Araceli Alonso, GHI Advisory Committee member, receives 2018 Academic Staff Excellence Award

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Nine University of Wisconsin–Madison professionals have been selected as recipients of the 2018 Academic Staff Excellence Awards, and Araceli Alonso, one of our Advisory Committee members, is among the recipients. The awards recognize achievements in leadership, public service, research, teaching and overall excellence.

“Academic staff are gifted teachers, award-winning researchers and dedicated administrators,” says Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “We depend upon them to have a vision that extends well beyond their own departments and, indeed, often well beyond campus.  They are critical thinkers and creative problem solvers who see limitless opportunities for collaboration, innovation and advancement of the university’s mission.”

Araceli Alonso wears several impressive hats: anthropologist, nurse, global health advocate. Many UW–Madison students would add another: favorite teacher.

For many years, Alonso taught the course Women and Their Bodies in Health and Disease, imbuing the flagship offering in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies with great rigor and great heart. Each year, 700 or more students enroll; hundreds more are on a waiting list. This semester, she is teaching Global Women’s Health and Human Rights, as well as two courses at the School of Medicine and Public Health. Many students have been inspired to forge careers in global health after taking her classes. “She is that teacher who changes everything for a student. The one they never forget,” says Lori DiPrete Brown, distinguished faculty associate and director of Women & Wellbeing in Wisconsin & the World.

Alonso’s humanitarianism led her to create “Health by Motorbike,” a much-heralded program that has improved the health of thousands of impoverished Kenyans and changed the lives of the UW–Madison students who travel there to aid the effort. Other students accompany Alonso to Spain and Morocco to study human trafficking. Most recently, she spearheaded the effort to create the UNESCO Chair in Gender, Wellbeing and a Culture of Peace, which she co-directs within the department.

UniverCity Partners with Green County

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UniverCity Year is traveling to Green County.

The UW-Madison program, aimed at improving the sustainability, resilience and livability of Wisconsin communities, will work with the south central Wisconsin county for the 2018-19 academic year and is seeking faculty who want to help strengthen the university’s connection with communities across the state.

“UniverCity Year helps faculty connect what students learn in the classroom to the real-world needs of our communities,” says UniverCity Year Program Manager Kelly Conforti Rupp. “Our staff work directly with local government leaders to identify projects based on the community’s annual plans and priorities. We also ensure that projects are rigorous, time bound and fit within a course’s learning outcomes.”

For its first year, UniverCity Year partnered with Monona, a city of about 7,500 just outside Madison. This year, it is working with the Dane County Board of Supervisors and will celebrate that partnership with an event in May.

After working with groups close to Madison, it was important to help the university collaborate with communities further away, Rupp says.

Green County, located in south central Wisconsin, is known for its rich agricultural history, pastoral scenery, and small-town atmosphere. Comprised of 16 towns, six villages, and two cities, it has a population of 36,842.

“We are most interested in projects that give students a direct opportunity to interact with citizens of our communities, so that they get a small taste of life in a rural community,” says Bryan Gadow, the New Glarus Administrator who is teaching an Urban and Regional Planning class already this semester as part of our partnership. “This includes working on updating park inventories, working on safe routes to school issues, and a wide assortment of community health related issues.”

Some of the other areas of interest include:

-Developing and analyzing quality of life metrics

-Attracting more businesses and residents to the area

-Designing communication and marketing plans

-Reviving downtowns

-Building hotels and community centers

-Improving parks and playgrounds

-Increasing physical activity and access to healthy food

-Developing breastfeeding resources and education

-Designing safe routes to school and other transportation plans

-Addressing the housing shortage

-Removing phosphorous and developing conservation plans

-Launching cooperatives and networks to support farmers

-Studying municipal staff workload and salary

“These projects not only help Green County communities, they will help students build their resumes and their experience,” says Cara Carper, executive director of the Green County Development Corp. “Not only will they get a front row seat into how rural communities work, they will have a seat at the table. These projects all have great community support and students and their input will be welcomed. Many of the projects have been simmering for years, but without community funding, they go nowhere. Students will have a huge impact on Green County and our region well into the future.”

UniverCity Year is based on the EPIC-N model, an initiative that started at the University of Oregon and has been adopted by more than 25 other universities. Leaders from those universities will be on campus in April when UW-Madison hosts the annual EPIC-N conference.

Michel Wattiaux, GHI Advisory Committee member, follows dairy cows’ carbon footprints from barn to field

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April 4, 2018 / By Bob Mitchell

Michel Wattiaux examines the contents of a cow’s stomach. UW-MADISON

Sometimes dairy scientist Michel Wattiaux approaches his research like a cop at a traffic stop. He uses a breath analyzer to check for problematic products of fermentation.

Last spring, the University of Wisconsin–Madison researcher began using a specialized device to measure the methane being exhaled or belched by a group of Holsteins and Jerseys. It was the first step in an ongoing study by dairy scientists, engineers and agronomists to see how a cow’s breed and forage consumption affect the greenhouse gases generated by her gut and her manure.

Greenhouse gases, which collect in the atmosphere and trap the sun’s radiation, are a big issue for the dairy industry. Methane is a concern because it’s particularly potent — it traps about 30 times as much radiation as carbon dioxide does — and a cow generates a lot of it in her rumen, the huge stomach chamber where microbes are fermenting as much as 200 lbs. of plant material. Also worrisome is nitrous oxide, another potent greenhouse gas that is emitted from manure during storage and after it’s spread in the field.

The U.S. dairy industry has set a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by the year 2020, and UW–Madison researchers are helping identify strategies to accomplish that.

Sampling the cows’ breath was the first in a sequence of experiments designed to measure greenhouse gas emissions at three critical points: from the cow’s breath, from her manure during storage, and from the field where her manure is spread. The researchers are looking at how three variables — breed of cow, type of silage fed, and relative levels of forage in the diet — affect greenhouse gas emissions at each point.

While versions of each of these experiments have been done on a standalone basis on the UW–Madison campus, Wattiaux says this is the first time the three have been integrated so that emissions originating from a cow and her manure can be tracked from barn to manure storage to field.

“This is the first time where we do the nutrition part, the manure storage part and the field application part sequentially, and then put it all together to give the Wisconsin dairy industry a solid number for how much methane and nitrous oxide comes out of their farms depending on the breed, the kind of diet and the amount of forage in the diet,” he says.

For the first experiment, which began in June and ran for four months, researchers fed 24 Holsteins and Jerseys a ration that included either alfalfa silage or corn silage, the two primary forages fed on Wisconsin dairy farms, along with some grain. Some cows were fed high levels of forage relative to grain, while others got less silage and more grain. Researchers periodically sampled each cow’s exhaled breath using the GreenFeed system, an analytical tool designed to determine daily methane emission.

“It drops a bit of sweet feed to entice her to stick her nose up to it,” Wattiaux explains. “The equipment sucks the air in, measures airflow, measures the concentration of methane and then estimates the amount of methane.”

In the second experiment, the manure from the cows was collected and held in barrels for two months to simulate manure storage on a dairy farm. Graduate student Elias Uddin collaborated with biological systems engineering professor Rebecca Larson to measure emissions of both methane and nitrous oxide from each barrel for 60 days.

The third experiment began at the end of October to simulate the post-harvest manure spreading typical of many Wisconsin farms. Researchers applied the stored manure to 24 field plots at the Arlington Agricultural Research Station. Under the supervision of agronomists Greg Sandford and Randy Jackson, a team of students began monitoring emissions from the plots last fall and will resume this spring.

Wattiaux believes that the findings from this research will be useful to scientists who create whole-farm decision models that producers use to predict the outcome of various management practices. He likens it to software such as Wisconsin’s SnapPlus, which farmers use to minimize soil and nutrient loss from their fields.

“In SnapPlus, you provide the field characteristics such as location and slope and crop management practices, and the model gives your ‘T’, your tolerable soil loss, so you can make sure you stay below that,” he says. “I think we’re going the same direction with this research. A model might calculate a tolerable level of greenhouse gas emissions and provide information on how to stay below that total by adopting new techniques in the field, new techniques in storage and new techniques in feeding.”

Job posting: GHI is hiring two student interns

The Global Health Institute  (GHI) is hiring two interns who are interested in contributing to better health for all —humans, animals and the planet. Interns are vital to GHI, bringing their perspective, their energy and their enthusiasm to both operations and communication.

The general/education intern will begin in April and support office operations, as well as education, research and outreach activities. The communications/social media intern will begin in May with special responsibility for social media effort. Both positions will continue through the summer and the next academic year.

All students with the needed skills are invited to apply.

See the job postings at:

Students should be able to work 8 to 12 hours during the semester and up to 20 hours a week during the summer. Hours are flexible based on class schedule. Interns work mostly from the Global Health Institute office in the Medical Sciences Center.

Working for GHI gives students an opportunity to collaborate with staff, leadership and the GHI community on campus and across the world. Interns leave with knowledge and experience in areas as diverse as running an office, contributing to education programs, hosting events and managing communications for a cross-campus entity.

Green spaces in cities help control floods, store carbon

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By Adam Hinterthuer

Carly Ziter conducts field work in a restored urban prairie in Turville Point Conservation Park in Madison. PHOTO BY ERIC PEDERSEN

For many ecologists, fieldwork involves majestic mountains or rushing rivers or large tracts of wilderness. At the very least, it means exploring natural areas that aren’t defined by human development.

But for Carly Ziter, a research site can be a lot closer to home. In fact, it can be right out your back door.

In a study published March 6 in the journal Ecosystem Applications, Ziter, a graduate student in integrative biology professor Monica Turner’s lab at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, finds that urban green spaces like backyards, city parks and golf courses contribute substantially to the ecological fabric of our cities — and the wider landscape — and they need to be added to the data ecologists currently use when exploring big questions about our natural world.

“Often when we’re doing regional studies of ecosystem services, or the ways that nature benefits us, we ignore the cities,” Ziter says. “We treat the city as this kind of gray box; quite literally on maps it’s often a gray box. And what we’ve discovered here is that … we need to be thinking about the city as part of the landscape.”

Carly Ziter collects soil samples from the front yard of a study participant in Madison to determine the benefits provided by different types of urban green space. PHOTO BY LAUREN JENSEN

To get a sense of how urban areas fit into bigger landscape dynamics, Ziter took soil samples from 100 sites around the city of Madison, Wisconsin. She surveyed cemeteries, the UW Arboretum, public parks — and lots and lots of backyards.  Each sample was then analyzed for three ecosystem services: carbon storage, water quality regulation and flood mitigation. The results indicate that urban green spaces play a significant role in providing some ecosystem services.

For example, Ziter found that more developed areas like public parks and people’s yards store substantially more carbon in their soils than urban forests or grasslands. Urban soils even stored more carbon on average than the agricultural soils that dominate Madison’s surrounding landscape.

Despite this large carbon sink, many regional or even national assessments of carbon storage “count urban areas as zero,” Ziter says.

Everywhere she looked in her research sites, Ziter found examples of ecosystem services. Urban forests and grasslands had a big impact on flood control, allowing water to infiltrate into the soil instead of simply running off into streets or storm sewers. And the kind and magnitude of service being provided varied from site to site.

“My front yard and my backyard can be more different in terms of their ecology than two houses across the city from one another,” Ziter says. “And that’s really fascinating from a management perspective, because it’s these small decisions people are making as individuals that are shaping the ecology of these landscapes.”

According to a 2016 report by the United States Census Bureau, more than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, which means that individual decisions can add up to big impacts on carbon storage, flood control or water quality — whether it’s planting turf grass or setting up a garden bed or putting in a driveway.

But these aren’t the only ecosystem services provided by the “urban wild.”

“If you’re out gardening, you’re interacting with the natural world. If you’re going out for a walk along the lake, you’re interacting with the natural world. We often think of nature as being in these big wild spaces, but there are a lot of smaller day-to-day interactions that we don’t realize are fostering a connection to our environment,” Ziter says. And these interactions promote physical health, mental well-being and overall quality of life in a city, she adds.

Ziter hopes her study can help highlight the importance of urban green spaces and encourage more ecologists to start studying these urban environments. However, she cautions, the job may not be for everyone.

“I had to get permission for every single one of my hundred sites within the city,” she says. “And that meant speaking one-on-one with upwards of 100 people, and that’s everyone from Joe Next Door to the golf course superintendent to a church group that manages a prairie restoration.”

While she didn’t mind fielding questions from curious homeowners or passerby, Ziter says, she realizes that “that type of social interaction is not in the tool kit of many ecologists!”

This work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation Long-term Ecological Research (grant DEB-1440297) and Water, Sustainability and Climate (grant DEB-1038759) programs, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Vilas Trust, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada doctoral fellowship, and a PEO Scholar Award.

UW-Madison celebrates International Women’s Day March 3

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By Käri Knutson

Women from all walks of life will be celebrated at the fifth annual International Women’s Day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 3, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Dejope Residence Hall. “Press for Progress” is the theme for this year’s event, being sponsored by AFRICaide and the UW–Madison 4W (Women & Wellbeing in Wisconsin & the World) Initiative.

The event has grown since it began in 2014 when a small group of 30 women gathered in the fellowship hall of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Madison. Since then, it has grown to attract between 100 and 200 attendees.

The purpose of the event is to bring together women of all backgrounds, nationalities, races, economic levels, ages, languages, religions, educational attainments, and all sexual orientations to celebrate International Women’s Day, which is observed globally March 8.

Emilie Songolo

“We want everyone who attends to come prepared to connect with other people, mostly women, who support women’s rights, gender equality, and who want to learn about and celebrate the work women are doing to advance these causes in our local community and around the world,” says Emilie Songolo, founder of AFRICaide, a grassroots non-profit organization based in Madison that strives to reduce abject poverty in Africa through rural development projects. “We hope everyone comes with the understanding that we are intentionally centering women’s voices, ideas, and experiences during the event.”

The event highlights and reflects on the work of those who have been engaged in improving conditions for women locally, nationally and internationally, It encourages others to think of ways for reducing gender inequality all over the world. Attendees are encouraged (though not required) to wear purple.

Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, community leader and long-time social justice advocate, and Josephine Kulea, a Kenyan women’s and girls’ rights campaigner who founded the Samburu Girls Foundation, are the featured speakers. The day will start with a global marketplace, cultural performances and a Women’s Walk Around the World.

“I am so proud to be co-sponsoring this event and to be part of this community of women,” says Lori DiPrete Brown, director of 4W. “When we consider the challenges that we are facing as a society, coming together on International Women’s Day to share our stories and draw on our collective strength is important, joyful, and very necessary.”

Tickets for the event are $7.50. For more information, visit