Kamala Harris visits UWM to talk about infrastructure investment

A black Ford Mustang electric car shared center stage with Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday when Harris visited the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to promote the Biden administration’s planned investment in American infrastructure.

Harris talked at a small roundtable discussion about what the $2.3 trillion legislative package would mean for sustainable energy, research innovation and education, and she toured some of the energy research labs in the College of Engineering & Applied Science to highlight a clean energy economy.

The spending in the legislation would generate jobs and help the U.S. become more globally competitive, Harris said. She said federal government investment as a percentage of gross domestic product has declined over the past 25 years.

UWM Chancellor Mark Mone greets Vice President Kamala Harris (clockwise from right), Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Gwen Moore. (UWM Photo/Elora Hennessey)

“We must be able to compete,” she said. “Innovation will make things easier for American families and will create jobs.”

It was fitting that Harris visited Milwaukee, UWM Chancellor Mark Mone said, because the city had once been the machine shop of the nation. But now the area needs smart investments in energy and manufacturing to create the innovations necessary to solve current-day problems.

“We have a passion for action, some would say a passion for traction, if you look at the all-electric Mustang on display here,” UWM Chancellor Mark Mone told Harris. “It’s an example of the kind of transformative research we do at UWM.” And part of that story involved making electric vehicles more commercially viable.

UWM was chosen as a stop on Harris’ promotion tour in part because of its longstanding work with businesses to improve their energy efficiency and reduce their carbon footprints. The U.S. Department of Energy has supported an Industrial Assessment Center at UWM for more than 20 years. Through the IAC, teams of faculty and UWM students identify reduction strategies for energy and water consumption for area medium-sized manufacturers, while providing training the future energy engineers. 

The Department of Energy currently funds the IAC program at 31 universities. The center at UWM, directed by Ryoichi Amano, professor of mechanical engineering, is the only one in Wisconsin.

Moving science forward

Wilkistar Otieno, associate professor of industrial manufacturing and assistant director of UWM’s Industrial Assessment Center, participated in the roundtable discussion, which was moderated by Joan Prince, a UWM vice chancellor emerita. Otieno described the research and development gains that additional investment would bring, including next-generation lithium-ion battery systems for electric cars, new strategies for more efficient manufacturing and electricity generated from wastewater treatment plants.

Presidents and contenders who visited UWM

“The research dollars that we attract enables us to move science forward and to look at what comes next,” Otieno said.

Also on the panel were U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore; U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin; Joan Johnson, director of the Milwaukee Public Library; and Damaris Ayala, principal of Lincoln Avenue Community School in Milwaukee.

Baldwin thanked the Biden-Harris administration for investing in people – not only in Wisconsin, but across the country.

“We make things here (in Milwaukee). It’s what we do here,” Baldwin said. “And we all know that when you make things, it all begins with research. And here at UWM, we do that really well too.”

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