In the fall of 2015, the University of Wisconsin–Madison set its sights on the future — and it set them high. The ambitious goal: raise $3.2 billion by the end of the decade to ensure the university remains a world-class, world-changing institution. Dubbed “All Ways Forward,” it is the largest comprehensive fundraising campaign in UW’s history.
After several years of steady progress, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and sucked the wind out of the university’s fundraising sails. But not for long. A one-year campaign extension and a sustained effort through complicated and chaotic times yielded strong results. So far, UW has raised more than $4 billion — far surpassing the initial campaign goal — thanks to the generosity of 255,000 donors. And it’s not over yet. All Ways Forward continues through December 2021.
But why, you might ask, is all of this even necessary for a state institution? While it’s true that UW is a public university, fundraising has become more critical than ever to its mission. It’s a little-known fact that, in 2020–21, private grants and gifts accounted for a substantial 17% of UW’s budget, one of the largest pieces of the fiscal pie. That’s more than state revenue, more than federal financial aid, and just slightly below what the university gathers in both tuition and federal grants.
Within this monetary milieu, the responsible stewardship of private funds continues to be a vital component of the university’s commitment to keeping college affordable for all students. It’s also vital to UW’s dedication to the Wisconsin Idea: Through collaboration and innovation, including efforts supported by private funds, the university generates a $15 billion economic impact that resonates throughout the state.
Campaigns like All Ways Forward are clearly important, and they require unified effort from all corners of campus. Along with UW’s other schools and colleges, CALS set its own goals for the campaign. And, like the campus as a whole, CALS exceeded expectations. More than 13,000 donors have contributed close to $170 million, well above the college’s $150 million target. The influx of funds has gone a long way in strengthening CALS programs; but, just as important — and perhaps more difficult to quantify — it has established and energized the college’s partnerships with people and organizations beyond campus.
“Private financial support lets us do things we otherwise couldn’t do, whether that’s with facilities, faculty, students, or programs,” says CALS dean Kate VandenBosch. “And our goal-driven campaign also fostered relationships with donors and alumni. We learned about their goals and how they mesh with our own, and it forced us to sharpen our own vision and take it to the next level. This has established wonderful, long-lasting connections with our supporters.”
Six years seem to have gone by in a blink, but they are filled with big, abiding moments of generosity. Here are some of the gifts that have graced CALS during the campaign — and the stories of what they have helped the college achieve.
To Start Students Off Right
The All Ways Forward campaign gathered financial support for many student-focused programs at CALS. Perhaps one of the most transformative initiatives in this realm is the QuickStart program.
Launched in 2018, QuickStart is an early start program for incoming first-year students at CALS. It gives them an opportunity to earn credit before the official start of the fall semester, receive tailored academic and career planning, and participate in early networking opportunities with classmates and faculty. The program is designed to help students make the most of their college experiences and begin their careers (as the name implies) quicker.
“I honestly don’t think I would have done as well in school if it wasn’t for QuickStart,” says Haley Trecker BS’21, who was part of the program’s inaugural class. “There’s a chance I would have even tried to back out of attending college right after high school — I was so terrified of going to such a large school. QuickStart prepared me in so many ways.”
QuickStart’s online course, Foundations, guides students as they examine their strengths, values, social identities, and academic and career interests. They also get a preview of advising, health, and academic resources on campus. Next, QuickStarters enjoy an early move into the residence halls; and, through orientation programs, they meet CALS researchers in labs, visit businesses related to the life sciences and agriculture, and learn to navigate the UW campus.
Trecker, who graduated early with a degree in biology and now works for biopharmaceutical company AbbVie, says Quick- Start’s early move-in, tours, and orientations put her at ease on the sprawling UW campus. She also credits the relationships she formed with others in the QuickStart cohort for making Madison seem smaller.
CALS raised $107,000 for QuickStart during the campaign, much of it through campus-wide “day of giving” events, called Day of the Badger, in 2019 and 2021. The Wisconsin Agricultural and Life Sciences Alumni Association provided $25,000 in seed funding for QuickStart scholarships and later matched gifts during Day of the Badger. This support is helping the program continue this year with 70 new QuickStart Scholars, bringing the total to more than 400 scholars over four years.
A generous donation from Chicago real estate developer Elzie Higginbottom BS’65 helped launch the CALS Agricultural Experience in 2019. The program brought 30 high school students from the Milwaukee and Chicago areas for an immersive visit to UW, where they visited wide-ranging campus locales and learned about topics from DNA to proteins to flavor perception and more.
To Build for the Future
Comprehensive campaigns are designed to remove barriers to success — and blockades to greatness. One underlying fundraising philosophy is this: The places where students, faculty, and staff work and learn should never hold them back. It resonates with many donors, who choose to direct their gifts to facilities.
By funding new buildings and remodeling projects, donors help address outdated structures and technologies and keep CALS shining among its peers. Not simply for prestige but for all the good that can be done — the discoveries made, the lives improved — when the college’s people are outfitted with the best spaces and tools.
All Ways Forward saw the launch of two major building projects at CALS — the new Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery (MSABD) building and the ongoing Babcock Hall renovation and Center for Dairy Research addition. But a smaller yet still hugely impactful project also came to fruition during the campaign.
In northern Wisconsin, near Woodruff, UW’s Kemp Natural Resources Station sits on the shores of Tomahawk Lake. It’s a hub of research, teaching, and public outreach. Each year, the station hosts dozens of researchers and representatives from universities and state agencies; provides training for foresters and landowners; brings in school groups; and offers public educational events focused on forestry, wildlife, and fisheries.
Prior to 2016, Kemp’s primary classroom and conference facility was a small space situated above an historic boathouse. It was only usable for part of the year, and its footprint minimized how many it could serve. But thanks to a generous in-kind gift from Mary Connor Pierce and her husband, Dudley Pierce, the station now houses the 4,500-square-foot Connor Forestry Center.
“It gives us increased capacity and year-round access, which are critical to what we do here,” says professor Scott Bowe BS’92, Kemp’s superintendent and a wood products extension specialist.
The center includes a lobby and gathering area, two classrooms (85- and 35-person capacity), a catering kitchen, an outdoor lake-view patio area (paid for by a Brittingham Wisconsin Trust Grant), and the latest in audiovisual equipment.
Bowe says the Connor Forestry Center allowed for more attendance at public outreach events, such as Fungi Fest and Wisconsin Insect Fest, during pre-pandemic times. “And it’s a far better experience, and more effective, for our students and for the foresters who we train to teach landowners about sustainable forestry,” he says.
The Connor family has a long history with the forestry industry in Wisconsin and the Great Lakes region dating back to 1872. Mary Connor Pierce’s mother, Mary Roddis Connor, was the first woman inducted into the Wisconsin Forestry Hall of Fame. The center’s two classrooms are named in honor of Mary Connor Pierce’s father, Gordon R. Connor, cofounder of what is now the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association, and grandfather, William Duncan Connor, who is recognized for developing modern milling and forestry sustainability practices.
These forestry roots, and the confidence instilled by Bowe and his predecessor, Tom Steele, inspired Mary Connor Pierce and Dudley Pierce to make the gift. Mary is particularly enthused about the center being used for an on-site forestry operations course over spring break, which exposes students to selective cutting and forest management practices.
“It’s important for forestry students to have hands-on experiences in the woods — boots-on-the ground,” she says. “They spend days in the forest — faculty and students are often on snowshoes! — and it’s usually the students’ first introduction to the Northwoods. My parents and grandfather would be very pleased with the Connor Forestry Center and the leadership at Kemp station.”
To Recruit the Best and Brightest
UW faces stiff competition from research institutions across the globe that are looking to attract — and keep — the best teachers and scientists. Well before the All Ways Forward campaign began, UW was lagging far behind peer universities in terms of the endowment-funded awards it could offer faculty.
Endowed titles — offered as professorships, chairs, and distinguished chairs, depending on the level of funding — provide appreciation, resources, and professional status for highly productive UW faculty. They also help retain exceptional researchers and give the university additional tools for recruiting rising stars. A lack of these options hampered efforts to recruit and retain the brightest scholars.
In stepped John and Tashia Morgridge, two UW alums and longtime university supporters who offered to match gifts devoted to creating professorships and chairs. And in December 2020, two CALS alums, Chris BS’75 and Susan BS’76 Salm, took the Morgridges up on their offer and established the college’s first distinguished chair.
Chris, who holds master’s and doctoral degrees in meat and animal science and is CEO of biotech company Ab E Discovery, often tells a story from his childhood when he delivers speeches to business and technology groups. In grade school, Chris recalls preparing a macaroni art project as a Mother’s Day gift when the teacher challenged the class to think of something their mother needed — but before she even knew she needed it. He became enamored with the concept.
The Salms applied the same idea as they studied the CALS research environment. They saw a critical need for significant cross-disciplinary research involving collaboration among scientists. This informed their creation of the Salm-Bray Distinguished Chair.
The chair, named for the late Robert Bray BS’40, PhD’49, who was instrumental in developing UW’s meat science program, provides salary support and flexible funds for a faculty member with a record of exceptional scholarship and cross-disciplinary collaboration. It specifically targets individuals working to improve human and animal health and agriculture by identifying and developing therapeutic, biological compounds derived from food animals or crops.
“Limited or restricted resources can prevent scientists from making the critical connections that lead to major breakthroughs,” says Susan. “When our personal circumstances allowed us to make this happen, we jumped at the chance. We treasure our years at UW–Madison, our years in Wisconsin, and our years in the ag industry, and we recognize the potential the university has to serve industry. We also feel the road goes both ways.”
During the All Ways Forward campaign, CALS has secured nearly $24 million in donations to support 15 endowed chairs and professorships. The Salm-Bray Distinguished Chair will first be awarded in July 2022.
“With the new Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery Building now open and ready for business, the need to recruit, retain, and equip the best and brightest faculty in meat science, animal biologics, and food safety is absolutely critical,” says professor Kent Weigel MS’92, PhD’92, chair in the animal and dairy sciences department. “This distinguished chair will be a terrific tool for ensuring that CALS has the academic talent we need to become global leaders in these exciting fields of science.”
The new Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery (MSABD) building opened in November 2020. This 67,250-square-foot, $57.1 million facility frees the MSABD program from the confines and limitations of a building originally built in 1931 (see The Future Holds No Limits for Meat Science at CALS in the summer 2021 issue of Grow). Around 270 donors — individuals and businesses primarily in the state’s meat industry — covered more than $20 million of the building’s price tag.
To Meet the Greatest Needs
Large gifts for endowed professorships, significant building projects, and other major priorities make a massive and long-lasting impact on CALS. But sometimes the gift of flexibility is just as vital. And that means giving to the CALS Fund, which is a versatile pool of resources designed to help the college quickly adapt and respond to emerging needs. Even a little can go a long way with this fund; gifts of any size can add up to a major boon.
The CALS Fund supports a wide variety of efforts that expand opportunities for students and advance program quality. Examples include special programs for student organizations, scholarships and fellowships, hands-on labs and field courses, smaller-scale facilities improvements, lecture series, and recruitment and retention for top-notch academic talent.
During the All Ways Forward campaign, the college’s supporters have given more than $4 million to the CALS Fund. Donors like Tom Kennedy BS’68, MS’73, PhD’75 and Alex MS’78, PhD’83 and Susan MS’78 Woo were motivated to give by the strong connections they formed with CALS through catalyzing experiences as students.
Kennedy and his wife, Beverly, live on a farm just north of Lake Mendota. The property has been in the Kennedy family since 1890.
“From high school on, my parents made it clear that a world-class educational institution within commuting distance was a gift and an opportunity,” says Kennedy, who is managing principal of Eleven Bravo LLC, a veterinary medical pharmaceutical development company. “Supporting CALS lets us return some small measure for the value received, stay connected to the university, and support the college’s educational reach across the state, country, and globe.”
Kennedy’s roots are close to campus, but many CALS graduates have come from much farther afield. Alex Woo, a native of Hong Kong, says his time at CALS helped him launch a long and successful research and development career, which has included stints at PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, Starbucks, and Wrigley/Mars.
“I learned everything from UW–Madison, academically and culturally,” says Woo, who now runs his own flavor technology firm, W2O Food Innovation. “The professors I had and friends I made taught me everything, everything. I feel I have been taking for all these years, and it’s time to give back to the places that made me.”
Kennedy notes that state allocations are important but have long lead times and little flexibility; and while targeted gifts are also incredibly valuable, not all donors feel they have an adequate breadth of knowledge to decide where a gift should go. Discretionary dollars like the CALS Fund, on the other hand, can be directed to immediate priorities by the people most familiar with them.
Or, as Woo puts it, “I figure CALS knows how best to allocate the funds to the students, faculty, and college-wide issues that need it most.”
All Ways Forward is not over yet. The campaign runs through the end of December 2021, so you still have a chance to make CALS an even better place. Donate online or contact Annie Louis at email@example.com or 608-308-5523.
This article was posted in Fall 2021, Features and tagged Alex Woo, All Ways Forward, Animal science, CALS Agricultural Experience, CALS Fund, Chris Salm, Connor Forestry Center, Dudley Pierce, Elzie Higginbottom, endowed chairs, endowed professorships, Forest and Wildlife Ecology, giving, Kate VandenBosch, Kemp Natural Resources Station, Kent Weigel, Mary Connor Pierce, Meat and Animal Science, Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery Building, QuickStart, Salm-Bray Distinguished Chair, Scott Bowe, Susan Salm, Susan Woo, Tom Kennedy, Wisconsin Agricultural and Life Sciences Alumni Association.