the advent of a technology called CRISPR (an acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), which can be used to precisely target and cut portions of a DNA sequence.

Controversy arose last year when a Chinese scientific team used CRISPR genome editing on non-viable human embryos. The experiment produced a number of “off-target events” that altered unintended parts of the genome.

Scheufele has published extensively in the areas of public opinion, political communication and public attitudes toward emerging technologies, including nanotechnology, synthetic biology, stem cell research, nuclear energy, and genetically modified organisms. Web of Science lists Scheufele’s publications among the 1 percent most-cited articles in the fields of general social science and plant and animal science. Scheufele also serves on two other committees for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine: a committee on “The Science of Science Communication: A Research Agenda,” and the Division on Earth and Life Studies (DELS) Advisory Committee.

What’s the focus of your panel?

The committee that I serve on deals with human gene editing research and its potential applications. That includes potential future uses that could alter the human germline, which means that edited genes would be passed on to subsequent generations as part of the human gene pool.

But of course there are a lot of applications of gene editing techniques in agriculture and the life sciences, with the attempts to use genetically modified male mosquitoes to combat the spread of the Zika virus being just one recent example.

What are the potential dangers?

Identifying potential problems or concerns is part of the committee’s charge, and our report will work very carefully through both the scientific complexities of the technology as well as ethical, regulatory or political challenges that might emerge. Many of these challenges are focused on specific applications, such as germline editing. Once germline alterations are introduced into the human population, some have argued, they might be difficult to reverse and to contain within a single community or even country.

In many ways, the benefits are much more clear-cut, especially when it comes to helping parents whose genome puts their biological children at risk of inheriting certain diseases. Many patient advocacy groups are especially excited about the potential for medical breakthroughs in this arena.

What is the charge of your study committee? Are there specific deliverables, and what is the timeline?

The National Academies gave the committee a fairly detailed Statement of Task that can be found on our committee’s web page [link provided below]. In short, we will examine the state of the science of human gene editing as well as the ethical, legal and social implications of its applications in biomedical research and medicine.

Our work actually follows a pretty tight timeline that includes a number of additional meetings and informationgathering sessions. Most of the committee deliberations are open to the public and webcast by the National Academies. Once complete, the draft report will be vetted in a very stringent review procedure. There also have been and will continue to be numerous opportunities for formal public input, including on the draft report. If everything goes according to plan, the report will be released in fall 2016.

What role will you play on it as a communication scientist? What expertise do you bring to the table?

Human gene editing shares a number of characteristics with other recent scientific breakthroughs. One of them is an extremely fast bench-to-bedside transition. In other words, the time it takes to translate basic research into clinical or even market applications is shorter than it has been in the past. New gene editing technologies such as CRISPR provide us with faster, cheaper and more accurate tools for gene editing. But that also means that we as a society must have many of the ethical, legal and social debates surrounding gene editing at the same time that we are developing potential applications.

That is why more and more scientists are calling for what Alan Leshner, former CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has described as an “honest, bidirectional dialogue” between the scientific community and the public. Interestingly, the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003 legislatively mandated public engagement through “regular and ongoing public discussions.” So the idea is not new, and researchers in the Department of Life Science Communication (LSC) at CALS were in fact involved in two long-term NSF center grants examining the societal impacts of nanotechnology and ways of building a better public dialogue. As a result, much of the research teaching we are doing here in the department focuses on how to best facilitate communication about emerging science among all relevant stakeholders in society.

What experiences from past science communication efforts inform your thinking about how best to communicate about gene editing?

Much of our work in LSC over the last few years has examined emerging areas of science that are surrounded by public opinion dynamics similar to what we might see for gene editing. This research has included work on public opinion on embryonic stem cell research, and also research on how non-expert audiences make sense of the risks and benefits of genetically modified organisms. Our research program has also led to regular engagements with policy communities in Wisconsin and in Washington, DC. When I co-chaired the National Academies’ Roundtable on Public Interfaces of the Life Sciences, for instance, I worked with bench scientists, social scientists and practitioners to build a better dialogue about emerging technologies between scientists and the public. g What aspects of gene editing seem to confuse or frighten people the most? We just collected two representative national surveys, tapping people’s views on synthetic biology, gene editing and other scientific breakthroughs. And our findings show that concerns about overstepping moral boundaries with potential applications of gene editing in humans and “blurring lines between God and man,” as the question was phrased, are definitely on people’s minds when thinking about this new technology. In LSC, we will continue to track public attitudes, especially surrounding the societal, ethical and regulatory questions that arise from applications of gene editing.

Obviously people are already reporting, writing, thinking and talking about CRISPR. Do you have any immediate recommendations for how to communicate about this subject?

It will be particularly important to keep two things in mind. First, this is an exciting area for science, but many of the questions and debates surrounding human gene editing will focus on ethical, moral or political rather than scientific questions. And we as scientists should be prepared to engage in those discussions, making sure that they are based on the best available science.

Second, having an honest dialogue among different stakeholders will require a conversation that is—at least in part—about values. And scientists will have to resist the intuitive urge to try and convince others by offering more scientific facts. Our own research and that of many colleagues has shown that the same scientific information will be interpreted very differently by audiences with different value systems. The same science, in other words, means different things to different people. And public reactions to many potential applications of gene editing will be no exception. g

PHOTO – Dietram Scheufele, professor of life sciences communication.

Photo by Sevie Kenyon

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.

Science for Citizens

Entomology professors Walter Goodman and David Hogg

Entomology professors Walter Goodman and David Hogg

CALS is acclaimed as one of the best schools in the nation for training top-notch researchers and practitioners. Less known is the fact that CALS offers challenging, creative courses to undergraduates from outside of the natural sciences as well—in keeping with the college’s mission to cultivate science literacy as a vital component of good citizenship. For many students, these classes may be their only exposure to college-level science.

Two classes exemplifying that mission are Entomology 201—“Insects and Human Culture” —and Plant Pathology 123, “Plants, Parasites and People.” Both are highly popular classes that use insects and plants as ways to connect students with essential information about the natural world.

“It offers a window to science as it relates to their everyday lives,” says plant pathology professor Mehdi Kabbage.

“This is really biology with insects on top of it,” says entomology professor Walter Goodman, who’s been teaching Ent 201 for more than 20 years. “We use insects as a vehicle for describing biology and looking at the practical aspects of biology, like agricultural entomology as well as medical entomology.”

Both classes engage students in a range of hands-on activities. In Entmology 201, students take home the tiny eggs of a tobacco hornworm, or Manduca sexta, and over a period of two months raise it to maturation, keeping a daily logbook in which they describe its metamorphosis from fat turquoise caterpillar to large brown moth. In Plant Pathology 123, each student is given a “mystery microbe” in a petri dish—a Pseudomonas aureofaciens bacterium, for example, or a Fusarium oxysporum fungus—and devise various experiments to determine which microbe they have.

The students are having fun—but they’re also sharpening their observational skills and learning about the scientific process as well as how to make and critique a scientific argument. Their engagement with science often has deep and far-reaching consequences.

Education major Tess Bashaw signed up for Entomology 201 simply to fulfill her science requirement— and instead, “It opened up so many roads to me,” she says. In addition to gaining new skills and information—“learning how to catch and pin insects, how to collect leeches in floods, how camouflage really works”—the course made her grow as a writer, she says.

The lessons stuck. And as a teacher of lowincome children, she’s been sharing those lessons in her classroom for the past decade. “I love teaching writing, and science is a favorite of mine,” Bashaw says.

Given the important mission and high student demand for this signature style of science education, CALS would like to expand offerings to more departments and more students.

To learn more about supporting those efforts, please contact Sarah Pfatteicher, CALS’ associate dean for academic affairs, at sarah.pfatteicher@wisc.edu, tel. (608) 262-3003. To make a gift, please visit supportuw.org/giveto/calssignature.

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.”

Class Act: Desire Smith

“Born and raised in a food desert in inner-city Milwaukee, I never thought I’d be standing in front of you today,” Desire Smith told a packed house on campus last spring. “The closest connection to agriculture I could make was to travel to the nearest Walmart to buy produce.”

Smith, a senior majoring in community and environmental sociology, was the only undergraduate among several speakers—including CALS Dean Kate VandenBosch— to address a meeting of the new Institute for Urban Agriculture and Nutrition (IUAN), a multi-organizational partnership seeking to grow the urban food economy.

Smith became interested in agriculture as a student at Milwaukee’s Vincent High School, where her biology teacher took her class on visits to the school’s greenhouse. “I was intrigued by the beauty,” she says, and soon got an after-school job there.

“But the more familiar I became with agriculture, the more confused I felt about what I, coming from an urban background, could possibly offer the field,” she recalls. “Was agriculture even an appropriate concern for me to have?”

She wants the path to agriculture to be clearer for other young people of her background and has focused on that goal. She serves as an intern with the Community and Regional Food Systems project, a multiyear effort headed by CALS soil science professor Stephen Ventura to analyze and strengthen food systems in a number of cities.

And this past summer she created and coordinated urban agriculture-focused sessions for some 40 high school students enrolled in PEOPLE, a program that brings socioeconomically diverse young people to campus each summer. Smith herself is a PEOPLE alumna.

After graduating, Smith plans to get hands-on farm experi- ence through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, a nonprofit that links volunteers with farmers. And after that she’s planning on graduate studies with a focus on urban agriculture.

She has her role model: Monica White, a professor in the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology. White has been an inspiring mentor to Smith.

“I look up to Monica White. I always tell her, ‘I want to be like you,’” Smith says with a laugh.

Connecting Our Ways of Knowing

In any other classroom, mention of planting “Three Sisters” might cause confusion. But in Becky Nutt’s science class at Oneida Nation High School, located on a tribal reservation in northern Wisconsin, most students know that the Three Sisters are corn, beans and squash, crops that in Native American tradition are planted together in a single mound.

Guided by Nutt, their questions focus on photosynthesis, the process by which plants like the Three Sisters convert sunlight into the energy they need to grow and produce oxygen. The lesson culminates with each student pretending to be an atom of a particular element in that process— oxygen, carbon or hydrogen—and “form bonds” by holding hands or throwing an arm around a classmate’s shoulders. It’s a fun lesson that resonates, judging by both the enthusiastic participation and the thoughtful entries each student writes afterward in a logbook.

The students know the lesson as part of a “pilot curriculum from UW–Madison,” as Nutt tells them—perhaps the easiest way to explain POSOH (poh-SOH), which is both the Menominee word for “hello” and an acronym for “Place-based Opportunities for Sustainable Outcomes and High Hopes.” The program is being developed in partner- ship with both Oneida and Menominee communities.

But what POSOH really represents is a new way of teaching science. Funded by a $4.7 million grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2011, the program has the mission of helping prepare Native American students for bioenergy and sustainability-related studies and careers. POSOH aims to achieve that by offering science education that is both place-based and culturally relevant, attributes that have been shown to improve learning.

“We’re hoping to help make science relevant to young people,” says CALS biochemistry professor and POSOH project director Rick Amasino. “Bioenergy and sustainability offer an entrée into broader science education.”

For Native American students, sustainability is an obvious fit for science discussion, Amasino notes. The Native American concept of thinking in “seven generations”—how the natural resource management decisions we make today could affect people far into the future—has sustainability at its foundation, and most Native American traditions reflect that value. The Three Sisters, for example, offer a way to discuss not only photosynthesis but also indigenous contributions to our knowledge of agronomy, including how mixed crops support long-term soil health and animal habitat.

An innovative program like POSOH is needed because current teaching methods are not proving effective with Native American students. Native American students score lower in reading and math than their white counter- parts in elementary and high school, and only a low percentage have ACT scores that indicate college readiness, according to “The State of Education for Native Students,” a 2013 report by The Education Trust. Other studies show higher dropout rates and unemployment among Native Americans—and, specifically, that Native Americans are vastly underrepresented in STEM fields as students, teachers and professionals.

Verna Fowler, president of the College of Menominee Nation, sees POSOH as offering a crucial connection. Her tribal community college, along with CESA 8, the state public education authority that includes the Menominee Indian School District, has been a key partner in developing and piloting POSOH. Other leading partners include Michigan State University and, within UW–Madison, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.

“POSOH takes you into science in the natural world and helps you relate your concepts and understanding so that you understand science is all around you,” says Fowler. “Sometimes that’s what we miss in our classrooms. A lot of students are afraid of science classes. They don’t realize what a scientific world they’re living in.”

In developing POSOH materials, Amasino serves as the go-to guy for verifying the science. “The main thing I do is work with everyone to keep the science accurate,” he says.

Curriculum development and other POSOH activities are led by CALS researcher and POSOH co-director Hedi Baxter Lauffer, who has a rich background in K–12 science education. In a previous project she worked with California state universities in developing a multiyear math and science education program with diverse ethnic communities in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Alongside her work with POSOH, Lauffer directs the Wisconsin Fast Plants Program, which operates worldwide.

From the start Lauffer saw POSOH as a trailblazing effort. “We wanted to create a model for how a culturally responsive science curriculum can emerge from the community it is serving,” she says. “There’s nothing else like it.”

Lauffer knew her group was on to something during early curriculum design sessions with local educators, Native American community elders and students, particularly when she participated in a talking circle with seventh- and eighth-graders from the Menominee Indian School District. The kids were asked a simple question: “How do you take care of the forest—and how does the forest take care of you?”

“They had all kinds of stories about the plants and animals that live there,” says Lauffer. “They were saying things like, ‘I take my nephew into the forest and teach him to pick up his trash. He needs to know that it’s a beautiful place to play.’ It was clear that their connection to nature was strong—and that’s an opportunity for making science learning relevant and valuable.”

Initial steps for curriculum development included building key institutional partnerships and forming teams for curriculum design that brought in a wide range of Native American voices. Team members include scientists, assessment professionals, and teachers of science, education and Native American culture, some of whom are field-testing the materials.

The group is creating curricula for grades seven through nine. Seventh grade is complete, comprised of a fat lesson book and accompanying DVD with graphics and other enrichment materials. The other grades will be completed by the end of 2015, the project’s final year.

Other POSOH activities include after-school science clubs facilitated by undergraduate interns who also serve as informal mentors. This work is conducted in partnership with the Sustainable Development Institute at the College of Menominee Nation under the direction of Kate Flick BS’06, who studied community and environmental sociology at CALS and now serves as POSOH’s education coordinator.

Thumbing through the seventh- grade lesson book, it is immediately clear that cultural relevance is placed front and center. A typical textbook might pay tribute to cultural relevance with sidebars while the main text carries on with “science as usual.” With POSOH materials, cultural relevance is embedded in the meat of the text.

The seventh-grade curriculum, for example, is called “Netaenawemakanak” —Menominee for “All My Relatives”— and its six units focus on various scientific aspects of the Menominee Forest, such as organisms, microhabitats and ecological interactions. Students learn how such terms as evidence, protocol and conceptual models are used in science and, as a final lesson, how to formulate their own stewardship action plan based on what they’ve learned.

And it’s not just what the students learn, but how they learn it. POSOH incorporates forms of teaching and learning that are rooted in Native American culture, such as:

• Storytelling—Scientific concepts are imparted through stories involving the everyday lives of young Native American protagonists as well as figures from Native American legends and folktales.

• Perspective-taking—Students are invited to look at ecosystems from the viewpoint of animals, plants and other natural resources.

• “Careful noticing”—Students use all their senses when getting to know an environment, paying close attention to what is and is not present. In an exercise in the forest, for example, students are asked not only what they see, smell and hear, but also, “How do the woods make you feel?”

“These are age-old practices in indigenous pedagogy, but they aren’t widely seen as such. They’re so fundamental that I think they’re often overlooked,” says Linda Orie, an enrolled member of the Oneida tribe who taught middle-school science at the Menominee Tribal School. She now works on the POSOH curriculum team.

Orie considers POSOH a huge eye- opener for students. “It’s probably one of the first times they’ve seen anything in science class that has anything to do with Native Americans or Native American contributions to science and forestry,” she says. “Especially for a Menominee, that’s really important because most of them live on the reservation and a lot of their parents are employed through the lumber mill.”

“So they live and breathe the forest, but they don’t often get that instruction in the classroom,” Orie continues. “It was a huge gaping hole in the curriculum when I started teaching at the tribal school.”

By drawing upon indigenous ways of teaching and learning, POSOH helps bridge a gap between how students experience nature and how knowledge about it is imparted in the classroom. POSOH team member Robin Kimmerer, for example, says that as a professor of forest biology and as a Native American, she’s had to work hard to reconcile two distinct perspectives.

“In science we are asked to objectify the world, to view it in a strictly material, intellectual way,” says Kimmerer, who earned her doctorate in botany at UW–Madison and now teaches at the State University of New York. “In indigenous ways of knowing, we’re reminded that we can understand the world intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually—and that we can’t really claim to understand something unless we engage all four elements,” she says. POSOH team member Justin Gauthier, an enrolled Menominee who as a teenager attended a Native American boarding school, has come to think of science as another language for indigenous ways of knowing nature. In science, he says, “They’re using numbers, they’re using experimentation. It’s just different language.”

That recognition helped science feel more approachable to him.

“I used to perceive science as being outside of my experience. It was meant for scientists to do in a lab in a white coat. When I started thinking about how it tied into the ways that I was thinking, I felt that it had always been a part of my life and I had just never given it much credence,” he says.

Gauthier, a returning adult student, is earning his bachelor’s degree in English at UW–Madison and plans to teach in a tribal college after earn- ing an MFA in creative writing. He serves POSOH as a curriculum writer. Gauthier suggested naming the seventh- grade curriculum Netaenawemakanak (“All My Relatives”) because it is often uttered as a kind of one-word prayer when entering and leaving the sweat lodge. To him, among other things, the word expresses Native American regard for nature.

POSOH is not only helping fill a gap in science education. Project intern McKaylee Duquain, a junior majoring in forest science, notes that POSOH is filling a gap in cultural knowledge among young Native Americans as well. As an enrolled Menominee who attended tribal schools, Duquain confesses to not knowing what the Three Sisters were until late in high school—and she learned about it on her own.

“It wasn’t even offered when I was a student,” she says. “I’m not the most traditional person out there—I try to practice the traditional ways, but you can only do so much in this day and age. I feel like having that knowledge incorporated into your everyday learning life in school would definitely cement it in more.”

The program’s most enthusiastic ambassadors are the teach- ers and students who have been using it. So far the POSOH curriculum has been taught in 25 Wisconsin classrooms with the participation of some 135 students. Another 140 students have worked with POSOH materials in other settings, such as outreach programs conducted by undergraduate interns and the project’s high school club, called the Sustainability Leadership Cohort.

“I love that the POSOH curriculum brings science to a local level,” says Dan Albrent, a science teacher at De Pere’s Ashwaubenon High School, where he’s been piloting POSOH materials for the past two years. “Students a lot of times wonder why we are even learning all these complex things in science and just want a reason. POSOH does a nice job of bringing in real-life situations and issues that are literally close to home. And never in the curriculum are students sitting and listening to a lecture. They are actively talking and working with real data and real situations to solve problems.”

To him, POSOH represents the future of science education. “I truly believe this is how science should be taught,” Albrent says. “At the moment there is no better alternative for helping our kids realize the importance of learning science for our communities.”

Becky Nutt, of Oneida Nation High School, is just as convinced. She appreciates the program’s emphasis on reading and writing, which is not a given in science class—but important, she notes, in both communicating science and demonstrating understanding.

“Most important from my view is the integration of Native American culture into the materials,” says Nutt. “If, through these materials, we can foster better relationships between our Native students and their communities and other individuals and their communities, then we are on the right track.”

POSOH team member Linda Orie is taking a break from the classroom while earning her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction at UW– Madison—but she plans to return
to teaching in tribal schools and sees POSOH as a life-changing tool to bring with her.

“My career goal is to transform Indian education because it is stuck in this terrible rut,” Orie says. “Working in the tribal school I saw a lot of opportunity for growth. It was heartbreaking to see so much potential and not have colleagues that saw the same. And not seeing as many Native American teachers as there could be or should be in the schools. The kids need the best curriculum and the best teachers, and they’re not getting that right now. I want to be part of the change.”

That Orie, as an Oneida, backs the program so strongly speaks to perhaps the program’s greatest indicator of success—the acceptance it has earned in Native communities.

“We’ve been presenting POSOH to different schools, to different areas, to our boards of education and so on, and they’re very enthused about it— extremely enthused, I must say,” says College of Menominee Nation president Verna Fowler.

That enthusiasm is no accident, but the result of the program being developed within and in partnership with Native communities. Patty Loew, who is a professor of life sciences communication at CALS and an enrolled member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, just happened to be on hand during a POSOH presentation on the Menominee Reservation and was heartened by what she saw.

“I’ve been in a lot of situations where UW people try to engage with community members and it’s like pulling teeth for reasons that vary, but often come down to a basic mistrust of researchers,” Loew says. In those encounters, she says, “People are either being polite or they’ll have their arms folded and are just quietly listening or maybe hiding their resentment.”

“That was not the case on this day,” Loew says. “People were really engaged, they were discussing, they had ideas, it was emotional. It was clear to me that the community’s handprints were all over this project. They not only were hosting the research, they had shaped it, they were contributing to it, they were using the materials in their classrooms, they had a lot of pride in it. And I was really impressed.”

POSOH team member Justin Gauthier also knew about the mistrust firsthand—and saw it melt away.

“Historically in Indian Country there’s been this sort of stigma toward outside groups coming into the community, studying groups of people, taking data out of that community—and nary shall the two meet again,” Gauthier says. “But I really like and respect the way that the POSOH process is set up because, while the leadership team
is made up of people from within and without that community, the ideas—the voices at the table—are respected and integrated into the process. I feel like when we finish the project the curriculum and the relationships we’ve built are going to remain strong.”

“And that could be the big takeaway for me from this project,” Gauthier says. “Communities have the right to be wary of people coming in and studying them. But when you have a project like this, where the end result is meant to be a gift for that community, then you really see the beauty of cultures blossom and open up.”

That could be the big takeaway for Amasino and Lauffer as well. They and their team conceived of POSOH as an experiment in developing culturally integrated science curricula in a way that could be applied in various settings around the country.

“Our overarching mission is to build a transformational model for place- based collaborations dedicated to preparing all learners, especially those who are underrepresented in science and science education,” says Lauffer. “These community-based processes are what the project will share more broadly as it draws to a close. We plan to pass on lessons from POSOH to many other communities who can then build on our work and continue improving science teaching and learning.”

To learn more about POSOH, visit http://posohproject.org/. You can also watch the following video: http://go.wisc.edu/posohvideo

Partners in Food Safety

When the managers of University Housing Dining and Culinary Services (DCS) decided a few years ago to go above and beyond state requirements in employee food safety certification, they turned to
the CALS Department of Food Science for help.

The “ServSafe” certification program, produced by the National Restaurant Association, is offered nationwide. By Wisconsin state law, food service operations need at least one staff member to be certified.

But DCS has expanded that requirement as a matter of quality improvement. “We wanted to provide the people on our front lines more tools to help us assure food safety at all our service points,” says DCS associate director Julie Luke. “Over the last three to five years we’ve probably doubled the number of staff who have food safety training built into the credentials for their position.” Even for positions where certification is not required it is offered as a professional development option, notes Luke.

DCS has some 100 full-time classified staff preparing and serving an average of 95,000 food orders a week through residence halls, catering and other venues on campus, assisted by an army of 1,200 student workers.

Expanding training was and is a tall order—but DCS has an able partner in food science instructor and registered dietitian Monica Theis, who not only teaches the two-day certification class but also recruits her undergraduate dietetics students to serve as tutors. A number of food service employees have low literacy or English as a second language. For those groups both the instruction and certification exam can pose a challenge.

Dietetics junior Heang Lee Tan worked one-on-one with one such employee, helping her take notes, prepare notecards and take a practice exam.

“It was really eye-opening for me to see how hard it was to implement a food safety training program. I saw how literacy became such a challenge,” says Tan. “It makes me more sensitive to the great diversity of staff working in an organization. Having that knowledge will make me a better employee or manager in the future.”

Student tutors like Tan have boosted the success rate of DCS employees in passing the exam, notes Theis. “It’s been an amazing experience.”

Theis has involved undergrads in other food safety efforts. For example, Lori Homes BS’13 partnered with DCS and University Health Services to design an online food safety training module now used by DCS student workers, who formerly had to get that training in person. Homes also served as a student supervisor at DCS.

The food safety collaboration is one of many between DCS and food science. Theis trains DCS staff on a number of food-related topics, including allergies. DCS administration offers work opportunities to dietetics students interested in one day joining large-scale food and dining operations. Recently DCS executive chef Jeff Orr worked with food science students on a contest to create a new hamburger recipe for Gilly’s Frozen Custard restaurants.

Theis welcomes those collaborations. “We have opportunities right here to partner with campus units and contribute to our little community,” she says. “Our students can make a tremendous difference.”

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.

Class Act: Energizing the Classroom

When biochemistry senior Hong-En Chen first got involved with a student organization called Energy Hub, she knew she could bring something special to the table.

As the daughter of a preschool teacher, she’d interacted a lot with young children throughout her own childhood and adolescence. While in high school she worked as a teacher and tutor in music, math and reading in both English and Mandarin at the Einstein School in Madison, a private preschool and after-school enrichment center for elementary school students.

Based on her experience, she saw an important niche for Energy Hub: The group could go out to local elementary schools and hold after-school classes about energy.

“When kids are young, they’re like sponges. They absorb a lot of information and are enthusiastic learners,” notes Chen. “When we introduced concepts about energy use, conservation and sustainability, the kids impressed us not only by handling complex material, but also by applying ideas to their everyday lives.”

As outreach director of Energy Hub, Chen got other club members on board to pilot their project, working with second- to fifth-grade students at four Madison elementary schools. Based on that experience, they applied for and received a Wisconsin Idea Fellowship grant to further develop their curriculum during the 2012–2013 school year. They created a 10-week program that is going strong this year.

Hands-on activities are key, says Chen, whether using an educational science toy like Snap Circuits to teach the concepts behind powering lights and fans, or having students divide into the fantasy cities of Greenville and Coaltown to talk about how they, as residents, would use energy from various sources to get through a day. “It was a fun way to get them thinking about the costs and benefits of renewable versus nonrenewable energy sources,” Chen says.

Chen’s thinking a lot about that topic herself. She is researching compounds for solar energy conversion in chemistry professor Song Jin’s lab. And she is considering graduate programs in materials chemistry with an eye toward working in renewable energy research.

Learn more about Energy Hub at www.uwehub.org.