April 7, 2005

Posters in the Rotunda: A Celebration of Undergraduate Research

Remarks by UW System President Kevin P. Reilly

Good morning. I’m Kevin Reilly, president of the University of Wisconsin System. It is a pleasure to welcome you to “Posters in the Rotunda: A Celebration of Undergraduate Research.” I’m delighted to be joined by members of our Board of Regents, campus and system leaders, legislators, legislative staff, and most notably, our students and faculty.

I believe that the undergraduate research experience represents what is best about our great public university – providing top-quality education, while harnessing the knowledge and talent of the UW System to provide benefits for all. Our long-standing commitment to fostering and celebrating these research opportunities has enabled us to teach and mentor some of the world’s brightest young minds right here in Wisconsin. The research projects represented here today easily dispel the stereotype that research is something faculty members do to escape from students!

Our students, with their faculty mentors, are conducting research on some of the state’s — and the nation’s — most pressing scientific and social concerns. For example, students at UW-Fox Valley are researching the state’s W-2 welfare program; two teams of students at UW-Oshkosh are examining microbial contamination on Door County beaches; a group of UW-La Crosse students is assessing health and wellness issues among Wisconsin Hmong-Americans; while student researchers at UW-Green Bay are studying the effects of classroom crowding on college student learning. The professional and thought-provoking research of these students is as diverse as the students and faculty members themselves.

The citizens of Wisconsin benefit from this valuable research, while encouraging and supporting these efforts reinforces and expands the traditional academic experience for both students and faculty members. By conducting serious research as undergraduates, these students and their peers across the UW System engage in “real-life” training, and are prepared to excel in their future careers. Whether they choose to prosper in private industry, public service, or the non-profit sector, these students are the future engineers, biologists, social scientists, medical researchers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and civic leaders of Wisconsin.

The “posters” we’re observing today also represent one of Wisconsin’s major industry clusters. A report by the Wisconsin Technology Council last year showed that academic research and development in Wisconsin creates more than 30,000 jobs and annually generates more than $800 million for our economy. This places academic R&D on a par with the state’s plastics and printing industries, and ahead of construction, as vital employment sectors.

These research efforts often lead to products that are used, and consumed, globally. For example, UW-Eau Claire Computer Science Professor Jack Tan and undergraduate student researcher Michael LeMay are working with the WiSys Technology Foundation to license their work on security and encryption operations for e-mail programs. As a result of his research experience on this and other projects, Michael was recently selected for a prestigious National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, one of only 180 students selected nationally from nearly 4,000 student applicants.

Those of us who helped put WiSys together several years ago to encourage the development and commercialization of intellectual property on campuses outside of Madison, where WARF has performed that function so well, did not imagine that one of our first inventors would be an undergraduate!

Developing a strong infrastructure to support cutting-edge research will allow us to attract, and to keep, top researchers like Jack Tan and bright students like Michael LeMay – and all of the students and faculty here with us today! We must invest in academic research to create high-skill, high-wage jobs that encourage our students to remain in Wisconsin after graduation and keep Wisconsin moving forward. As president, I promise you that investing in academic research will remain one of my top priorities.

I am pleased to introduce Amanda Lederer, a senior biology student at UW-Platteville. Amanda hails from Grafton, Wisconsin, and will share insights about the value of her participation in undergraduate research and how it has prepared her for further study in her field.

[Lederer Speaks]

Thank you, Amanda. We wish you the best of luck with your research efforts in the future. I would now like to introduce Dr. Jeff Johnson of the School of Pharmacy at UW-Madison. Dr. Johnson joined the UW faculty in 1999 – we consider this a very big brain gain – and his research on chronic neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease, has gained national – and deservedly international – attention.

[Dr. Johnson speaks]

Thank you, Jeff. We all appreciate your contributions to the state through your research efforts. Finally, I would like to welcome UW Board of Regent President Toby Marcovich, who will offer the Regents’ perspective on the importance of investing in undergraduate research.

[Marcovich speaks]

Thank you, President Marcovich. The research conducted at our institutions is indeed a vital part of our mission. I look forward to working with the Regents, the Governor, and members of the State Legislature to ensure that all our students have the opportunity to gain first-hand research experience, especially our talented undergraduates.

To close today, I’d like to again thank all our faculty and students. I would also like to recognize Denise Ehlen (A-Len) of UW-Whitewater, Laurie Dies at UW System, and their many colleagues on UW campuses for their hard work and dedication to ensuring such a successful event.

And a word directly to students from me today -- know how impressive you are and how proud we are of you.

Thank you for being here today, and for your continued support of undergraduate research at UW System institutions. Please enjoy the posters and your conversations about them.