What’s A University Good For?

The answer? A lot.

In July 2015, I was tasked with finding, writing, editing, and sharing stories that demonstrated the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s impact on the state. Over the next several months, I worked with communicators from across campus to demonstrate how the UW makes a positive difference in the lives of Wisconsin residents. In all, we produced almost 50 articles.

Below are eleven pieces that I believe best represent our efforts. For most, I rewrote marketing or pre-existing website copy and preserved the original PIO’s byline. For the rest, I started from scratch. All of them reflect my editorial approach toward structure, pace, and off-beat leads.

1. Lifting from the center: Lac du Flambeau partnership rethinks preventative health

Throwing snow-snakes is kind of like bumper bowling. Except instead of a wooden lane, there’s a narrow path of ice. And instead of a bowling ball, there’s a spear.

Snow-snake throwing is a Native American game that was played in the Midwest for centuries before missionaries discouraged it in the late 19th century. It’s one of many traditional activities that have reappeared in Wisconsin, thanks in part to the Ojibwe Winter Games. Organizers are preparing for the fifth anniversary of the games, which will be held in Lac du Flambeau in February. But the partnership behind the event’s growth has a mission that goes far beyond a week of winter entertainment each year. Read more.

2. From behind the scenes, Office of Rural Health supports next generation of Wisconsin EMTs

Rescue Divas with Megaphone

Helicopters, hazmat suits, fire extinguishers, search-and-rescue dogs — in many places, a summer camp boasting these kinds of things would likely be targeted at boys.

But in Ashland, Wis., Rescue Divas is a camp for middle-school girls that aims to attract new recruits to the field of emergency medical services. And it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Wisconsin Office of Rural Health (ORH), housed at the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. Read more.

(Story was re-run in trade publications statewide.)

3. New social network aims to keep Wisconsin seniors in their homes longer

Wisconsin’s elderly population is expected to double by 2040, and a significant challenge facing communities — and families — across the state is how to keep seniors in their own homes longer. 

To help, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have launched a free website for seniors living anywhere in Wisconsin that offers practical information and tools for independent, active living as they age, as well as emotional support to combat loneliness. Read more.

(Story resulted in a 78 percent increase in the number of site subscribers only two weeks afters publication. Also resulted in coverage by Wisconsin Public Radio.)

4. Experts help Green Bay build new island chain to benefit shipping industry and wildlife

A partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the shipping industry, and non-profit organizations to restore a chain of islands in Green Bay is, literally, for the birds. Read more.

(Story was a surprise hit with state legislators, who referenced it in meetings with UW-Madison’s lead lobbyist months later.)

5. Researchers study Wisconsin’s deepest natural lake to help preserve ‘an ecological jewel’


UW-Madison researchers have teamed up with community leaders to analyze Green Lake, Wisconsin’s deepest natural inland lake and a crucial habitat for lake trout and other cold-water species.

In 2014, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources designated the lake as “impaired” because it failed to meet water quality standards. This summer, three faculty members specializing in agriculture and water quality are leading an interdisciplinary analysis of the lake and its watershed to better understand what’s happening — and to find some possible solutions. Read more.

(Story inspired an alumnus to fund an endowed faculty chair.)

6. Sea Caves Watch promotes kayaker safety in northern Wisconsin

A public safety project initiated by the University of Wisconsin-Madison to prevent kayaking tragedies has been turned over to the National Park Service and several partners. SeaCavesWatch.org is a real-time wave observation system that provides webcam photos and information about wave height, water temperature and wind speed to kayakers before they venture onto Lake Superior to visit the popular mainland sea caves along the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Read more.

(Story led to a front-page feature in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin’s largest daily newspaper.)

7. Bolz Center helps arts organizations to revitalize Wisconsin communities


Nestled on a quiet street near Brewery Creek, the nine cabins and limestone buildings that make up the core of Shake Rag Alley look like a quirky postcard from Wisconsin’s mining village past.

But the nationally renowned art center and writing retreat in Mineral Point is actually more interested in the future. Shake Rag leaders are looking to expand, and to do so, they’ve turned to another historic center: the Bolz Center for Arts Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin School of Business. Read more.

8. Wisconsin School of Business helps Capital Brewery tap into craft beer markets

The craft beer market is booming, which is good news for Capital Brewery, one of Wisconsin’s first craft breweries and an iconic Madison brand. But the craft scene shifts quickly, and to keep up, Capital recently enlisted help from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“A few years ago, craft beers were only four or five percent of the market, and we’re now seeing a wave of growth that started on the West Coast and is moving our way, with that market going to 25 to 30 percent,” says Scott Wiener, president of Capital Brewery. “We needed to capture that growth opportunity.” Read more.

9. UW-Madison researchers helping to attract Kickapoo Valley tourists


The Kickapoo Valley is a picturesque area of western Wisconsin that attracts many visitors during the summer. But to improve economic development throughout this rural region, many residents and business owners want to lengthen the tourism season.

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers are helping them make plans to do so.“I am interested in the intersection of tourism, sustainability and economic development, so this project was right in my wheelhouse of market research and helping rural communities,” says Bret Shaw, an associate professor. Read more

10. For 50 years, communities have turned to UW to manage water


Lake Marion is a shallow sliver of a lake on the edge of Mazomanie, Wis. Created in the 1850s by a dam that fed a nearby mill, the lake has become a valuable aquatic habitat and a popular bass fishing spot for locals. 

But when the dam was recently classified as structurally unsound, community leaders in Mazomanie faced a pressing decision about whether — and how — to save the lake, since removing the dam would also remove Lake Marion’s source of incoming water. For help, they turned to the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies’ Water Resources Management (WRM) program, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Read more

11. New UW-Madison collaboration in Green Bay inspires young writers

On a warm August afternoon last summer, a group of nervously excited young writers took to a small stage at one of Wisconsin’s largest arts festivals. The performance was the culmination of a project aimed at cultivating and publishing young writers in Green Bay. Read more

In addition to the story series, I also maintained the initiative’s Twitter handle, @wisidea, and co-developed Wisconsin Ideas, an e-newsletter for state legislators, economic development officials, and chamber of commerce members in communities statewide. 

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