MSOE at a crossroads

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

In a 2004 speech to the students of the Milwaukee School of Engineering, Hermann Viets, Ph.D., president of the downtown college, unveiled his MSOE wish list. Viets identified several priorities, including plans to add degree programs in the medical field, the need for a parking structure and the possibility of building a new residence hall and space to house the school’s massive Eckhart G. Grohmann collection of industrial art. Viets recently discussed the future of MSOE with Small Business Times reporter Elizabeth Geldermann. The following are excerpts from that interview.

SBT: Regarding your MSOE wishlist, where does the parking ramp project stand?
Viets: "First, I think that eventually and inevitably in downtown, the surface parking will give way to parking ramps. That is driven by the development of downtown, and it is also driven by an increased value of property. It will be more difficult to find property at reasonable rates that can be used for parking, and we believe that that will happen and that eventually we will have to move in that direction as well."

SBT: Are you seeing increased interest in more medical-oriented programs between the nursing program and the engineering program?
Viets: "We are moving more in that direction naturally because of the existence of nursing as being a critical component of our offerings. The program has begun to drive some of our decisions in directions that they might not otherwise go or might not go as quickly. And I think our interest in DNA biology-based kinds of programs is in fact attributable to that kind of thinking from engineering, nursing and a number of other programs that are medically-oriented. We have a master’s degree in profusion. We also have a master’s degree in medical informatics, the handling of medical information in the medical field, and that is a joint program with the Medical College of Wisconsin. And in addition to our undergraduate program in nursing, we also have a program in biomedical engineering. We are already in those fields, and we believe that we will move probably more into that type of discipline."

SBT: In your speech to MSOE students last year, you mentioned the possibility of a residence hall was contingent on how well the Kern Center is received. Now that the Kern Center is open, are you now looking toward building a residence hall?
Viets: "We believe, especially based on the way that the Kern Center has been received, that the Kern Center will help us a great deal. (The construction of a residence hall) will depend on student demand. Part of that is related to what we can do and part of that is related to how our society reacts to some of the challenges that we currently face. There is no question in my mind that the only way for us as a nation to sustain our standard of living is to produce items and ideas and products of various sorts that we can sell to people who are otherwise selling to us. And if we can’t do that, then we will implode. This is not a situation where we can keep on buying overseas forever and not offering anything that they want. So we have to be careful about that, and I believe the only way we can really be successful in that is to be creative and to have very effective programs to create the new products and to market those products."

SBT: Has the Kern Center been received well by students and the public?
Viets: "The Kern Center offers both recreational and athletic purposes, so a good deal of the basic use of the facility is people who use it for recreational use, for exercise, for fitness machines and for our student intercollegiate and intramural teams. The other use that we plan for the building is to hold our commencement exercises there. We have done that twice with our smaller commencements. Two of our commencements a year are the smaller ones, and we held them in the basketball competition arena. In May, we will run our larger commencement exercise that is a little over 300 graduates. That commencement will be held in our ice hockey arena, with the ice removed, of course."

SBT: Have you been able to increase momentum with participation in sports or with a larger fan base because the teams don’t have to travel anymore?
Viets: "We used to play hockey in Brookfield. Our hockey team this year (at the Kern Center) finished the season at 14-2 and then won the (conference) playoffs as well. So we have an outstanding hockey team, and the hockey games were very well attended. We have also had some high school teams playing there. Homestead (High School) and Marquette (University) High School played here, and the games were sold out."
SBT: The shortage of engineers in America has been well-documented. How can we, as a society, recruit more young people into those fields? Is the answer in something like Project Lead the Way, where MSOE and other local engineering schools are reaching out to high schools and middle schools?
Viets: "That is a big part of it. Project Lead the Way has the objective of introducing people who are interested in science, technology and engineering. If we don’t have those people, then we are really pretty much out of luck, because we will then have nothing unique or distinctive to sell on the world market. You can’t maintain the difference between our standard of living and the rest of the world without having something unique, distinctive and desirable in relation to the rest of the world. We need to produce those candidates. We need to produce them first in grammar school, then they have to move on to high school to be stimulated by a program like Project Lead the Way and then they have to go through a university like MSOE or many others and come out as creative people who can then produce those unique and distinctive products."

SBT: MSOE has the very impressive Eckhart G. Grohmann collection of industrial art, but no place to really showcase it. What is the ideal situation for the industrial art collection? Are you looking for space within a building or for an entire building?
Viets: "We now have approaching 600 (pieces), so, yes it takes a lot of space. We currently have probably 60 or 70 pieces displayed in the Student Center and maybe 30 or 40 in (my) office. We used to have them stacked up against the wall. We have about 100 of them on the walls across the street and in our Alumni Partnership Center. We have a collection of 30 or 40 in the library, where there is a special exhibit on industrial landscapes. But that still leaves a lot of art searching for a wall. We are looking for a facility that could perform that function."

SBT: Do you have any other items on the MSOE wish list?
Viets: "Well, we have lots of things that we would like to have. When people say, ‘How are you doing?’ I say, ‘Nothing that $100 million wouldn’t cure.’ We are a private institution. We get no direct government support. Therefore, everything we do, we have to do in a way which keeps an eye on the cost and which keeps an eye on its usefulness. And that has its blessings, and it has its difficulties. The blessing is clearly that it forces us to keep our eye on the ball and it forces us to deal with reality. Some of the difficulties are that you have to worry about what things cost and what you can afford to do and what you can’t afford to do. But overall, in the balance of things, I think it is a net advantage to us. I believe in capitalism, and therefore I believe that the idea of having to worry about those things in the end will work to your advantage."

Art for work’s sake
MSOE needs space to display treasures
By Elizabeth Geldermann, of SBT

When Eckhart Grohmann, president of Milwaukee-based Aluminum Casting & Engineering Co. and a regent of the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), gave the college his extensive collection of industrial art, the school did not have enough room to display it.
"We currently have probably 60 or 70 pieces displayed in the Student Center and maybe 30 or 40 in (my) office," said MSOE president Hermann Viets. "We used to have them stacked up against the wall. We have about 100 of them on the walls across the street and in our Alumni Partnership Center. We have a collection of 30 or 40 in the library where there is a special exhibit on industrial landscapes. But that still leaves a lot of art searching for a wall."
The Eckhart G. Grohmann Collection was presented to MSOE in November 2000 and is a culmination of 35 years that Grohmann spent acquiring the pieces, Viets said.
In the future, MSOE hopes to have dedicated space, whether it is in a separate building or a gallery, that would provide wall and display space for the nearly 600 pieces of American and European art that comprise the Grohmann collection, Viets said.
The artwork consists of paintings and sculptures in varying sizes and provides a visual history covering nearly 400 years of the evolution of industry.
The Grohmann collection is considered the best collection in the world of industrial artwork, Viets said.
The entire collection, including a medical subset that MSOE received from Grohmann in the last year, is a collection of people working. The paintings and sculptures depict workers including miners, welders and blacksmiths working at steel mills, construction sites, foundries and other industrial settings.
The artists were most likely commissioned to produce the paintings and sculptures, which in modern times offers a look into life before contemporary technology, Viets said.
"You can bet these are places that existed rather than being a figment of somebody’s imagination, because the painters could not have imagined some of these situations," Viets said. "The participants are looking right at what you would call the camera. It is really an astounding view."
The medical subset shows how surgery was performed in the 1600s and the pain individuals endured during those surgeries. Back surgeries and head surgeries – procedures that are performed in a hospital with anesthetics today – are depicted in paintings with the patient sitting on a stool and a doctor performing the surgery with only a knife and wearing every day clothes.
"This is real life," Viets said. "When you look at medicine in the 1600s without any painkillers, no knowledge of germs, no question of washing one’s hands, then you get a whole different view on how tough people were and how difficult life was."
MSOE released a comprehensive book titled, "Man at Work: The Eckhart G. Grohmann Collection at Milwaukee School of Engineering," in 2003. The book includes pictures of every piece that MSOE originally acquired with historical explanations.
The book was written and translated from German by Klaus TŸrk, a sociology professor at the University of Wuppertal, Germany, who has studied the theme of work extensively, MSOE spokeswoman Kathleen McCann said.
The medical subset is not included in the first edition of "Man at Work," but will debut in an independent book focusing on the history of medical art. The new book is scheduled to be printed and released in the coming months and will be used to market the medical subset as a traveling exhibit to museums, Viets said.
MSOE is moving toward completing a larger, more comprehensive book of the collection and plans to produce smaller books that will contain subsets of the "Man at Work" field, Viets said.
The college is honored to have such a nontraditional collection, and MSOE is an institution that will value it most, Viets said.
"We need to determine how best to use such a resource," Viets said. "We know some things we can do with it but I think we will discover other things."
MSOE is working to market a traveling exhibit of the medical subset. The school has displayed pieces of the collection in buildings on campus for public viewing and has used some paintings for educational purposes, Viets said.
"I think we can teach courses on this, to be sure," Viets said. "We will try all of those things, but I believe that is still only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the utility of what is a world class collection."

April 15, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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