The fun, food and festivity of UW-Madison Day at the Wisconsin State Fair

August 10, 2012 By Chris Barncard

Even before Miss America made her lap around the Wisconsin State Fair atop the Bucky Wagon, Antonio Noguera had opened a little bit of the wider world to hundreds of fairgoers.

“This was the hardest day of my life teaching,” said Noguera, a languages instructor whose “Learn Spanish in 3 Minutes” sign made him nearly as popular as Babcock ice cream on Wednesday’s UW–Madison Day at the State Fair. “I’ve never had so many students.”

Photo: Spirit Squad at the fair

The Spirit Squad takes a ride on the Bucky Wagon at the Wisconsin State Fair.

The State Fair has never seen so much of campus.

Counting the marching band and spirit squad members, faculty, staff, volunteer students and alumni — and, of course, Bucky — about 500 members of the university community took over the grounds’ Central Park to show off as much of the Madison experience as possible. Fairgoers swarmed science exploration stations, the College of Engineering’s Bucky Wagon, Babcock cheese maker Gary Goshen’s demos, and more.

“Think about Madison. That’s all we want them to do,” said Adele Brumfield, director of admissions and recruitment. “We had everything from little ones to high school students to transfers walk up and talk to us, and that’s great. But alumni, the parents of alumni, people with no previous connection to campus, we want them out there scouting talent for us. If they know young people with promise, we want someone telling them Wisconsin should be on their list.”

The eight-member admissions team made its first visit to the State Fair, but also made some noise with freebies like red cowbells and UW–Madison water bottles.

“Do you have any brainwashing programs?” asked fairgoer Danielle Martinson of Germantown, hoping to put her son Charlie, 7, in the Class of 2027.

“How about free ice cream?” said Ken Cutts, a student services coordinator in the Office of Admissions.

That’s an easy sell, with College of Agricultural and Life Sciences folks dishing up ice cream and vegetables and serving brats made on the spot by Jeff Sindelar, a professor in the Meat Science & Muscle Biology Laboratory.

“It’s one of the reasons we exist, so we can be a resource. So people can learn what we’ve learned.”

Jeff Sindelar

Tapping Sindelar’s expertise was fun for Michelle Watts, a UW–Madison sociology alum who volunteered to collect donations of school supplies with the high-school-aged students in her personal responsibility program at Neighborhood House of Milwaukee.

“You eat things and you don’t know what you’re eating. You don’t know where it’s coming from,” Watts said after hearing Sindelar de-mystify that ultimate culinary conundrum, the hot dog.

“It’s one of the reasons we exist, so we can be a resource,” Sindelar said. “So people can learn what we’ve learned.”

After helping out at entrances to State Fair Park, where 37 bulging 55-gallon bags of school supplies were collected for Milwaukee-area children, the Neighborhood House group hung out in the sea of Red Shirts. It’s eye-opening, according to Watts, for her students to get a look at the breadth of the university experience — sciences, arts, athletics, community.

“They know how proud I am,” Watts said. “But this is a big deal, for kids to see how important the Madison experience was to alumni. We really are loyal to our school, and that’s because we feel like we’re part of something even after we move on.”

Christine McLaughlin, a research specialist with the School of Medicine and Public Health’s Survey of the Health of Wisconsin, knows first hand that State Fair exhibits keep Wisconsinites in touch with the state’s flagship university.

“Absolutely, people we’ve had in here to participate in the survey have said they’ve seen us at the fair,” said McLaughlin, who was leading tours of SHOW’s Mobile Exam Center, an RV outfitted with all the equipment necessary to collect vital health information on state residents.

Introducing a project like SHOW in an environment like the fair gives study workers a head start when their truck rolls into another Wisconsin town to ask folks to supply their heights and weights and blood samples and bits about their stress levels and emotional well-being.

“You can guess or infer a lot of things about, say, how much people in Wisconsin weigh, but if you don’t actually weigh them, you can’t be sure,” said Sally Steward-Townsend, a SHOW outreach specialist. “We want people to know how valuable it is that we get this information, and that starts with events like this.”

SHOW has already do full workups on 3,000 randomly selected Wisconsinites, and aims for 4,000.

That’s far ahead of Antonio Noguera’s Wednesday pace. After many hours of speaking over the din of the fair, he was down to communicating by Spanish-to-English flash card.

“We can’t make people fluent, but we can get them to the point of communicating with someone,” Noguera said. “You’re on a different level of understanding when you speak a common language. Just a few words, that’s enough to make a connection.”

If you know “Quiero comer un bunuelo de crema” (“I want to eat a cream puff”), then you’re off to a good start at the State Fair.

Tags: events