In Vivo: ‘There is Nothing So Stable as Change’

Kate VandenBoschThroughout its remarkable 128-year history, CALS has continually embraced change. To keep us at the forefront of the agricultural and life sciences, our leaders have seized new opportunities just as other endeavors have passed from the picture. In fact, our college formed in response to great change, during a time when Wisconsin’s farmers began to recognize the vital role of scientific agriculture in their success.

But one does not have to delve far into the past to find other examples of such adaptation. Only a decade ago, the departments of Forest Ecology and Wildlife Ecology merged, partly to put themselves in a better position to address new challenges related to natural resources.

Today is no different. We face a constant flow of change — in higher education, in funding, in scientific advancement, in our disciplines. Except the changes seem to have picked up the pace. Now the need for expertise is growing ever more rapidly as our challenges expand, from the threat of new invasive species to the difficulties of feeding a growing population. And the tools we use have advanced dramatically in the last two decades. We find our-selves in a postgenomic era where the mining of massive data sets has become as commonplace as microscopes. What, then, do we do?

The answer: we become more flexible, more responsive, more focused. But this cannot be achieved without careful thought about how we select and support our priorities in CALS. This is why, in late 2016, we began an orga-nizational redesign process for our college. Led by a multidisciplinary team of our faculty and staff, we are undergoing a thorough analysis of the trends that affect our work as well as the strengths of our departmental programs. Based on their findings, our team will propose a new conceptual design for the college, one that helps us concentrate our work where it can have the greatest impact, and one that positions us to be more responsive to global challenges, changing scientific opportunities, and student needs.

As we go forward, this proposal will be thoroughly vetted by the CALS community and guided through the implementation phase. This fall, our team is presenting the design options it has distilled for CALS, which will be followed by exciting discussions about shared priorities and vision, and how we can work together in the future. We look forward to reporting on all of this activity as this process continues. And if you would like more detail about the redesign now, please visit

In the meantime, one important change has already happened. After much deliberation over the past two years, including discussions among the faculty and administration and consultations with students and alumni, the departments of Landscape Architecture and Urban and Regional Planning have merged to form the Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture, effective July 2017. This new department will be housed in the College of Letters & Science, but we will always embrace those who earned their degrees from CALS as our alumni.

Change can be difficult, but this is an exciting time, and I am optimistic about the opportunities it will bring.


It’s time to reinvest in UW

Dean Kate VanderBosch

Dean Kate VandenBosch

By the time you get this magazine, early spring will be in the air. Time again to think about growing—about tending to and protecting the things we care about. This goes for institutions as well as living things.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison is an engine for economic growth in Wisconsin. Every dollar spent on UW–Madison generates $24 for the Wisconsin economy by attracting other investments to the state, fostering startup companies that create new jobs and supporting nearly 200,000 jobs around Wisconsin.

As an institution, UW–Madison has been on a stringent diet, taking cuts in the last five out of six state budgets. While we have managed those cuts well—we still rank among the top 10 public universities nationwide—years of reductions without relief is impacting our students and threatening quality through
loss of faculty and reputation.

Our Board of Regents has made a budget request we hope you’ll
join us in supporting. The budget proposal seeks a total of $42.5
million in new state funding over the next two years, and assumes
that $50 million will be restored to the UW System that reverted
back to the state in the current biennium. This results in $92.5
million more in state dollars for the UW System in the next budget
compared to now.

A particular highlight for our college is that the proposal
includes funding for facility maintenance, which benefits all CALS
programs; it was not included in the last state budget.

How can you help? Now is the time for advocacy. Consider contacting
the governor and your legislators with a call or note of support. Attend
budget listening sessions that members of the Joint Committee on Finance
will be holding in communities around Wisconsin. Attend UW Lobby Day in
Madison on Wednesday, April 12. You can find information and supporting
materials for all these activities at

Meanwhile, in the midst of budget discussions, I always find it heartening
to take a look at what our researchers and students are accomplishing. One of
our top funding priorities is preparing students for the future. And one of the
most life-changing ways we do this is by providing “beyond classroom” experiences
such as research and internship opportunities and study abroad.

You will find excellent examples of those experiences throughout this
edition of Grow. Our story on page 28 highlights students who travel to
Washington, D.C. on behalf of rural health care, launch a peer-reviewed
journal to publish undergraduate research, make discoveries to improve food
safety and more. Our Field Note on page 11 features a student who worked
with orphans in Peru to start a hydroponic growing system. And our “Class
Act” story on page 10 highlights a student helping to make important strides
in stem cell research.

These are all fine examples of how CALS grows the future. With your
help during this budget season, we look forward to doing our best at this for
many decades to come.

Givers: The Head and the Heart

At the start of a new school year and the near end of 2016, we at CALS wish to thank some people whom we really can’t thank enough: the members of our Board of Visitors.

The Board of Visitors (BOV) serves as an advisory group to Dean Kate VandenBosch in determining how best to lead and advance CALS. Each of the BOV’s 25 members help the college by providing an external perspective and link to the wide range of CALS stakeholder communities, building an advocacy network and participating in the college’s development efforts.

All of these functions are important, but we’d especially like to thank the BOV for its exemplary achievements this past year in the area of development. As you may know, CALS recently has benefited from offering dollar-for-dollar matching gifts, up to $100,000, on all donations to the CALS Annual Fund. We were able to offer the match in 2014 and 2015 thanks to a gift from anonymous donors. In 2016, the match was made possible by a donation from the Board of Visitors, whose members pooled their resources.

While members emphasize different points about why they support CALS, an abiding love for the college and belief in its mission is a source of motivation for all of them. So is a desire to advance educational excellence at CALS and ensure that the college’s importance to business and industry remains strong.

For example, BOV chair Dr. David Ryder, recently retired Vice President of Brewing and Research for Miller- Coors, has worked tirelessly to boost CALS’ leadership in the area of fermentation science education.

“I find it personally rewarding to give to the CALS Annual Fund,” he says. “Being from the fermentation industry, my own experience of learning in fermentation science— in a different country at a different time—was far from perfect, but one learns from that to know how to better prepare the student for the current and future needs of industry.” CALS, he believes, can play a key role in providing industry the kind of workforce needed for future growth.

BOV members who are alumni feel strongly about ensuring that new generations can meet or exceed their own positive experiences at CALS. “My husband and I graduated from CALS and really value the world-class education and experiences we received to prepare us for graduate school and medical school,” says Karen Metzler BS’03. Metzler is a genetic counselor; her husband, Jeremy Metzler BS’02, is a physician. “We feel it’s really important to pay that forward to help current and future students have access to the same education and opportunities we have had.”

Another thing BOV members agree on: You don’t have to be a BOV member to offer significant support to the college.

“Aside from financial contributions, the most important thing that anyone can give to CALS is their time,” says Bill Staudenmaier BS’83, a Phoenix-based attorney specializing in water and natural resources law. “There are numerous ways alumni can contribute their time—mentoring students, volunteering at events, serving on boards and committees and contacting elected officials about the importance of adequate funding to keep CALS and the university among the very best institutions of higher education in the United States. Wherever your talents and interests may lie, you can give back by contributing your time.”

We thank our Board of Visitors for their leadership and generosity. And we thank all members of the CALS community for their support, however they choose to provide it.

Make a gift online at And learn more about other opportunities for alumni engagement at 

PHOTO: We welcomed incoming freshmen to CALS at a new student orientation, an event supported by gifts to the CALS Annual Fund.
Photo by Caroline Schneider

New Facilities Sharpen Our Cutting Edge

Dean Kate VandenBosch

Dean Kate VanderBosch

Our researchers in the meat, plant and dairy sciences have for years been making cutting-edge discoveries in facilities that were anything but. Through their dedication and ingenuity, they have managed to do pioneering work in buildings that have not seen significant updates since the mid-20th century.

We’re addressing that problem now with a state-of-the-art Meat Science Building that breaks ground this fall and a Plant Breeding Lab for which we have launched a vigorous capital campaign. These facilities, along with others now in planning, will greatly enhance the college’s research, teaching and public service work in disciplines that are crucial to meeting our world’s food, energy, health and economic development needs.

Grow readers may remember our spring 2013 cover story about plans for the Meat Science Building. Located near the Natatorium between Observatory Drive and Linden Drive, this facility will serve to advance research on all aspects of meat production, quality and safety. It will also allow researchers to develop high-value nonfood products for use in human and veterinary medicine, among other applications. Fans of Bucky’s Butchery can look for a name change to Bray’s Meats, in honor of our late beloved faculty member Bob Bray. The Meat Science Building is slated to open in 2018.

Meanwhile, the Plant Breeding Lab will find its home in the current Meat and Muscle Biology Lab, which will be repurposed into a sophisticated facility to process, analyze and store plant germplasm. Safe and reliable storage for seeds is a critical foundation for research in everything from plant breeding and genetics, plant physiology and molecular biology to crop protection and management and climate science. The Plant Breeding Lab will replace both the Seeds Building, which will be torn down this fall to make room for the Meat Science Building, and the Horticulture Annex. It will bring together plant scientists and their lab groups from agronomy, horticulture, genetics, biochemistry and plant pathology into one updated facility—an arrangement that will serve to increase both collaboration and cross-training among these disciplines.

The Plant Breeding Lab will include such features as storage chambers allowing for different temperature and humidity levels, seed treatment and cleaning labs and a grinding room to prepare plant tissues for chemical analysis. We seek to raise $3 million in private funds to support this significant renovation and remodeling effort.

As budgets tighten, it has been more important than ever for the college to prioritize its needs—and to invest our resources where we can have the greatest impact in both advancing research and meeting global challenges. These two facilities rose to the top through a long process that included consultation and partnerships with a wide range of stakeholders throughout the CALS community.

Neither venture would have been possible without alumni support. On behalf of the college, I offer you our heartfelt thanks.

To learn more, visit: and

Addressing Our Food Future

Kate VandenBosch, dean of UW–Madison CALS

Kate VandenBosch, dean of UW–Madison CALS

In December, I was invited to attend a meeting hosted by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy focused on “Raising the Profile of Agriculture.” Leaders from across industry, education and government gathered to consider the increased demand for food as earth’s changing climate exacerbates constraints imposed by soil loss, pest and pathogen damage, and land and water availability. These are big issues that tax the imagination. It is one thing to say the oft-repeated phrase “feeding nine billion people,” but it is another to fully comprehend the many hurdles related to that challenge.

The leaders I spoke with in Washington agreed that meeting this challenge will require creative, environmentally mindful solutions and new agricultural technologies. It is clear that our ability to develop these innovations relies on agricultural research and education and also our ability to recruit science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates into the agricultural workforce.

Pair this with results of a recent public opinion survey conducted by Dominique Brossard and Dietram Scheufele in the Department of Life Sciences Communication that showed Wisconsin residents discuss food and related topics with others more frequently than they discuss public affairs or science topics, and we have an enormous opportunity. If we can leverage public interest in our food future to strengthen emerging collaborations between industry, government agencies and universities, we can develop novel solutions necessary to meet these demands.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison, and our college in particular, are perfectly suited to advance this issue. I am proud to report that a number of UW–Madison colleagues also participated in the White House meeting—Bill Tracy, professor and chair of agronomy, Julie Dawson, assistant professor of horticulture, Ben Miller, director of federal relations, and Heidi Zoerb, associate dean for external relations in CALS. Our alumni also hold significant positions of influence throughout industry and government, including the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

This year, thanks to the generosity of donors to the college’s annual fund, we are expanding efforts to interest pre-college students in agriculture-related studies and launching a three-course series for undergraduates on food systems. These are only two of many ways we are working to address these important issues.

The challenges are daunting, but the opportunities are significant. I am excited to see the solutions our students, faculty, staff and graduates develop to meet these demands.

Many Paths of Discovery

Having an applied research goal can no doubt lend focus to the discovery process. For example, since its inception the charge of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center here on campus, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, has been to realize the grand vision of a biorefinery—the bioenergy version of the petroleum refinery. If we’re investigating biomass as a source of material that we’re going to get products from, we need to understand both how it’s put together and how to take it apart.

This quest has generated discoveries great and small, including CALS biochemistry professor John Ralph’s groundbreaking work in technologies to take apart lignin, a particularly tough compound in plant cell walls.

But pioneering discoveries don’t always happen with a specific application in mind—or applications are later found that are bigger and bolder than the researcher could originally conceive of. Take, for example, the late CALS
genetics professor Ray Owen’s investigation of twin calves with different fathers that somehow were able to tolerate carrying each other’s differing blood cells—a mix that often triggers a severe immunological reaction. But when blood cells are exchanged early in development, Owen learned, each twin learns to tolerate the other’s cells.

By asking questions about a common occurrence in cattle, Owen had discovered the phenomenon of immune tolerance, which sparked a revolution in immunology and laid the foundation for the successful transplantation of human organs. His findings, published in 1945, paved the way for research involving induction of immune tolerance to transplanted tissue grafts by Frank Burnet and Peter Medawar. When those scientists received the Nobel Prize for that work in 1960, they noted it was Owen’s discovery that had set them on their way.

For another example, fast-forward to the present and consider the research of plant pathologist Aurélie Rakotondrafara, highlighted in our Grow cover story. While pursuing a basic science question—how plant viruses reproduce—she happened upon a very useful tool: a stretch of genetic material in a plant virus, known as an “IRES,” that is powerful at “recruiting” the plant’s natural machinery for making proteins.

It turns out there are huge biotech applications for this finding. “Rakotondrafara wasn’t looking for a more efficient tool to make proteins, but the IRES she found is perfect for it,” notes Jennifer Gottwald, a technology officer at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which is working on a patent for this discovery.

That’s the excitement of scientific curiosity—and the best reason why we place such high value on both basic and applied research. One feeds into the other, and we cannot fully know the potential outcomes of discoveries we make today. We actively foster this curiosity about how living things work because the fruits of research are boundless, and often yield tremendous unexpected gifts along the way.

A Home for Signature Student Experiences

VandenBosch-E-12-129-300A dean’s loss is our students’ gain—and I couldn’t be more pleased about it. I’m referring to the beautiful Queen Anne home—in the middle of what

is now Allen Centennial Gardens—that was built in 1896 to serve as the residence of the dean of CALS. Apparently it was part of an incentive package to keep our first dean, William Henry, from being lured away to Stanford or Cornell.

Deans Harry Russell and Chris Christensen lived there during their tenures, followed by Dean E.B. Fred, who stayed on in “Lake Dormer,” as it was called, even after he had become UW president (and in fact, even after he retired). Fred was the last dean to reside there. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and over the years has housed various administrative offices, none of them involving direct use by and for our students.

Until now. As you may know, CALS is home to nearly 40 student organi- zations representing the many interests, passions and professional aspirations one might expect from a college spanning 24 majors. Clubs are extraordinarily important in many students’ lives. They not only serve as the hub of social activities but also allow students to do the kind of hands-on work that syn- thesizes what they’ve learned from many different fields of knowledge in the classroom.

“It’s an amazing gift to our students, and one that will certainly help CALS grow the future.”

But up to now, the space students have had for their clubs—for meetings, for storage, for office equipment—has been very much catch-as-catch-can.

Students are squeezed for space for other enriching, future-directed activi- ties as well. For example, CALS Career Services—the folks who offer students assistance in finding internships and jobs, including holding mock interviews and “etiquette” dinners—do not have dedicated space for those activities, nor are there adequate, modern facilities allowing corporate recruiters to conduct interviews with CALS students on campus.

Our popular Study Abroad programs, offering students unparalleled opportunities to participate in learning, research and community service all around the world, are run in spaces that are inadequate for their high demand. And alumni groups wishing to interact with students—to offer presentations, help with projects or simply get to know them better—have no space in which to center their activities.

Now we can only say: Thank you, Dean Henry! And thanks to the thoughtful leaders in CALS and the greater campus community who recog- nize how important all of these “beyond classroom” experiences are to the quality of education we offer our students. Renovations have begun, and in 2016 we plan to open the former CALS Dean’s Residence as a home to a rich array of student experiences—including clubs, Career Services and Study Abroad—that help make CALS CALS. It’s an amazing gift to our students, and one that will certainly help CALS grow the future.

For more on the building’s history, see “Agricultural Dean’s House”.

To contribute to the building renovation fund, please click here.

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.

Why We’re Growing

The start of a new year prompts thoughts about the future. That’s certainly been true for me as I wrap up my first year as dean and, together with an array of stakeholders on campus and around the state, move through the forward-looking process of strategic planning for CALS.

Chief among our stakeholders are our students. And when it comes to thinking about how and why our college is growing, students are a revealing group to consider.

Their numbers confirm that in fact we are growing, and at an impressive pace. CALS has 3,059 undergraduate students enrolled this fall—up 7.3 percent from last year and 33 percent from 10 years ago.

What’s drawing students to CALS? Their areas of study are an indication. We’re seeing continuing growth in such majors as biology, biochemistry and genetics as well as microbiology, nutritional sciences, biological systems engineering and food science, which has doubled since 2008. Biology, with enrollments divided between CALS and Letters and Sciences, is now the biggest major at UW–Madison, and more than half of biology majors are enrolled in CALS.

Students want to make an impact on the grand challenges facing our world.

Deans at our peer colleges around the country report similar trends. What we’re seeing is that students, among their reasons for studying the agricultural and life sciences, want to make an impact on the grand challenges facing our world. And yes, they also are attracted to the good job prospects in many of our disciplines.

That’s certainly what I’m hearing in talks with students in various settings—at presentations and awards ceremonies and, most extensively, in the CALS First Year Seminar I had the pleasure of teaching last semester. The course, intended to give freshmen an overview of CALS, is designed around the grand challenges that concern them.

Many of our talks focused around the needs of a planet that soon will hold nine billion people. How do we provide enough food, water and energy in a sustainable manner? Our discussions concerned everything from the need to develop crops that make more efficient use of nutrients to tapping the potential of renewable energy to better understanding the impacts of changing climate conditions and what constitutes optimal nutrition.

We need to ensure that we equip students to meet these challenges. We’re not here only to teach them about the tools we have today. We need to educate them in a way that allows them to think across disciplines, to innovate, to come up with solutions possibly not yet imagined.

That’s a challenge for us now as we formulate our strategic plan. And in the best Wisconsin tradition I invite us all to look forward.

For information and to provide input on the CALS strategic plan, visit