Seven-year-old Garrett Wink of DeForest didn’t know at first what to make of the big-fanged, sharp-clawed creature he saw on the table.
The stuffed badger was part of the Forest and Wildlife Ecology exhibit Thursday, April 4 at the first UW-Madison, UW-Extension and UW Colleges Day at the Capitol. The event presented to legislators and the public the many ways that the innovation and research at the UW makes an impact all across Wisconsin.
Rep. Ed Brooks, R-Reedsburg, says the UW Day is “a unique learning experience.”
“It showcases all the things UW and the Extension can do,” he said.
The event, sponsored and organized by University Relations, filled the Capitol Rotunda with red as dozens of legislators and staff and hundreds of members of the public streamed through the displays.
Wink, who was at the Capitol during spring break from his school, was smiling broadly but still a little wild-eyed after his encounter with the badger, which he reported “was real, but it wasn’t alive. It was really soft.”
The curiosity about the native plants and animals of Wisconsin isn’t limited to children, says Jamie Nack, senior outreach specialist in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at UW–Madison. Public events like UW Day are a way to build awareness of the range of services that are offered to the state and public, she said.
“People are genuinely interested in wildlife,” Nack said.
A few feet away, Master Cheesemaker Gary Grossen gave demonstrations of how he creates his award-winning cheeses at the Babcock Dairy Plant.
“There’s so many people who don’t know all the different things that happen at this university,” Grossen said. “Not many people know there’s a meat lab, or an 85-cow dairy operation.”
Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, stopped by the event before heading into a meeting on the state budget. He chatted with students at the UW Meat Science table, and staff at the UW Sea Grant Institute, a collaborative program between UW–Madison and UW–Milwaukee.
Larson said the reminder of all the things UW does is particularly important as legislators set budget priorities.
“This actually puts a name and a face to some of those figures,” Larson said.
“Even though the capitol and campus are only separated by a distance of a mile, there can sometimes be a gulf of understanding. We hope events like this can be a good way to bridge that gap,” said Don Nelson, director of state relations. “We feel very strongly that the Legislature needs to understand, in a hands-on way, the value that UW-Madison brings to the state.”
The event is one in a series of outreach events planned by the university to reach legislators and state residents. Upcoming events are planned for Burlington High School on April 26 and Mequon’s Homestead High School on May 10.