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D.C. Alumni Show Wisconsin Idea is Alive in Washington

This October, it was quite a showcase of how alumni use their Wisconsin education to make a difference in the world, when more than 125 Badgers gathered in Washington, D.C.

Kate Kail Dixon '01, MA'07
October 27, 2014
Chancellor Rebecca Blank said it best: “Our alumni are our best advertisement of the value of a Wisconsin education.“ And this October, it was quite a showcase of how alumni use their Wisconsin education to make a difference in the world, when more than 125 Badgers gathered in Washington, D.C. Chancellor Blank headlined the gathering, which included a tribute to alumni volunteers from the D.C. area, including Tony Carroll ‘80, who joined a small group of other alumni ten years ago to pioneer what is now the D.C. Semester in International Affairs. “Tony and his fellow Badgers had seen too many students go to D.C. to sharpen pencils and count staples,” Chancellor Blank said. “They wanted to create a program that would place outstanding students in organizations willing to provide substantive, meaningful work — the kind of work that helps prepare students to become leaders in a global society. ... As one D.C. semester alum put it, ‘In Madison, you learn about international affairs; in Washington, you live international affairs.’” Alumni of the D.C. Semester include Charlene Barshefsky ‘72, U.S. Trade Representative under President Clinton, as well as alumni who have served as ambassadors to nations including Botswana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Liberia, Greece and Belarus. Chancellor Blank also highlighted the work of the WAA: Washington, D.C. Chapter, and the volunteers who lead efforts to support student scholarships. The chapter has raised gifts to support 92 UW scholarships for students from the D.C. area over the past five years, and Blank thanked alumni leaders who make this program possible, including Chapter President Tom Libert ’96 and Harvey Borkin ‘66. Alumni also gained insight into the university’s reinvigorated efforts in the Capitol. Blank said that more than 30% of the campus budget is federally funded, including more than $1 billion in research funding in Wisconsin each year, and outlined some of UW activity now happening in Washington:
  • The opening of a new federal office, led by Ben Miller, to work with Wisconsin’s Congressional Delegation and federal agencies, along with higher education associations, and advance UW’s research and education priorities;
  • Strengthening relationships and connections with the agencies that support and regulate research and education, such as NSF, NIH, DOE, and USDA; and
  • Expanding and better coordinating student internship programs.
Blank also encouraged alumni to stay informed about state-level budget and fiscal priorities for the university, and to share their voices and expertise in the months ahead. Continued alumni and donor support for the university through private philanthropy is crucial for the university’s future, she said, but Blank was clear that such gifts are not a replacement for declining state funds: “A major part of my job is to make the case as strongly as possible to our legislators and the governor for additional state funding support for our high priority needs and programs, and I will do that. “But there isn’t a university in the country that doesn’t need some level of alumni support, especially for programs that provide unique opportunities to students or faculty that our state dollars cannot support, such as efforts at educational innovation, named faculty chairs, or even support for students in a D.C. internship program.”
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