Remarks from April 5, 2019 R1 Celebration

Nigel Rothfels – Director, Office of Undergraduate Research at UW-Milwaukee

Welcome, everybody. My name is Nigel Rothfels and I am the Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research here at UWM. This is the 11th undergraduate research symposium at UWM and this year we are doing something different, combining this celebration with our R1 celebration. Over 300 students were presenting here today. Students, you did a fantastic job – you should applaud yourselves. I also have to say there were around 150 faculty, staff, and graduate students who really showed up and who served as judges today. Let’s have a round of applause for all of the judges.

This is a special year for our office—and for the university—as UWM was recognized with an AURA award, which stands for the Award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishments. It’s given out to two universities nationally. It recognizes the extraordinary efforts of the faculty and staff at this university, as well as the students, and the commitment of the university to really make undergraduate research part of its infrastructure. We are incredibly honored to have received this award, and everybody should be thrilled.

It is my pleasure to introduce the Chancellor of our university, Mark Mone, who is here to help us celebrate the research mission of this campus, who has been an incredible advocate for students, and who shows up here every year to be a good presence for us. Without further ado, please give a warm welcome to our Chancellor, Mark Mone.

Mark Mone – Chancellor, UW-Milwaukee

Good afternoon, welcome, and thank you, Nigel. I would like to thank you all for joining us and I want to give a special shout out and welcome to our elected and appointed officials who are here today. Please raise your hand when I mention your names: State Rep. Jonathon Brostoff, State Rep. Marisabel Cabrera, State Rep. Kalan Haywood, State Sen. Chris Larson, Rep. Daniel Riemer, State Rep. Robyn Vining, Washington County Administrator Joshua Schoemann and Waukesha County Supervisor Joel Gaughan. Let’s hear it for them! State Senator Dale Kooyenga was also here earlier today. If there are any other elected officials, please raise your hand so we can give you an acknowledgement.

So, becoming an “Research 1” university; some of you have asked, “What is R1?” I’d like to talk just for a moment about what it means, and I will try to be very brief.

An “R1” designation is the Carnegie Institute’s recognition of the top 131 research universities in this country. There are over 4,300 universities that are eligible for this and UWM is in the top 131; this is an incredible reason for us to celebrate. This is the second time that we have received this recognition, first in 2016 and now in 2019. If you look around the room and see those who are presenting today, you are an important part of the reason for this achievement—your work is foundational. It’s the future and you are our future in terms of cutting-edge research.

Today’s undergraduate research symposium is possible thanks to many talented individuals. You know Nigel (most everybody in here knows him well!) and I think you also know that he can’t do it alone. Kyla Esguerra from the Office of Undergraduate Research also helps to make this possible so let’s hear it for her. There are so many faculty, staff, judges and volunteers who are committed to you and committed to one of our top priorities on this campus—achieving R1 status.

As you also know, the Office of Undergraduate Research is critical to UWM, and it’s that gateway, it’s the research, that has such significant impact on thousands of lives. However, at its core, R1 really stands for the quality of our faculty, and that translates directly into the high caliber education and opportunities that change lives.

The quality of the education you receive at UW-Milwaukee is insurmountable. As we know from Nigel’s comments, we are one of only two universities that received R1 recognition last year to be recognized by the National Council on Undergraduate Research. This was featured during the UW System Regents meeting today when President Ray Cross did his “Around the Campus” news update; you were the update so let’s hear it for you! We’ve achieved the R1 status once again because of a long-standing commitment to become a top tier research university.

Let me share a couple of facts. In 1965 we had one doctoral program – Mathematics — and we had not yet granted our first Ph.D. By 2018, UWM had 36 doctoral programs and granted nearly 250 doctoral degrees each year. Currently, we receive more than $35 million in external research funding and we have almost $55 million in research related expenditures each year. That’s a look at the scale and scope, and it just continues to grow. Clearly, this is a great and significant designation for UWM and for everybody in this room, and it speaks to the quality of the education, and our partnerships.

Our students, because of this quality of education, go everywhere. It’s not just our number of students entering the pipeline, it’s their quality. When I visit almost any organization, one of the most frequent things I hear is that ‘UWM fills the talent pipeline’. But, I want to take a moment and really talk about not just the fact that it’s the quantity, it’s the quality. When you think about any sector, for example the military, think about admirals and generals who have graduated from UWM; or, if you think about the film and arts sector, think about individuals like actor Willem Dafoe who is one of our most distinguished Panthers. Think about a gentleman named Jim Rygiel who has won Academy Awards for his visual effects work on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Think about the business sector and global companies like Harley-Davidson, Northwestern Mutual, We Energies and many, many others throughout this region where our students have gone on to become CEOs. It is the work ethic of our students, it is the research learning and understanding that happens here, and ultimately the quality of the faculty and staff—it’s the UWM educational ecosystem that makes it happen.

It is an honor and a privilege for me to serve as Chancellor at this time in UWM’s history. It isn’t just because of anything that I have done—it really is the decades of research that so many people have spent years and decades making discoveries, conducting field work, experiments, inquiries and putting in a lot of ‘plain old’ hard work.

I want to thank our faculty, our researchers, and the staff whose contributions over many years have brought us to this honor today. I especially want to thank our distinguished professors who really lead the way in terms of federal research grants, in terms of mentoring, in terms of student undergraduate research, graduate research, post-doctoral supervision and a number of other contributions. They are truly the tip of the iceberg, putting in significant efforts behind the scenes.

I would also like to single out a few other people for recognition.

We have Provost and Chief Academic Officer, Johannes Britz. He, along with our Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administrative Affairs, Robin Van Harpen, has done an incredible job to prioritize and make sure we have made the right decisions to continue to allow us to strengthen and build up to R1 status—we owe them both a great deal.

I want to thank Brian Thompson, President of the UWM Research Foundation and Director of the Lubar Center for Entrepreneurship. Brian helped to launch the UWM Research Foundation in 2006, which helps faculty members bring their research to private industry. Brian facilitates catalyst grants, manages intellectual property like patents and other agreements, and fosters corporate partnerships, spinout companies and student entrepreneurship. These efforts have been critical to our growing research strength and I am grateful for Brian’s leadership.

I would like to recognize Mark Harris, our Vice Provost for Research. Mark goes back to about 2010-11 in terms of when he became one of the most important people driving our incredible organization around what we call ‘research excellence’. Mark has done a terrific job continuing this work dating back to our strategic planning days and I can tell you that he has really helped to bring all the strategic priorities—more development, more progress in that area—than any of the other strategic initiatives. For that, Mark, we are very appreciative.

I want to also recognize the Deans without whom our leadership on this campus would be lost. They provide the budgetary decisions, the staffing decisions, and ultimately all the operational capabilities as they are led by our Provost; they bring, from the academic perspective, the capability for us to have this designation. So, thank you Deans for your work.

Finally, I would like to recognize the President of the University of Wisconsin System, Ray Cross. Under no other president in the history of the UW System, going back to 1971, has UW-Milwaukee seen more proportionate support, more recognition, more passion, and more value bestowed on us (regarding the degree of difficulty and challenges our mission sees as a research and access institute) in order to serve, as we do, our large population, ultimately enabling us to achieve what we have today. Ray, personally and professionally, I give you my most significant and sincere ‘thank you’.

As I wrap up, I just want to underscore a few points that reflect what this Research 1 standing means.

Our faculty has addressed some of the most significant and important societal conditions facing the world today. You have answered some of the most pressing issues that create that new knowledge. You feed systems of discovery in products and advancements. Those are nice words and great concepts, but they’re abstract, so let’s bring them down to a more concrete reality.

How about using data science to predict purchasing behaviors; how about protecting our freshwater ecosystems—the ‘new oil’, or, the ‘new gold’ if you will—but certainly, the life support for everything. How about battling diseases and improving our wellness; how about analyzing gravitational waves, treating asthma without inhalers, helping communities cope with trauma building exoskeletons that help with physical therapy. There are so many other examples; we saw hundreds of examples on exhibit here today. It’s our research mission that we are recognizing and celebrating.

It is more important than ever, and it is critical, that we continue to strengthen the UWM research profile through discovery, knowledge, advancement, financial and talent retention—we need you all.

Again, I am deeply grateful for your dedication to making UWM a better university. Thank you.

Raymond Cross – President, University of Wisconsin System

Thank you for inviting me to celebrate with you. I am honored to do this—I really am—so I am going to do something that I hadn’t planned. If you are a faculty member here, would you raise your hand? If you are a student here, would you give them a hand? I do that because there are a number of faculty here who have been here a long time who dreamed of these days years ago. They did the work, the research, [put in] the effort, the requirement, to get to this point, so they deserve a tremendous amount of credit.

The thing that complicates UW-Milwaukee’s situation is that it is an ‘access institution’. How many of the institutions in the 131 are ‘access institutions’? Very few. You don’t know how hard that dual mission is. Both are incredibly important, and it is not easy. It means an even a bigger hill to climb which is impressive to me, so I am humbled to honor you for all the work you’ve done for many, many years. I stand here—and I have only been here in this position for 5 years—in awe of those of you who have done this. It demonstrates your commitment to research.

When you look at the Carnegie Institute, it used to be called the ‘Indiana University Center for Post-Secondary Education’. Carnegie has [since] taken this over and they have changed it. Back in 1994, I believe, there were only 50 R1 institutions; today there are 131 and they have changed the criteria. They made it a little bit more complicated, and just a year or so ago, we didn’t know if Milwaukee would still be eligible or score well within this picture. Why? Because they created two components that go into it. They do an aggregate analysis counting all the Ph.D. students that are considered research students; they counted the number of faculty doing research that are non-teaching but focused on research (they can do some teaching), then, they count the expenses that you have. That is the aggregate, and a traditional part of this. Well, they added another component (that I thought was rather interesting): the dollars you spend per capita on research. That means that every faculty member is measured against some of that, too. So, when I thought about that, I thought, “Gee, you must score high enough in both of those…”, and you did, you did. That’s impressive, that’s very impressive.

That means that embedded in that research commitment you are hiring faculty that want to do research. Those of you who are students, if you are asked by someone, “Gee, I want to go to a school where there is a great teacher…”, at UWM, the two are inseparable. When they expose you to the process of research and understanding, how that works, and why you should be doing it, it’s a way of thinking that a truly educated person should aspire to acquire.

It’s not just that this has real meaning in this community, this city, this state. I am going to make this statement very slowly; Milwaukee and Wisconsin will progress and grow in direction and proportion to your growth and progress. You are inextricably linked to this community and this state. Inextricable, inseparable—that is how important this is. We all know what research does, unfortunately, politicians think in two-year windows. Research takes a long time. The fruits of what you are doing may not be exposed for decades, and you may never see it. Your children may see it. But, that is what leads to improved lives, sacred communities, more engaged populations, a healthier democracy, and a better life. No question about it, no debate. Just ask your neighbor who may have had cancer, or Alzheimer’s, or catastrophic diseases, how important that is. Saving lives, changing communities, and making life better for all of us. In my case, regardless of how old you are.

A heartfelt thank you and congratulations to Mark, Johannes, and to all of you.

Wilkistar Otieno – Associate Professor & Chair of the Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering Department at UW-Milwaukee

Congratulations to the UWM community on this achievement!

Maintaining Research 1 status confirms our commitment and drive towards excellence in research, teaching and service. This would not have been possible without the administrative support at the UW System level and at UWM, the commitment of faculty, staff and post-doctoral researchers and talented students.

As faculty, research support through internal grants such as the Research Growth Initiative and the UW System Catalysts grant enables us to get initial research findings which we use to apply for extramural funds. Today, about 300 undergraduate scholars presented their research findings at the Undergraduate Research Symposium, which goes on to show UWM’s commitment to work with faculty in nurturing future researchers through the SURF program.

I also acknowledge our industry partners and the community for your support in research projects and grants, scholarships, internships and co-op opportunities.  Through these partnerships, we are able to confirm the impact of our research.

We serve a very diverse community in Southeast Wisconsin. It is wonderful that more than 80% of our alumni work in Wisconsin. As one of the faculty mentors in the Wisconsin’s Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program (WiscAMP), it is my hope that UWM will be committed to increased participation and diversity in research, education, and service so that we can continuously improve our performance and not only maintain our status, but also move up in the rank of R1 institutions.

Rebecca Klaper – Professor, Director of the Great Lakes Genomics Center at UW-Milwaukee

What does the R1 status mean to faculty, staff and students?


Our institution is valued for the research we do. Grants are very difficult to obtain and the faculty across disciplines at our University consistently obtain federal grant funding due to the value our peers in the academic community place on our research. Our research helps UWM to be viewed as highly innovative and important in science, humanities, social science and the professions. The value we as an institution put on research supports the efforts of our faculty to be the top in their field.


We can recruit the best graduate students and post docs because of this research funding, and we graduate fantastic students. Because our research is innovative and important, we can provide both undergraduate and graduate students courses and laboratory and applied experiences that are the most recent and most advanced concepts in our fields –they are receiving the most modern and advanced education in our fields. This, in turn, makes students competitive —they are learning about how to generate complex and advanced ideas and are trained to think. They are also being trained on the latest technologies and equipment. They are competitive for not only the jobs available now, but they will create jobs that have not even been developed yet.  Students in the graduate program at School of Freshwater Sciences, for example, are hired into industry, the nonprofit sector, in start- up businesses, government and academia. And we have a 98% placement rate.


We are training students that are ready for the workforce of today and to create new jobs in the future. Many of our alums stay in Wisconsin, contribute to our local economy and community, and address the most pressing problems in our area.

Both Chancellor Mone and President Cross mentioned our difficulties in being an R1 in Milwaukee. I add that we are successful BECAUSE we are in Milwaukee.

  • We are doing state of the art research in urban environments because we are in Milwaukee.
  • We are doing state of the art research on health outcomes because we are in Milwaukee.
  • We are doing unique research on arts, culture, and history because we are in Milwaukee.
  • Our students and faculty are able to do cutting edge research on our freshwater resources, so important to our populations going forward, because we are located on this amazing body of water, Lake Michigan, part of one of the largest surface water resources on the planet, the Great Lakes and part of a community of researchers in water technology because we are in Milwaukee.

David H. Petering – Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UW-Milwaukee

I think I speak for all faculty in responding to the announcement of UWM’s second consecutive designation as a Research 1 university, a recognition that places us in the top tier of universities across the country.

We take great pride and pleasure in sustaining this high level of academic achievement despite a decade of crushing budgetary austerity. And, we are constantly at work to ensure UWM’s R1 future in the company of other Midwest R1 urban universities such as the University of Minnesota and the University of Illinois-Chicago. To make this happen will also require a necessary and sufficient level of investment of resources and support for our institution.

At UWM, faculty research and creative expression not only inform our understanding of the world and our place in it. Such work also guides student learning and discovery as we see abundantly in the remarkable array of projects by undergraduate researchers and their faculty advisors at today’s research symposium.

Faculty scholarship provides critical resources for the deep community engagement and impact that marks UWM’s connections with the Milwaukee metropolitan area. Together, these are the unique characteristics of this highly ranked research university.

UWM is a special institution for aspiring students for other important reasons. It is the Midwest R1 campus with the lowest undergraduate tuition and, it is located in a vibrant cosmopolitan city that offers students a wealth of opportunities to broaden their education and to prepare for jobs many of which will right here in the city.

R1 is a code-word for the level and quality of preparation that students and future citizens will need to be successful and effective in the enormously challenging global future that we are facing. In this context, R1 UWM is key to a thriving Milwaukee, metropolitan region, and State of Wisconsin.

Congratulations, UWM!