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.”

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