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Retirements lead to changes in research leadership posts

July 30, 2019 By Natasha Kassulke

Nora Cate Schaeffer, professor of sociology, and Amy Wendt, professor of electrical and computer engineering, will join the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education on Aug. 19 as divisional interim associate vice chancellors for research.

Schaeffer, interim associate vice chancellor for research in the social sciences, replaces Jan Greenberg, professor of social work, who is retiring after a 30-year tenure at Madison. Greenberg has served as the AVCR for five years and previously served for two years in the same role as the interim associate dean for the social sciences. He has held several administrative positions in the School of Social Work, including director of the school and chair of the PhD program. He plans to continue to collaborate on existing research projects as an emeritus faculty member.

Photo: Portrait of Nora Cate Schaeffer


Photo: Portrait of Amy Wendt


Photo: Portrait of Jan Greenberg


“In all of these leadership roles, Jan has been the epitome of effectiveness. He has combined many skills that together have led to the enormous contributions he has made: appreciation for the ‘big picture,’ laser-like focus on the goals, deep integrity, and careful attention to details,” says Marsha Mailick, who was vice chancellor for research and graduate education when she appointed Greenberg to the AVCR position. “These qualities also explain why Jan has made such an important mark in his role as a researcher and mentor to graduate students and postdocs. UW–Madison is better because of Jan Greenberg.”

“We are very grateful to Jan for his service in the classroom, research on families of persons with disabilities, and in administration at UW–Madison,” says Norman Drinkwater, interim vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “In his role as associate vice chancellor, Jan has been instrumental in reducing administrative burden for our researchers, providing training for grant writing success, and supporting resources for the social sciences. With Jan’s retirement, we welcome Nora to the leadership team. She brings a wealth of experience in research that is complex and demanding.”

Nora Cate Schaeffer

Schaeffer received her PhD in sociology from the University of Chicago and came to the UW in 1984. She has served as associate chair of the sociology department from 1997 to 2001 and as faculty director of the UW Survey Center since 2003.

Schaeffer has served on the Committee on National Statistics and is president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, the leading professional organization of public opinion and survey research professionals in the U.S. AAPOR promotes the sound and ethical conduct and use of public opinion research.

“People who are not familiar with survey research sometimes think of it as narrow, but we are trained to help colleagues in diverse fields address a wide range of research questions,” Shaeffer says. “We also draw on a variety of qualitative methodologies — depth interviews, cognitive interviews, structured observations, conversation analysis and content analysis, for example — in addition to the quantitative methods that we are often associated with.”

“I have been impressed by the creativity and innovativeness of social science researchers at the UW.”

Schaeffer’s research focuses on interaction and what is observable. In her recent collaboration, she has examined interaction during recruitment calls for the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. Research from their projects proposed the first interactional model of the call to recruit sample members to participate in a social research survey.

“As an AVC, I am looking forward to supporting the work of my colleagues,” Schaeffer says. “With my past service for the Fall Research Competition, UW2020 and other panels, I have been impressed by the creativity and innovativeness of social science researchers at the UW.”

Amy Wendt

Another new face to Bascom Hall is Wendt, who will be interim associate vice chancellor for research in the physical sciences, replacing Steve Ackerman, professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences. Ackerman will become interim vice chancellor for research and graduate education replacing Drinkwater, who retires on Sept. 3.

Wendt received her PhD in electrical engineering and computer sciences at UC Berkeley in 1988. She came to the UW as a postdoc in 1988 and joined the faculty in 1990, and has held appointments here continuously since then. She has been co-director of the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI) since 2007, co-chair of ECE from 2005 to 2009 and was on the University Committee from 2014 to 2017 (chair 2016-17).

“I’m looking forward to being in a position to be able to help commit resources where they can make a difference.”

Wendt says one of the highlights of her service at WISELI has been providing Vilas Life Cycle Professorship grants to principal investigators whose research productivity has been directly affected by personal life events. She sees her new position in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education as an extension of that service.

“I’m looking forward to being in a position to be able to help commit resources where they can make a difference,” Wendt says.

Wendt’s research focuses on experimental and theoretical studies of methods of plasma production. The use of ionized gases for materials processing is a technique now used in a wide array of industries. Understanding the behavior of the plasmas and how they interact with materials substrates and implications for process development is the primary goal of her research, in addition to design of plasma generation systems for new applications.

One product of her scholarly output that won’t be found on her curriculum vitae is that Wendt is a quilter, and she sometimes uses needle and thread to stitch engineering-themed patterns into her projects. She plans to display some of her pieces in her Bascom office.

As AVCRs, Wendt and Schaeffer will provide leadership for their divisions, including divisional area recruitment and retention, grant matches, research center reviews, faculty awards and professorships, and Fall Competition awards.