Blank begins statewide outreach in Milwaukee
UW-Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank listens to Michael Krauski, director of corporate relations for the UW-Milwaukee College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS), talk about battery storage technology as she tours the Johnson Controls Energy Advancement Center at CEAS.
Rebecca Blank is building bridges across Wisconsin.
A top priority of the new University of Wisconsin–Madison chancellor is strengthening relationships with UW System colleagues, with the governor and state legislators, with community leaders and with alumni.
Blank is planning visits to each of the system’s four-year campuses. The outreach effort began this week with Milwaukee.
“It is not an accident that my first official visit as chancellor is to Milwaukee,” Blank says. “Milwaukee is a very important city to the university, and I want to build on the partnerships we have already established, and create new ones.”
The swing through Milwaukee included meeting UW–Milwaukee Chancellor Mike Lovell and key legislators from the region. Blank also met with local editorial boards, met with members of the UW System Board of Regents and alumni, and was welcomed at a reception with community leaders hosted by former Regent Gerard Randall.
On Thursday, Blank toured the Johnson Controls Energy Advancement Center in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at UW-Milwaukee, a collaboration that includes UW–Madison.
“It was thrilling to see the research and development being done at the lab. It is truly on the edge of energy storage technology,” Blank says. “This is the kind of public-private partnership we must grow and nurture to further expand the university’s position as an economic force in Wisconsin.”
Lovell said he looks forward to working closely with Blank to expand joint research efforts between the two campuses.
“I am confident that by working together, UW-Milwaukee and UW–Madison, will continue to significantly contribute to the economic growth of Wisconsin,” he said.
At a meeting with legislators in Wauwatosa, Blank spoke about the many correlations between UW–Madison and Milwaukee. She told them that during her tenure as deputy secretary and acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, two consistent factors in economic success were a skilled workforce and a close working partnership between the private and public sectors, including educational institutions.
“The role of a nearby big research university was central to attract industries that wanted to be on the cutting edge of innovation and technology,” she said.
“Milwaukee is a very important city to the university, and I want to build on the partnerships we have already established, and create new ones.”
The lawmakers offered their views and concerns about access to the university for state high school graduates, tuition and student debt, and a lack of transparency on budget matters.
Blank replied that her goal is for every eligible student who attends UW–Madison to be able to afford it. She acknowledged the relationship between the UW System and legislators was strained during the past budget process due to the debate over reserve funds held by system schools. She vowed openness in budget matters.
Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, co-hosted the legislative meeting.
Darling says Blank will be a “wonderful asset” to the university and the state as an economist and educator.
“The fact she invited us to sit down and meet with her is significant in establishing a positive relationship,” Darling, co-chair of the legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, says.
Richards, also a member of the Joint Finance Committee, praises Blank for coming to Milwaukee and asking for an open and honest discussion.
“We had a situation during the budget when both Republicans and Democrats were calling for a tuition freeze out of frustration,” Richards says. “Events like this help build that productive working relationship.”
“I am confident that by working together, UW-Milwaukee and UW–Madison, will continue to significantly contribute to the economic growth of Wisconsin.”
Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale, says Blank’s experience at the Department of Commerce will be valuable.
“I like her focus on economic development and how we can get business aligned with the university, and getting research and the private sector aligned. It fits in well with a lot of the groundwork that’s been laid the last few years,” said Stone, speaking at Thursday’s reception.
“She understands that the university system can be a tremendous economic driver. Having someone with her skills at the top at UW–Madison will be helpful.”
Stephanie Findley, a Milwaukee community leader, says she was impressed by Blank’s background.
“I think she is a strong leader,” Findley says. “I like her experience with Commerce and she knows how to connect the public and private sector.”
Sylvestra Ramirez of Milwaukee, a UW–Madison alum, says Blank understands the challenges facing the state.
“The fact that she is coming here so early in her tenure and listening to our concerns and opinions speaks highly of her,” Ramirez says.
Next in Blank’s series of outreach visits is the Fox Valley area, including Green Bay, Appleton and Oshkosh, scheduled for next month.