Wisconsin idea seminar

Last week I attended the Wisconsin Idea Seminar, a weeklong trip through Wisconsin with other newish University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty and staff. The Wisconsin Idea is an amazing philosophy adopted by the university that focuses on using our university and world-class faculty to give back to our nation and our state. It’s officially been around since 1912.

The Wisconsin Idea is the principle that the university should improve people’s lives beyond the classroom. It spans UW–Madison’s teaching, research, outreach and public service. One of the longest and deepest traditions surrounding the University of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Idea signifies a general principle: that education should influence people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom. Synonymous with Wisconsin for more than a century, this “Idea” has become the guiding philosophy of university outreach efforts in Wisconsin and throughout the world.

I do not have pictures from all of the activities and destinations, but here are a few that I took along the way.

A picture of those who participated in the 2014 Wisconsin Idea Seminar

A picture of those who participated in the 2014 Wisconsin Idea Seminar. Participants came from all colleges and units in the university. I was the only engineering faculty on the trip. Photo courtesy of Joyce Crim.


A map of our trip. Destinations included a university dairy farm, a sauerkraut factory, a hospital, a dental clinic, a prison, a charter school in Milwaukee, among other destinations.


Our bus!


Hodag – a folkloric animal from Northern Wisconsin. This statue of Hodag is outside of the Rhinelander public library, where we learned about the Rhinelander School of the Arts. Hodag is like the Wisconsin version of the Loch Ness Monster. 


A Jersey cow at the University Dairy Farm. Photo Courtesy of Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer).

A Jersey cow at the University Dairy Farm. Photo Courtesy of Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer).


A poster from the Aldo Leopold Shack in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Aldo Leopold was a pioneer the ecological conservation movement back in the 1930s. He helped to restore sandy areas in Central Wisconsin, which is detailed in his book The Sand County Almanac. He raised five children, three of which were inducted in the National Academies.


A green building in the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center in Baraboo, Wisconsin.


This is my prize for surviving the tour at the Great Lakes Kraut factory tour. I had to walk through a river of kraut to make it through the the tour.


A sauerkraut cupcake. Let’s just say that I will not be trying one again.


I won’t name names, but some of the participants drove tractors at Great Lakes Kraut. Our legal advisor wasn’t too thrilled about this turn of events. But it was really fun!


The Lac du Flambeau tribe dental clinic. This dental clinic serves the Lac du Flambeau tribe, the band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. This impressive, large dental clinic serves the community as well as the tribe, and it educates future dental assistants. This was a very impressive operation, and I tip my hat to its visionary director Paco Fralick.


These dental mannequins reminded me of a few science fiction stories I read back in the day. Another office that constructed dentures had drawerful of (fake) teeth. The drawerful of teeth were less frightening than the mannequins.


A liter of beer at the Hofbrau-Haus in Milwaukee.

Other destinations and activities included:

  • Nicolet College (a two-year technical public college)
  • Red Granite Correctional Institution, a medium security prison. Interesting fact: education is mandatory for the inmates (but they can opt out). Another interesting fact: the prison has a special Netflix subscription so the inmates can watch recent movies. I asked one of the employees to name one thing he didn’t like about his job. His answer: “Working with some of the other employees.”
  • Milwaukee Collegiate Academy, a charter school in a tough neighborhood in Milwaukee to understand K-12 educational challenges in Wisconsin. This all black high school boasts a 100% college acceptance rate. This is impressive given some the environment that most of the students come from.
  • Discussion with the Wassau Area Hmong Mutual Association to understand the challenges in the Hmong refugee community.
  • Holiday Acres Resort in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
  • Medical outreach and Ministry St. Clare’s Hospital in Weston, Wisconsin.

All in all, this was a fantastic trip. It was not a vacation. The purpose of this trip was to get new faculty and staff to understand what the Wisconsin Idea is all about as well as to discover a way to give back those in need in our state. It is worth noting that none of our activities focused on Northern European groups (the German, Polish, and Norwegian) who we traditionally think of as settlers of Wisconsin. Instead, many of the activities introduced us to those most in need. Not that Germans in Wisconsin aren’t in need (you know what I mean!)

It wasn’t generally obvious how to help. And to be honest, operations research isn’t going to be part of the solution for most of the problems we saw during the trip. But that wasn’t the point. If at least one of my colleagues from another discipline could assist in some way, that would be a great start.

Giving back wasn’t the sole purpose of the trip. My favorite part of the trip was connecting with new colleagues during the bus trips and social activities. In the least, I have new friends and connections on campus. I sincerely hope that I will have a new collaborator or two after the trip.

Thank you to those who made this trip possible!


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