All-college diversity forum yields valuable feedback

Around 85 members of the CALS community participated in the all-college forum on diversity and inclusion, held on Feb. 2 in Upper Carson Gulley.

The event, which included small-group discussion time, yielded a large amount of valuable feedback, which has been organized, assessed and summarized by the CALS Equity and Diversity Committee (EDC). Please download the EDC’s diversity forum one-page summary.

The feedback will help guide college and EDC efforts to make the CALS climate the best it can be, for instance, by informing decisions about future events, workshops and other activities. Note: The CALS EDC launched a new Lunch and Learn series this spring semester, and the next talk in the series is set for Friday, Feb. 24.

For those who want to be kept in the loop about all CALS diversity and inclusion-related events and activities,to sign up for a new listserv that’s being created for this purpose.

A new listserv is being created to share information about diversity and inclusion-related events and activities at CALS. If you are interested in signing up, please send an email to join-cals_edc_announcements@lists.wisc.edu. (Note: It is possible to unsubscribe by sending an email to leave-cals_edc_announcements@lists.wisc.edu.)  

Questions and comments can be directed to Dean Kate VandenBosch at kate.vandenbosch@wisc.edu; EDC co-chair Tom Browne at thomas.browne@wisc.edu; or EDC co-chair Abbey Thompson at abbey.thompson@wisc.edu. You can also send a message to academicaffairs@cals.wisc.edu.

First set of UW-Extension nEXT Generation project recommendations available for review, comment

The first set of UW-Extension Cooperative Extension’s nEXT Generation project recommendations is available for review and comment on the project website. The nEXT Generation project is an effort to reorganize Cooperative Extension in response to reductions in state funding.

The new recommendations were recently released by the planning group and focus on structure and staffing for county offices in the future. Cooperative Extension is requesting feedback on these recommendations from any staff, partners, and stakeholders.

Information about the recommendations and how to share feedback is available here.

Call for Nominations: FFAR New Innovator Award

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) seeks outstanding early career nominees for the 2017 New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research Award. Nominees will compete for up to 10 awards, with each award winner receiving up to $600,000 total over three years.

FFAR created the New Innovator Award to help support the next generation of food and agriculture scientists who will spur innovation to meet the needs of a growing global population. The Award funds promising individuals pursuing research with potential to sustainably enhance agricultural production or improve health through food.

Institutions of higher education, other nonprofit institutions and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are encouraged to nominate up to two candidates for the New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research award.

Please notify Michell Sass (michell.sass@wisc.edu) by February 17, 2017 of potential nominees from your department (including the nominees name, department, date of hire, date of PhD, and FFAR Target Area of Research) in case an internal institutional competition is needed.

CALS Internal Deadline: February 17, 2017

Nomination Deadline: February 28, 2017 (11:59 p.m. EST)
For more information, please visit www.foundationfar.org/new-innovator.

All-college forum on diversity and inclusion – Feb. 2

Update: The location for this event has been set. It will take place in Upper Carson Gulley, located at 1515 Tripp Circle. 

CALS is hosting an all-college forum this week—for undergraduates, grad students, staff and faculty—to provide updates on recent events that have caused concern on our campus and to reinforce the college’s commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive CALS community.

The forum is set for 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 2. Leaders from CALS and pertinent campus units will be on hand to share information, answer questions and lead discussions.  

The location for this event has not yet been set. Once set, this information will go out via email and this eCALS post will be updated. 

Two CALS courses receive Educational Innovation funding

The EI Small Grant Program supported UW-Madison faculty and staff again this year, providing funding for a diverse array of educational innovations in blended and online learning. The program funded 16 proposals from six schools and colleges at a total of more than $105,000. Two of the recipients were from CALS.

Lynne Prost, associate faculty associate, biochemistry 
Project description: Significantly improve student-directed learning in Biochemistry 551: “Biomedical Methods” by implementing a blended course design. The instructor will create online resources to optimize content delivery, increase student engagement with course material, allow for rapid updating of content, and increase the available face-to-face time for development of critical thinking and scientific writing. These goals will be accomplished through creating video demonstrations and interactive online tutorials about lab techniques.

Walter Goodman, professor, entomology
Project description: Convert ENT/NIES 201: “Insects and Human Culture” into an online format for an eight-week summer session to increase student access and reduce current bottleneck issues. The transformation will include adapting lecture content, developing procedures for monitoring real-time insect growth, and developing individualized electronic logbooks to record data and observations.

For this round of funding, the program received a total of 37 proposals that were submitted from 12 schools, colleges, institutes and programs. The total amount of funding requested reached nearly $300,000. Proposals were evaluated and recommended for approval by a review committee consisting of faculty and staff from various campus units. Proposals were selected based on their exemplification of the program’s main theme (blended and online learning), alignment with departmental priorities, demonstration of long-term sustainability and, most importantly, impact on student learning.

The EI Initiative plans to offer future open-funding opportunities next year and beyond.

Ron Raines receives Vincent du Vigneaud Award from American Peptide Society

rainesr-1Ronald Raines, the Henry Lardy Professor of Biochemistry, recently earned the Vincent du Vigneaud Award from the American Peptide Society (APS).

“This is a tribute to the dedication of my students and postdocs,” says Raines, who is also a professor of chemistry. “Without them I could do little. It’s great to bring this honor back to the university.”

Raines holds 51 issued U.S. patents and is a founder of Quintessence Bioscience and Hyrax Energy. He has discovered that unappreciated forces stabilize all proteins, as well as created forms of stable synthetic collagen. He has also done work with anti-cancer agents and biofuels.

Many of his patents rely on peptides for their success, and this is his second award from APS — his first being the Rao Makineni Lectureship Award in 2007. Vincent du Vigneaud, the namesake of the award he recently earned, was a famous peptide chemist who earned a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1955 for, among other achievements, the first synthesis of a polypeptide hormone.

He is the third winner of the Vincent du Vigneaud Award from the University of Wisconsin­–Madison. Samuel Gellman of the Department of Chemistry and Daniel Rich of the School of Pharmacy have previously won the award. “I am proud to continue the tradition of having a strong showing from UW–Madison,” Raines says.

Daughters of Demeter celebrate 100

In Greek mythology, Demeter is the goddess of the harvest and agriculture, presiding over the fertility of the earth. And in that spirit, members of a century-old nonprofit called Daughters of Demeter perform community service and award scholarships and grants to CALS students to ensure that agriculture and the college remain strong.

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The Daughters of Demeter group helps plant more than 1,500 bulbs at Allen Centennial Garden each fall.

Daughters of Demeter was formed in 1917 by a group of women whose spouses were faculty in CALS. Since then, the organization has expanded its membership to welcome all faculty, staff and friends of the college and recently invited its first male member. The group now has some 120 members and hopes to increase membership during its centennial year, an event kicked off in September at the annual Corn Roast.

A Daughters of Demeter loan fund was established in 1944 with a $25 gift; soon after, the group was able to establish a scholarship fund. Student scholarship support has grown significantly over the years, and, in the last decade, the organization has awarded more than $300,000 in scholarships and grants to CALS students and student organizations.

“The Daughters of Demeter are consistently one of the most generous annual donors to CALS scholarship funds, and a subgroup has sewn thousands of hats and scarves annually donated to the University of Wisconsin cancer patients,” notes Daughters of Demeter president Liz Henry BS’83, an emeritus CALS academic staff member.

Every member has different reasons for finding membership meaningful and the ways that each member is involved vary, says Henry. “Members can join and be as involved as they choose and are not held to any more or less involvement than they are comfortable with.”

Janice Martin has been a member since 1983, became president in 1988, and has since chaired numerous committees, including the Annual Corn Roast Committee. She currently chairs a bulb planting committee that plants more than 1,500 bulbs at Allen Centennial Garden each fall.

“I find the friendship and camaraderie in this organization, from working on committees to sewing cancer scarves once a month, to be a very important part of my life while serving UW–Madison,” says Martin, whose husband, A. Jeff Martin, is an emeritus professor of forest and wildlife ecology. “These members are a dedicated group, very generous in giving to our scholarships and grants, very dependable and willing to help when needed to provide the students in CALS with funds to continue their education.  We also have a good time!”

Centennial events this spring include the Annual Meeting and Spring Luncheon on Wednesday, April 12 at Blackhawk Country Club (featuring CALS emeritus biochemistry professor David Nelson speaking on CALS history) and a Centennial Gala on Thursday, May 18 at Allen Centennial Garden.

You can find more information about upcoming events on the group’s Facebook page, http://go.wisc.edu/fb_daughters_of_demeter.

Reminder: CALS Wellness Survey 2017

Hello CALS community,

This is a reminder to please participate in the wellness survey, if you still wish to do so. The survey will be closing at the end of January. Please see the description below:

The CALS Wellness Committee has developed an online survey to find out more about your specific needs and programming interests. We invite you to participate in the survey via the hyperlink below. Please encourage others in your departments to participate as well and tell us what you would like to see from your Wellness Committee. Your answers will remain anonymous and confidential. We truly appreciate your time and consideration!

Survey Link: https://uwmadison.co1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_egmvKLm8pG26wtf

If you have any further questions about the survey please contact the Wellness Committee via email at wellness@cals.wisc.edu.

Successful Partners in Giving campaign, and still time to donate

While the 2016 Partners in Giving campaign dates officially ended on November 30, 2015, contributions have still been coming in, raising the contribution from the CALS community to over $63,000, an increase over last year’s final numbers by over $6,600. Not only have we increased the amount given, but we have at least 30 more donors this year than last as well, and there’s still time to give! Contributions made by Jan 31 will count towards the 2016 campaign but pledges will continue to be accepted until May 15. If you still wish to donate to the campaign and have questions, please connect with your department Partners in Giving coordinator or college co-chair Therese McHenry (therese.mchenry@wisc.edu).  

The 2016 campaign total is currently just under $2.5 million. Since its inception in 1973 as the State Employee Combined Campaign, Partners in Giving has raised an astounding $71.8 million for charitable causes.

Thank you to everyone who has participated in these efforts and made the campaign a success.

The mysteries of mitochondria: Functions, behavior and implications for human health

Imagine having your car towed to the shop for unknown repairs, and watching a trusted local mechanic pop the hood and take a ponderous look inside. Minutes pass as he runs a gauntlet of software and fluid checks, and pokes around the hoses, belts and cords. He finally emerges with a strange-looking broken part in his hand.

“This might be the culprit,” he says. “But honestly, I’ve never seen a part like this before.”

Dave Pagliarini can relate to this feeling. As an associate professor of biochemistry, Pagliarini studies engines of an entirely different stripe—engines called mitochondria, which power biological life. These tiny, grain-shaped organelles reside inside virtually every plant and animal cell type, and perform the critical task of breaking down nutritional elements and converting them into energy for basic cellular function.

The right man for the job: David Pagliarini is leading the charge to foster collaboration and advancement among metabolism researchers across campus. Photo: David Nevala.

The right man for the job: David Pagliarini is leading the charge to foster collaboration and advancement among metabolism researchers across campus. Photo: David Nevala.

Pagliarini says that only two decades ago, science had all but closed the book on mitochondria, assuming all the important pathways and processes had been worked out. But lately, the field of mitochondrial research is being defined more by how little we know about their complex role in maintaining health—and their connection to literally hundreds of diseases when things go haywire.

As one measure of this great unknown, Pagliarini points to “orphan proteins”—more than 300 proteins associated with mitochondria that still have no defined function. In a mechanical sense, they are parts without a defined purpose. A big focus of Pagliarini’s research today is linking these orphan proteins to their rightful homes and understanding how their dysfunction affects disease.

But as a University of California, San Diego graduate student in the early 2000s, Pagliarini didn’t have mitochondria anywhere on his radar. He was studying a group of proteins involved in cell signaling when he made an entirely unexpected discovery: One of those proteins traced directly back to mitochondria. Later, as a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School, he produced a seminal work on identifying all mitochondrial proteins, published in the journal Cell in 2008, which has been cited more than 1,000 times.

“That set off a whole new direction for me,” Pagliarini says. “To find something that no one expected to be there made me fascinated about what else we didn’t know. And as we began to realize there was a lot we didn’t know, I just saw a lot of opportunity.

“That’s when I became a ‘mitochondriac,’” he says with a laugh.

Mitochondria consume about 95 percent of the oxygen we breathe to make a chemical substance called ATP—or adenosine triphosphate—that is the “chemical energy currency” our bodies use to power cellular processes.

But “cellular powerhouse” is only one important function of mitochondria. For example, mitochondria are recognized as key players in cellular signaling and cellular apoptosis, or programmed cell death. They also appear to play a significant but not fully understood role in certain cancers, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and autism. And their composition varies markedly across tissue types—meaning there are many places where things can go awry.

“There are many different ways to break machines like mitochondria,” he says.

The Pagliarini lab focuses on establishing a fundamental understanding of mitochondria, with the recognition that we can’t cure what we don’t understand. There is a dire need to develop therapies for people who suffer from mitochondrial disease, which occur in 1 in 4,000 people and can be fatal or have devastating health consequences.

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In Pagliarini’s lab: Postdoctoral associate Natalie Niemi prepares yeast samples for metabolic analysis. Photo: David Nevala.

“There are so many diseases that are rare individually, but collectively affect lots of people,” Pagliarini says. “These are heartbreaking diseases for which we can only offer palliative care. I believe that in the long term, a fundamental understanding of how the mitochondria work will give us an opportunity for real cures.”

Dr. Philip Yeske, the science and alliance officer of the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation (UMDF), agrees that mitochondrial diseases pose unique medical challenges. There are about 250 mutations on both the nuclear and mitochondrial DNA that can lead to disease. And any given mutation can manifest itself in entirely different symptoms—heart-related problems for one patient and neurological disorders for another.

“The standard of care for patients affected by mitochondrial disease right now is treatment with vitamins and supplements,” Yeske says. “There are no licensed therapies available. And with the vitamin and supplement care, we don’t know enough about them to even say they are effective.”

But thanks to a rapidly growing body of research, prospects are looking more positive. A decade ago, therapeutics would have been a “pipe dream,” Yeske says, but in 2016, four companies are in active clinical trials for mitochondrial disease therapeutics, and many more are in preclinical planning.

“We’re at the beginning of an era of mitochondrial medicine, and that’s really exciting,” Yeske says.

At UW-Madison, Pagliarini’s young career has been on overdrive. Only months after arriving at CALS in 2009, his lab was jump-started by major research support from the federal economic stimulus program, which funded only the top 2 percent of proposals that year. Shortly after, he was named a Searle scholar and helped craft a major grant related to the NIH National Protein Structure Initiative, which further put his work on mitochondrial proteins in the national spotlight.

The past academic year could arguably be Pagliarini’s most exciting yet. In fall 2015, Pagliarini was named director of the Morgridge Institute for Research Metabolism Theme, which aims to establish a vibrant group of researchers focused on the basic underpinnings of metabolism. The Morgridge Institute is poised to make strategic hires and investments under Pagliarini’s direction that will help UW–Madison grow and thrive in this field.

This year, Pagliarini experienced a pinnacle of recognition as the recipient of a Presidential Early Career Award, given to top scientists and engineers in an array of fields. He and 100 national honorees visited the White House in May, touring its opulent historical meeting rooms and chatting with President Barack Obama and special guest Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.

“It was pretty special,” Pagliarini says. “What really stood out about it was how optimistic and forward-looking it was. You hear so much in science now about problems with funding or rising competition from other countries. This was very much about celebrating what we can do with U.S.-driven scientific research.”

Brad Schwartz, CEO of the Morgridge Institute, started getting indications early that Pagliarini was the right person to lead the campus-wide initiative. While meeting with potential recruits in 2014 from leading research universities, Schwartz was struck by how frequently Pagliarini’s name came up in conversations.

“After a very thorough national search, it only reinforced that Dave had the innovative thinking and creativity we were looking for,” Schwartz says. “He has all the personal characteristics needed to help build stronger community around as many as 500 scientists working on some aspect of metabolism in Madison.”

Continue reading this story in the Fall 2016 issue of Grow magazine.

Banner photo: Close-up of a mitochondrion. Mitochondria provide cells with energy by oxidizing sugar and fat—and perform many functions that are just now being discovered. Photo: Keith Porter/Science Source