UW-Madison students awarded summer fellowships for community-based projects


This story first appeared on the Morgridge Center site.

Coming to a Wisconsin community near you this summer: New sustainability initiatives. Or perhaps, Shakespeare. All part of the second-annual Wisconsin Open Education Community Fellowships.

The WOECF, now in its second year, challenges undergraduate students at UW-Madison to work with community partners outside of the university to develop a community project in a Wisconsin town that the student has a connection to. For summer 2016, four projects (three individual projects and one partner project) were awarded funding and support.

This summer, projects will address climate change, youth sustainability education, literature education and sustainable transportation in three different Wisconsin communities: Oshkosh, Milwaukee and Monona.

Projects must be designed around the content provided in one of six massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered by the UW-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies during the 2015-16 academic year. Each fellow will receive a $3,000 stipend and up to $1,000 for project expenses.

Throughout the duration of the fellowship, each student will work to implement their project with a UW-Madison faculty mentor and a community partner organization. Fellows were required to work with both their community partner and faculty mentor from the beginning of the project design, although for most fellows, they have known and been working with both their mentor and their community partner for much longer.

Community partners will also receive $1,000 for participating in the fellowship, with UW-Madison faculty/staff mentors receiving $1,000 as well. The WOECF is a collaboration of the Division of Continuing Studies, Educational Innovation, and the Morgridge Center for Public Service at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


2016 Projects:

Addressing Local and Regional Climate Change at Aldo Leopold Nature Center

Student: Ethan Heyrman
Hometown: De Pere, Wisconsin
MOOC Topic: Changing Weather and Climate in the Great Lakes Region
Faculty Mentor: John Williams, Geography
Community Partner: Aldo Leopold Nature Center
Project Location: Monona, Wisconsin

Ethan Heyrman, a sophomore studying geophysics as well as atmospheric and oceanic sciences, will be working with the Aldo Leopold Nature Center (ALNC) in Monona, Wisconsin. ALNC provides hands-on experiences with nature for children, their families and teachers, including educational exhibits on topics related to climate change. During his fellowship, Ethan will update and expand these materials and exhibits to help visitors better understand the consequences (both short and long-term) of climate change in and around Wisconsin. The project is motivated by Ethan’s recognition that the effects of climate change are often publicly described as complex and part of a distant, uncertain future.

In order to enhance visitors’ understanding of the short-term, local effects of changing temperatures, Ethan’s project will proceed in three phases. First, Ethan will revise existing climate change exhibits at ALNC to help visitors better understand the technical ways in which scientists measure global temperature change and its consequences. Second, Ethan will construct two interactive models of local environments (including ice cover on Lake Mendota) to demonstrate the effects of climate change in Wisconsin. Third, Ethan will help visitors see the results of a changing climate firsthand by creating a preliminary version of a “digital docent tour” of ALNC grounds. Using QR codes that can be scanned by their own smartphones, visitors will be able to embark on a self-guided tour, adding select audiovisual and text content to their experience. Ethan’s work will therefore enduringly enhance ALNC’s efforts to educate Wisconsin residents on the local effects of climate change.


Shakespeare Workshop

Student: Grace Subat
Hometown: Oshkosh, Wisconsin
MOOC Topic: Shakespeare in the Community
Faculty Mentor: Karen Britland, English
Community Partner: Oshkosh Community Players
Project Location: Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Grace Subat, a freshman majoring in history and vocal performance, will work with the Oshkosh Community Players and the Oshkosh Area School District to encourage local students to read, discuss, and perform the works of William Shakespeare. Motivated by the joint recognition of funding challenges facing many arts programs in the state and her own positive experience with theater as a high school student in the area, Grace’s project will create a weekly workshop in which students can experience Shakespeare’s work in multiple ways. Participation in the workshops will be open to all students in the area, with slots filled on a first come, first serve basis.

During each session students will read, discuss, and perform for one another prominent selections from corners of the Bard’s canon that students may not have previously encountered, including Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Othello. Grace and members of the Oshkosh Community Players will encourage students to consider how the themes in each play apply to their own lives. Students will also be encouraged to make dramatic theater an important part of their lives. The workshops will culminate with a public performance of some of the scenes the students had rehearsed. The performances will be used as both a fundraiser for local arts programs as well as a statement about the importance of supporting theater efforts in local schools.


Monona Sustainable Transportation: Building Community Engagement

Student: Maria Castillo
Hometown: Bucaramanga, Colombia
Project Title: Monona Sustainable Transportation: Building Community Engagement
MOOC Topic: Climate Change and Public Health Policy
Faculty Mentor: Carolina Sarmiento, Civil Society & Community Studies
Community Partner: Monona Sustainability Committee
Project Location: Monona, Wisconsin

Maria Castillo, a junior environmental studies major, will be working with the Monona Sustainability Committee in Monona, Wisconsin. The committee, part of UW-Madison’s UniverCity Year program, works to create a shared, forward looking culture of sustainable and active transportation in the Monona area. Maria will complement the committee’s efforts by better mapping existing needs and interests among local stakeholders. After an initial meeting with city and committee officials, Maria will create and manage an inventory of local individuals, nonprofit groups, and businesses interested in the project. Once these actors have been identified, Maria will organize and facilitate a series of focus groups to allow their voices to be a part of the broader planning process in the area. These discussions will allow Maria and the committee to better understand the existing transportation culture as well as how they can most effectively and efficiently seek to improve it.

This process will also allow the committee to create important partnerships with related organizations such as the Wisconsin Bike Federation. In addition to these organizational efforts, Maria will also help coordinate the committee’s marketing. She will take a lead role in producing public service announcements targeting local youth, enhancing and expanding the committee’s social media presence and creating a series of outreach events to help Monona residents know about and embrace sustainable transportation options. In general, Maria’s efforts will also fill a key gap during the summer in which several other student-based resources in the UniverCity Year program will be limited due to the absence of related courses.

This project supports UniverCity Year collaboration with the city of Monona.

Young Sustainable Scientists Club

Student: Katherine Piel and Natalie Hogan
Hometowns: Piel – Wauwatosa, Hogan – Shorewood
Project Title: Young Sustainable Scientists Club
MOOC Topic: Climate Change Policy and Public Health
Faculty Mentor: Cathy Middlecamp, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
Community Partner: Urban Ecology Center
Project Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Katherine Piel, a freshman majoring in environmental studies and communication arts, and Natalie Hogan, a freshman majoring in dietetics and Spanish, will be working with the Urban Ecology Center (UEC) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Their fellowship work will center on enhancing the sustainable food components of UEC’s weekly science and nature-based after school program. The program currently provides weekly activities for local elementary school children to grow, cook, and eat healthy produce. Piel and Hogan will expand this experience for the students by providing them with hands-on, educational experiences about the broader environmental impacts that our food choices can have.

This information will help the students connect concepts of climate change and public health in at least three ways. First, students will be encouraged to become more thoughtful consumers of foods. Piel and Hogan will create lessons that demonstrate how the production of different types of food are closely interconnected and how students can independently identify products that are least stressful on the planet and society. Second, students will be taught additional gardening and cooking skills that allow them to improve the quality of their own diets. This effort will include visits to sustainable agriculture resources in the area. Third, students will be encouraged to be leaders in their own families, helping their parents and siblings make healthier, more sustainable food choices. Students will be provided with informational packets about sustainable food options in the Milwaukee area and will practice sharing these materials with others. Piel and Hogan thus hope to foster among these students an enduring commitment to improving the health of themselves and those around them through more nutritious and sustainable dietary choices.

This story was posted on April 14, 2016.

Scientists describe new model to enhance Zika virus research


Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes and typically causes mild, flu-like symptoms, when it causes symptoms at all. In 2015 the virus began infecting unprecedented numbers of people in Brazil and then spread throughout the Americas. Photo by James Gathany CDC

This story first appeared on news.wisc.edu/

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) have developed one of the first mouse models for the study of Zika virus. The model will allow researchers to better understand how the virus causes disease and aid in the development of antiviral compounds and vaccines.

“The tools have not been available to people who want to be able to test vaccines and antivirals against Zika virus,” says Matthew Aliota, assistant SVM scientist and lead author of the study that describes the model, published April 19 in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. “The caveat is that it’s a mouse model, but it does allow us to test vaccines, and the pathology caused by the virus in the mouse brain could be used to understand the pathology in the brains of humans, especially fetuses.”

Zika virus was first described in Uganda in 1947. Before last year, it had circulated in people in Africa, southeast Asia and in the Pacific Islands and only sporadically caused disease. The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes and typically causes mild, flu-like symptoms, when it causes symptoms at all.


A digitally colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of Zika virus. Photo by Cynthia Goldsmith of the CDC

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed Zika virus is responsible for a large rise in brain defects in developing fetuses, including microcephaly. In fact, cases of microcephaly — marked by a small head, reduced brain size and cognitive impairments — were 20 times higher than usual in parts of Brazil last year. There has been some evidence of neurological effects in adults as well.However, in 2015 the virus began infecting unprecedented numbers of people in Brazil and then spread throughout the Americas. Public health officials in the United States expect it to spread to the southern U.S. as the weather warms and activity of the Aedes aegypti mosquito — the species that harbors the virus — subsequently increases.

Researchers now also know the disease can spread through sexual contact.

“It’s scary to know so little about something that can be so devastating,” says Katrina Larkin, a UW–Madison undergraduate student and a study co-author. “Learning how instrumental animal models can be to combating diseases makes this work even more urgent.”

“The caveat is that it’s a mouse model, but it does allow us to test vaccines, and the pathology caused by the virus in the mouse brain could be used to understand the pathology in the brains of humans, especially fetuses.”

Matthew Aliota

Mouse models allow researchers to conduct larger-scale studies than animal models like nonhuman primates, and to perform experiments that are not possible to conduct in human beings.

The mouse model described by Aliota and the rest of the research team, including Jorge Osorio, professor of pathobiological sciences at SVM, is an immunocompromised mouse the laboratory already possessed for research on viruses similar to Zika, like dengue virus. The team learned they could inject Zika virus into the foot pads of the mice, and under their skin, and the virus would then spread throughout the body, including the brain. Other mouse strains are resistant to infection with Zika virus.

“Similar models have been revealed in the last two weeks, but there are also differences between those and ours,” says Aliota, who was part of the team that first found Zika virus in Colombia. The differences in their model will allow the researchers to test how exposure to other viruses, like dengue, may influence how the body responds to Zika infection.

The team’s mouse model lacks three types of interferons — known as alpha, beta and gamma — which are among the immune system’s first lines of defense against some types of viral infections. Mice with normal interferons are resistant to Zika virus infection but those lacking them get sick. Humans also have interferons but they are less effective at blunting Zika virus infection.

“It’s scary to know so little about something that can be so devastating. Learning how instrumental animal models can be to combating diseases makes this work even more urgent.”

Katrina Larkin

In the study, once the mice were infected with a range of doses of Zika virus — including doses similar to human exposure following a bite from an infected mosquito — they rapidly became ill. The virus was 100 percent fatal in mice at all doses, which is an effect not seen in humans.

The mice were euthanized within one week of infection and, unlike in the other recent mouse model studies, the researchers examined the effects of the virus in various organs of the body, including the liver, spleen, brain, kidney, intestine, heart, lungs and skeletal muscles.

The virus had spread throughout the body but Aliota says they were surprised to find it caused pathology only in the brain and skeletal muscle.

“It looks really bad for the brain,” he says, noting they saw evidence of meningitis, cell infiltration and necrosis (abnormal cellular death).

In addition to providing an opportunity for researchers to study vaccines and antivirals, the model also affords scientists the ability to study how the virus works, including whether it can replicate, or make copies of itself, and spread within brain tissue.

“It’s pretty easy for people to see on the news that there’s this illness affecting lots of people and wonder why no one has come up with a vaccine yet,” says Emma Walker, another undergraduate researcher and study co-author, “but for Zika, which hasn’t really been researched before, there’s a lot of pressure just to find out more basic things — like how the virus works — before you can try to tackle ‘curing’ the illness.”

“I have been amazed with the amount of information that has been generated about Zika virus in such a short amount of time.”

Liz Caine

Aliota calls the students who worked on the study, including Ph.D. student Liz Caine, “outstanding,” and says it would not have been possible so quickly without their dedication and long hours in the lab. Zika findings from labs across the country have published at breakneck speed as researchers focus their efforts on combating the disease. In fact, Aliota and colleagues at UW–Madison have made other aspects of their collaborative research available to other scientists and the public in real time.

“I have been amazed with the amount of information that has been generated about Zika virus in such a short amount of time,” says Caine.

Aliota also credits the resources available at UW–Madison for the pace of Zika study progress here.

“UW has become a center of Zika virus research. There are a lot of people with diverse expertise to take on this problem,” he says. “That’s the advantage of having a medical school, a veterinary school and a primate center; it’s possible to do things here that only a few institutions around the globe can accomplish.”

For Aliota, who has long studied infectious diseases like Zika, the fact that his work and that of his team has had such profound impact in the response to a significant public health issue is vastly rewarding.

“It’s scary for the people living with it,” Aliota says. “Our goal is to translate what we find to the field. To see such immediate impact, that doesn’t happen often.”

by Kelly April Tyrrell, April 19, 2016.

GROW: Ecuador: Better Health through Messaging


The health messaging team: Bret Shaw, a CALS professor of life sciences communication, undergraduates Lauren Feierstein and Brenna O’Halloran, and local partner Betsy Vaca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post was written by Kaine Korzekwa and first appeared in CALS GROW Magazine in the Spring 2016 issue.

2016 Wisconsin Without Borders Awards honor eight outstanding projects

Photo by Corinne Praska

Photo by Corinne Praska, Morgridge Center for Public Service

This story was first published on the Morgridge Center for Community Service  website site.

Eight UW-Madison projects are being honored for their community-engaged focus on global malnutrition, waterborne illness, Wisconsin Native public health, Latina women’s mental health and more. Three of the winners, Marjorie Kersten, Theo Loo and Andrew Denu are global health students.

The 2016 Wisconsin Without Borders Awards honor the work of students, faculty, staff and community partners that demonstrates excellence in collaboration between the university and local and global communities. Winners this year represent efforts spanning seven countries. Each award carries a cash prize of up to $1,500.

Wisconsin Without Borders, a campus-wide alliance, selected winners in four different categories, including the brand new 4W Award. Winners will be honored at a campus ceremony on Thursday, April 21 from 4-5:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Idea Room at the Education Building. The ceremony is open to the entire campus and community.

Wisconsin Without Borders (WWB) is a UW-Madison alliance and award program that recognizes globally-engaged interdisciplinary scholarship and fosters excellence by networking through joint learning activities. WWB draws on the history and values of the Wisconsin Idea and the many remarkable partnerships that UW-Madison faculty members and students have initiated, both in Wisconsin and around the world.

WWB is a partnership between the Morgridge Center for Public Service, the Global Health Institute and the International Division.

4W Award

Expanding Entomophagy: Investigating Potential Mealworm and Cricket Consumption, Zambia

 Marjorie Kersten, undergraduate, Community and Environmental Sociology and Global Health

Community Partner: Mission to Improve Global Health Through Insects (MIGHTi)

Insect micro-livestock farming has the potential to be a direct solution to malnutrition, food insecurity, poverty, and economic inequality disproportionately faced by Zambian women. Part of the research conducted worked to address quality of life issues for women by providing baseline data to community partners that would allow them to more successfully develop and implement insect micro-livestock farmers in collaboration with women’s cooperatives in Zambia.

Peter Bosscher Award (Individual)

Muddied Waters: Water Security Management in Mmangweni Village, South Africa

Recipient: Theo Loo, undergraduate, Microbiology and Global Health

Community Partner:  Indwe Trust NPC

Currently, 40% of South Africa’s population lives in rural areas with little access to clean water, leading to illness and disease. This project was designed with the goal of reducing the prevalence of waterborne diseases in Kumanzimdaka, South Africa. The project conducted water testing and water sterilization workshops, established a community dialogue, and mapped houses, community centers, livestock feeding pastures and latrines. The project has produced a recommendation for physical water source protection strategies in Kumanzimdaka and has the potential to lay the groundwork for a systematic approach to reducing waterborne diseases across rural South Africa.

Peter Bosscher Award (Group)

Village Health Project (VHP), Uganda

Recipients: James Ntambi (faculty, Biochemistry), Andrew Denu, (undergraduate, Biology and Global Health) Mackenzie Carlson (undergraduate, Gender & Women’s Studies) and Corinne Praska (undergraduate, Genetics)

Community Partner: Village Health Project-Uganda

VHP-Uganda, founded more than 15 years ago, is a community-based organization (CBO) that supports multiple ongoing efforts in Lweza, Uganda. VHP-Uganda has given UW-Madison students, faculty and staff a local CBO that is able to engage and mobilize people in the community around issues identified by community members. Through the program (and now another one that focuses on mobile clinics) students are offered opportunities to work alongside community members in addressing some of the most critical needs as identified by the community in areas such as livestock, agriculture, micro-enterprise development.

Recognition in Community Based Research

Women and One Health: Empowerment of Women in Rural Agriculture, Ghana

Recipient: Sophia Friedson-Ridenour, 4W postdoctoral research associate, Center for Research on Gender and Women

Community Partner: 
Women farmers and women’s farmer organizations in Northern Ghana

Funded by a UW-Madison Global Health Institute Seed Grant, this research explores the empowerment and wellbeing of women in agriculture in Northern Ghana. Inspired by the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI), the study uses a community-based qualitative research methodology to accomplish two goals: 1) Explore the sense women make of the domains being used to measure their empowerment. 2) Expand the areas being used to measure the empowerment of women in agriculture to encompass greater measures of wellbeing such as woman’s aspirations, capabilities, and her sense of self-efficacy, dimensions of agency and hence empowerment that the WEAI does not currently attend to.

Honorable Mention in Community Based Research

Venga y Relájese! A Pilot Stress Reduction Curriculum for Latina Women, Wisconsin and Peru

Recipient: Elizabeth Abbs, medical student, School of Medicine and Public Health

Community Partner:
 Aurora Walker’s Point Community Center, Milwaukee, WI; Colegio Pitagoras, Lima, Peru

Stress can negatively affect the human body, increasing risk for depression, anxiety, insomnia, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems. Women living in poverty, especially those with a migration history, often live in a state of chronic stress compounded by various social, economic, and environmental factors. As a Training in Urban Medicine and Public Health (TRIUMPH) project, ¡Venga y Relájese! (Come! and Relax!) was designed to provide a sustainable introduction to meditation, meaningful social interactions and self-compassion to the women of Aurora’s Walker’s Point Community Clinic, in Milwaukee. The program is currently in the process of expanding to Lima, Peru.

Excellence in Service Learning (Group)

Traditions in Health, Wisconsin

Recipients: Melissa Metoxen, Dr. Jacquelynn Arbuckle, Dr. Christine Athmann, Lauren Cornelius, Lina Martin, Tim Frandy, staff and faculty, School of Medicine and Public Health

Community Partner: 
Oneida Nation and Lac du Flambeau tribal communities

Traditions of Health offers a holistic intervention to promote healthy lifestyles in Native American communities through the learning of traditional knowledge and through relationship building between Native students at UW-Madison and Wisconsin’s tribal communities. Cultural-based interventions have been shown to have extraordinary results, particularly in Native American communities. This program involves traditional foodways, the healthy lifeways associated with their cultivation and harvest and the experiential learning of traditional Native food-culture in Wisconsin’s Native communities.

Excellence in Service Learning (Individual)

Conservation and Sustainable Development Service-Learning in rural Ecuador

Recipient: Catherine Woodward, faculty associate, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies

Community Partner:
 Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation

The goal of involving students in this community-based research project in Ecuador is two-fold: First, to guide students in developing cultural competencies as they apply their college education and language skills in sociocultural contexts that are novel to them; and second, to facilitate a beneficial exchange of knowledge between US students and rural Ecuadorians that helps address economic and environmental challenges that are global in scope. The impact of this involvement includes a greater awareness from both students and local people of the importance of stewardship of water resources and increased capacity within the community to address water quality problems. More than 30 students have been involved in this work.

Recognition in Service Learning (Individual)

Multicultural Theatre for Rural Schools, Wisconsin

Recipient: Manon van de Water, professor, Slavic Languages

Community Partner: 
Taliesin Preserve and Rural School Districts

This project offers a quality multicultural theatre program to underprivileged rural schools in partnership with the Taliesin Preserve. The project was an extension of the annual Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) production that has been part of the regular season of the Department of Theatre and Drama’s University Theatre. This project successfully brings together a number of constituencies, forges connections between the rural community and the University, between graduate students, undergraduate students, and school-age students and between the arts and education.

By Mark Bennett/ April 12, 2016.

Age-Old Traditions, New Media

Live from the lake: Patty Loew brings UW global health students and Bad River Ojibwe teens together to learn from each other and create digital stories about tribal life and concerns.

This article was first featured in the Spring 2016 Grow Magazine issue.

Life sciences communication professor Patty Loew, a member of the GHI Advisory, fosters intercultural learning with workshops that help tribal teens tell their stories in a digital world.

There is no better place to begin this story than on an August morning in the remote reaches of the Bad River Ojibwe Reservation, afloat on Lake Superior’s shining Chequamegon Bay beneath an expansive, cloud-filled sky.

Several flat-bottomed boats are lined up gunwale-to-gunwale, bobbing in the gentle waves. They’re filled with students—a mix of UW–Madison undergraduates and tribal youth—on a field project run through UW–Madison’s Global Health Institute. They are listening to Dana Jackson and Edith Leoso, Bad River tribal members and elders, talk about wild rice and the windswept, watery landscape around them, the sloughs and the tamarack stands, the distant islands and the shimmering headlands.

It is all ancestral home to the Ojibwe, and Jackson and Leoso bring it to life with their words. They tell the Ojibwe creation story of how their tribal forebears came to the land so many years ago from the east, seeking, as they had been told in visions, a place where “the food grows on top of the water.” They speak of the chiefs who signed treaties to protect this homeland and of the warriors who fought to protect it and of the threats that come with modern times.

The students, armed with video cameras and recorders, soak it all up. The land seems to take on new depth and meaning, peopled now with the ghosts and the place names and shrouded in the mystery and the magic of the old stories.

It’s an ideal classroom for the CALS professor who is the guiding hand behind this floating, open-air lecture session.

Patty Loew, a professor of life sciences communication, has brought these students here to share with them the lives and the culture of a people she knows well.

Loew is a tribal member of the Bad River Ojibwe. She can trace her family back to ancestors who were among the tribal leaders signing the tribe’s historic treaties in the 1800s. When she looks out upon the waters of Lake Superior and the winding sloughs of the reservation, she sees her own family’s history. These places are as special to her as to any other member of the Bad River community.

Two years ago, in a column in the Wisconsin State Journal about the importance of this place to the Ojibwe, Loew wrote, “You won’t see any stained glass or church spires in the Bad River or Kakagon Sloughs, but those wetlands are as holy to us as any temple or cathedral.”

A noted television journalist and the author of several acclaimed books on Wisconsin’s Native Americans as well as an accomplished scholar, Loew could easily be resting on her many successes.

Instead, she is deeply involved in a number of teaching and media projects that are not only bringing the stories of Wisconsin’s Native Americans to life, but also are providing new ways for those stories to be shared by tribal members themselves. Since 2007, she has led efforts to teach tribal teenagers digital storytelling and technology skills. Working with colleagues as well as tribal leaders, she has helped young people create documentaries sharing Native American issues and culture. In a 2012 project, for example, eight St. Croix Ojibwe students created a tribal history told through the life stories of five St. Croix elders.

In this work Loew has also partnered with the UW–Madison Global Health Institute. She’s currently in the midst of a project—the one that has us floating on Chequamegon Bay—in which global health students from a wide range of majors work alongside tribal youth to bring the power of digital media to bear on reservation health issues such as nutrition and childhood obesity. The Bad River reservation has some of the highest diabetes and cardiovascular disease rates in the United States, according to a 2008 Wisconsin Nutrition and Growth Study.

Loew’s projects can already boast some impressive successes. In 2013, three 14-year-old Bad River participants in her tribal youth media workshops produced a documentary, Protect Our Future, that detailed the potential environmental threats posed by a proposed iron mine in the Penokee Range above the Bad River reservation.

The video was an award-winning hit. It played to large audiences at film festivals throughout the Great Lakes region and was screened at the Arizona State University Human Rights Festival. The teens were on hand to introduce their film, which they also shared at the nearby Salt River Tribal High School.

The project followed a unique blueprint developed by Loew that melds traditional knowledge from tribal elders and leaders with the use of digital media skills now being deployed by tribal youth.
It is, in effect, an artful and sensitive blending of the old and new. Loew, not one to think small, says she sees the work in the context of a larger and more powerful dream. Oblivious to the breeze and splashing water from Lake Superior, she speaks from her seat in one of the boats as it motors through the reservation’s famed Kakagon Sloughs. In between her answers to questions, she patiently works with students as they learn how to use video cameras. She helps one of them frame a shot and assists another who is figuring out how to program a video card.

“My ultimate goal,” Loew says as she works, “is to help Bad River become the media center for Indian Country. We want to combine really strong media skills with a really strong sense of culture.”

Loew’s work has drawn praise from many quarters, from tribal leaders to academic colleagues.

Joe Rose is an elder with the Bad River Ojibwe and has watched young tribal members embrace Loew’s teachings. He describes the pride that the video Protect Our Future brought to the reservation.
“We were fighting against the mine then,” Rose recalls. “That was a very serious threat to us. We were very concerned about our wild rice. That was exceptional work that Patty did with the young people. She taught them how to use the media, how to do the photography and the interviewing. They even did the music. And it was all done by students, only 14 or 15 years old.”

Don Stanley, a CALS faculty associate in the Department of Life Sciences Communication who specializes in social media, has worked alongside Loew on the reservation, served as her co-investigator, and, Loew says, sparked the original idea for much of their tribal youth media work.

There are few better examples of the Wisconsin Idea in action, Stanley says, when it comes to sharing the department’s communication expertise and scholarship with a broader audience.

And, in this case, that sharing is with a community that few can reach as effectively as Loew. Loew has the ability to connect in a special way, Stanley notes, because of her deep tribal roots and connections. People know her and see her knowledge and respect for tribal life and culture. That understanding and empathy is not always common among academics.

“A lot of time in academia, we don’t understand that,” Stanley says. “Researchers come in, extract what they want and leave. But people you are working with relate on a scale that is much more real and visceral when they’re dealing with somebody who gets it.”

And Loew gets it.

“She’s got incredible street cred,” Stanley says of Loew’s work on the reservation. “It’s a blast traveling with her up there. Everybody is a family member. Everybody is ‘Hey, Patty!’ and big hugs. I also think that because she doesn’t take herself so seriously, she’s really approachable.”

Indeed, Loew is quick to laugh, and a talker. She will enthuse equally about her work or a Green Bay Packer game (she is a devoted fan). She evokes laughter from her students when, passing by a reservation boat flying a Packer pennant, she says, casually, “Oh, look. The tribal flag!”

Loew is quick to point out an important caveat when it comes to her work with the Bad River community as it relates to the Wisconsin Idea. This is not about just transferring knowledge from the campus to the reservation, she says. In fact, she prefers the phrase “knowledge exchange.”

The tribes, Loew says, are a rich and unrecognized source of information about the natural world. The elders and others on the reservation have much to share, and that traditional knowledge can inform and extend science and natural resource management in the non-Indian world, notes Loew.

In the Ojibwe, Loew sees a people who have valuable lessons for us in how to combine culture with a respect for the natural workings of the planet.

“Over the past 25 years, I’ve seen a real need for scientific information that has cultural relevance,” Loew says. “Native communities may be poor in an economic sense but they are rich in natural resources. And the culture is attached to those resources in a way that can’t be separated.

“So it’s a two-way street,” Loew continues. “We don’t necessarily have the scientific capacity. But what we do have is storytellers and people who know and embrace the culture.”

Loew did not come to these understandings suddenly. They are the result of a slow and gradual awakening on her part to her own Native American heritage and a lifetime spent learning the communication skills that would one day allow her to bring the power of story to bear on sharing the history and culture and struggles of not only the Ojibwe but all of Wisconsin’s tribes.

Loew’s path has led her to a very professorial office in Hiram Smith Hall on the UW–Madison campus, home to the Department of Life Sciences Communication (LSC) and just a stone’s skip from Lake Mendota.
But Loew, as her colleagues will point out, seems to have trouble staying in that comfortable office. Everyone who works with her in Hiram Smith Hall has had the pleasant experience of meeting a wide-eyed Loew in the hallway and being greeted by the phrase “Hey! I have an idea I wanted to try out on you.”

It is more than a charming aspect of her character. It is how she works, bringing to life the cherished Wisconsin ideal of “sifting and winnowing.”

Loew is an idea factory. In recent months, her friends and co-workers have listened and watched as Loew has worried about the many employees who will be out of work when Oscar Mayer’s Madison factory closes. Perhaps, she muses as she talks with her colleagues, there is a way one of her video classes can help provide video resumes.

More often than not, those ideas become reality.

“She’s phenomenal at taking ideas and making them come to fruition,” says Stanley.

Professor and LSC department chair Dominique Brossard says Loew heightens the department’s effectiveness at giving students a more global perspective on the intersections of culture and science in the natural world. Her courses in ethnic studies and Native American issues and the media are very popular, she notes.

And with her extensive background in television and video production, Loew is a key player in achieving another of the department’s goals—providing foundational communication skills to students.
“She’s uniquely positioned to do this kind of thing,” Brossard says.

Loew has traveled a long road to reach this stage in her career. She grew up on Milwaukee’s north side, little aware of her Native American background and the important role it would play as her life unfolded.

“I didn’t know I was Indian until I was 13,” Loew recalls. “I was just a kid growing up in a housing project in Milwaukee.”

Looking back, Loew believes her mother, who was born on a reservation, and her grandfather, who lived with the family, were trying to shield her from the discrimination frequently faced by Native Americans. Her grandfather, Edward DeNomie, was raised in the Tomah Indian Boarding School. Life in such schools was harsh, and children were often punished severely for speaking their native language or clinging to other aspects of their culture.

Even so, Loew heard and relished the stories of her ancestors. And by the late 1960s, she had become well aware not only of her rich cultural heritage but also the ugliness of racial prejudice. She recalls a growing sense of outrage, especially in the 1970s as Native American rights became a prominent news story.

Loew pursued a career in broadcast journalism. She earned a degree from UW–La Crosse and started her broadcasting career working in the city as a TV and radio reporter.

Eventually Loew moved to Madison, where she worked her way up to the anchor’s desk at the ABC affiliate, WKOW–TV. Her awareness of Native American culture and her desire to tell the stories of Wisconsin’s tribes grew. In the 1980s, she earned awards and gained respect throughout the state for her coverage of the fierce legal battle and sometimes ugly boat-landing confrontations as the Ojibwe fought to reestablish off-reservation hunting and fishing rights that had been included in the treaties.

Loew would go on to make dozens of documentaries telling the stories and covering the struggles of Wisconsin’s Native American communities. After moving on to Wisconsin Public Television, she made reporting on the tribes a regular part of her job as host of the show Weekend.

In a 2006 interview in the magazine Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, Loew described the important connection between her rediscovered culture and her professional life.

“As a journalist, a researcher, you have questions,” Loew said. “You realize you are struggling for answers about yourself. So you want to be open, to make connections to people. You find yourself being very relational, and that’s very Native.”

That willingness to be up-front about her debt to her past, and to be outspoken about the indignities that Native Americans have had to endure, have sometimes landed her in interesting, if not difficult, positions.

After she gave a talk about some of the more unpleasant truths of the first Thanksgiving, she earned the ire of none other than radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. He accused Loew of being part of a “multicultural curriculum which is designed to get as many little kids as possible to question the decency and goodness of their own country.”

Few of Loew’s documentaries received more attention than Way of the Warrior, an exploration of the role of Native American soldiers in the U.S. military that aired on PBS in 2007. During her research, she stumbled across a film about her grandfather’s World War I outfit. Her quiet Ojibwe grandfather, it turned out, had fought in seven of WWI’s major battles as part of the 32nd Red Arrow Division.

Later, in another serendipitous discovery, she would find his diary. She describes how touched she was and how she is still so taken by the idea of Edward DeNomie raising his hand to take the oath and enlist in the U.S. Army—even though he had been denied citizenship in the country for which he was willing to give his life. Native Americans were not granted citizenship in the United States until 1924.

The popular, eye-opening documentary told the stories of many such Native American soldiers. And, later, after earning her master’s and doctoral degrees in journalism and joining the Department of Life Sciences Communication, Loew would continue telling the stories of Wisconsin’s tribes and of her own people at Bad River. She’s written several popular books, including Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal—which has been adapted for children and is now widely used in public schools—and, most recently, Seventh Generation Earth Ethics, a collection of biographies about 12 Native Americans who were key figures in environmental and cultural sustainability.

Sitting in the stern of one of the boats winding through the reservation sloughs, Loew reflects on her storytelling past and connects it with the ancient tradition of the Ojibwe and other native cultures.

“We are oral storytellers,” Loew says. But she is lending a new twist to the revered tradition. By adapting digital media to the old stories, the power of their message is amplified and made more accessible, especially important when it comes to lessons regarding nutrition and health among tribal members.

For example, some of the young tribal videographers have scoured the reservation collecting information from elders about age-old gardening and cooking skills. They hope to use that information at some point, Loew explains, to create “teen cuisine” cooking shows focused on healthy eating.

It makes so much sense to combine the old and the new, Loew says. After all, she adds, by the year 2020, 80 percent of content on the World Wide Web is expected to be video.

“These are new tools to help us be who we are, to help us capture the essence of who we are,” says Loew. “It’s a way to preserve our stories and a really unique approach to documenting life on the reservation at this particular time in history.”

Students from the Global Health Institute class, traveling with Loew on weeklong field trips, have worked side by side with tribal youth to gather information for the health and nutrition project and to create videos.

Cali McAtee, a CALS biology major who went with Loew to Bad River in August, wrote in her journal about not only establishing close relationships with tribal young people, but also of gaining valuable insight into another culture. She recalls in her writings the feeling of traveling through a sea of rice at the edge of Lake Superior.

“I have seen a lot of wild rice in my life, but from far away. I probably assumed it was a field because you can’t really see the water in between,” wrote McAtee. “I liked hearing about the importance of rice to the Ojibwe because I don’t think I necessarily have anything as important or meaningful in my life as rice is to theirs.”

Loew has felt the power of story in her own life and in her own search for connections. Researching one of her books, Loew found herself reading the classic book Kitchi-Gami: Life Among the Lake Superior Ojibway, by Johann Georg Kohl. In the book she came across a story in which Kohl brings to life a meeting he had with a tribal elder.

That elder was none other than Loew’s great-great-grandfather, Loon’s Foot. Kohl wrote how, during his conversation with the old man, Loon’s Foot stepped back into his lodge and came out with a smoky, stained birchbark scroll. Unrolling it and speaking in French, Loon’s Foot showed Kohl the story of his family told on the scroll and the dots and lines that denoted the passing years and decades. The story reached back to the year 1142.

“Here I was just reading Kohl, and then holy smokes!” Loew recalls. “Not bad for an oral culture.”

Loew firmly believes it is possible to capture that same kind of magic today with new approaches to traditional storytelling.

Don Stanley has watched as Loew has found a way to navigate between two worlds—the quickly receding years of the elders and the fast-paced, media-rich present of the tribal young—to create a new way to tell and preserve story and tradition, and then apply their lessons to modern-day problems.

As an example, Stanley describes how, as part of the nutrition project, he has seen Loew work with Native middle school students, teaching them how to videotape an elder speaking about traditional foods and health. While Loew is helping the teens develop communication skills, she knows full well that she is also preserving the knowledge of that tribal elder for future generations.

No less an expert on Ojibwe tradition than tribal elder Joe Rose admires and respects Loew’s ability to bridge old and new worlds. He says that with the passing of the generation that experienced the assimilation policies of the boarding schools, it’s important that the young be able to hear the elders’ voices—to see their faces, lined and carrying the weight of the years, but still alive with the resilience and strength and wisdom of their ancient heritage.

“It is very important, since we do come from an oral culture,” Rose says of Loew’s task. “But you’ve heard the expression that a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, there’s truth in that, too.”
As for Loew, she says that the girl growing up in the Milwaukee projects has found her place.

“I’m doing what I was supposed to do,” Loew says. “I’m incredibly grateful that Don and I have found such a dedicated, caring community—our students, our volunteers, the Bad River kids and their families—with whom to pursue this work. They’re the ones who make it possible.”

By Ron Seely in Spring 2016 edition of CALS Grow Magazine

Ethiopia graduates first family medicine doctors through residency program developed in partnership with the University of Wisconsin

On February 4, 2016, seven Ethiopian doctors became the first graduates from the family medicine residency program at Addis Ababa University’s College of Health Sciences. This 3-year residency program is the first such program in Ethiopia and an important step in improving health care services in a country with more than 100 million people. The residency program is one outcome of the University of Wisconsin’s Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) with Addis Ababa University.

“These graduates are an inspiration to me, as they create Family Medicine in Ethiopia from the ground up to suit the Ethiopian context and needs,” says UW family physician Ann Evensen, MD, who attended the graduation ceremony in Ethiopia. “It was an honor to represent the UW and the American Academy of Family Physicians at such an historic occasion.”

Seven doctors graduated from Ethiopia’s first family medicine residency program on February 4, 2016, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Graduates holding diplomas in the first row include, left to right, Elnathan Kebebew, Sena Dhugasa, Meseret Zerihun, Murutse Atsebaha, Assefa Alamirew, Assegid Geleta, and Assefa Beyene.

Seven doctors graduated from Ethiopia’s first family medicine residency program on February 4, 2016, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Graduates holding diplomas in the first row include, left to right, Elnathan Kebebew, Sena Dhugasa, Meseret Zerihun, Murutse Atsebaha, Assefa Alamirew, Assegid Geleta, and Assefa Beyene.



In 2010, the NIH funded the Medical Education Partnership Initiative with a $130 million grant, aimed at enhancing medicine in 12 sub-Saharan African countries. These efforts were spearheaded by Girma Tefera, MD, a vascular surgeon in the UW Department of Surgery and a native of Ethiopia, and Cynthia Haq, MD, from the UW Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.

“When I first visited Ethiopia in 2001, very few people had heard about family medicine,” reflects Haq.

Through a series of visits and collaborations with faculty from AAU, the UW, and University of Toronto, the Ethiopian Ministry of Health approved the first training program in 2012. Government leaders have now embraced the concept and called for rapid expansion and development of new family medicine training programs.

“The ownership of this program is really in their hands, which helps ensure it will succeed and be sustainable,” Tefera says.

According to Haq, “The first graduates of the AAU family medicine residency are living examples of the value of well-trained generalist physicians who can provide high-quality care for patients across the life span and are prepared to promote the health of individuals, families and communities. We look forward to continued progress as our new colleagues expand and open new training programs.”


Special note:  Dr. Cindy Haq as the founding director of the Center for Global Health and now special advisor to the Global Health Institute.

Tradition of serving others keeps drawing UW-Madison alumni into Peace Corps

First published on wisc.edu 

Rita Argus recalls hearing her professors at the University of Wisconsin–Madison talk about the Wisconsin Idea, “the thought that what we are learning in the classroom should be applicable to real-world situations.”

“I think this has conditioned me to better apply what I learned to help with problems and challenges I am encountering here,” says Argus, who graduated from UW–Madison in May 2014 with a degree in biological systems engineering.

Rita Argus, 24, of Helenville, Wisconsin, is one of 68 UW–Madison alumni currently in the field as Peace Corps Volunteers. Photo by: Peace Corps

When she speaks of “here,” Argus is referring to Senegal in West Africa, where she has been working with a Senegalese master farmer to train local farmers in sustainable agriculture and agroforestry practices. She also is helping a local agricultural research group distribute seeds and gather information to help improve seed variety throughout the country.

Argus, 24, of Helenville, Wisconsin, is one of 68 UW–Madison alumni currently in the field as Peace Corps Volunteers. Continue reading