UWM School of Freshwater Sciences makes a big splash

When the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee unveils its expanded School of Freshwater Sciences this week in a two-day grand opening, it will be more than just celebration of the just-completed $53 million project.

Officials believe it also will mark the beginning of a new era for the school – one that will draw students and faculty from around the country by offering a state-of-the-art water research facilities that can’t be found elsewhere.

UWM will celebrate the 92,000-square-foot expansion of its school on Milwaukee’s inner harbor with two events: a formal, invitation-only dedication on Friday night, and a free community open house from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday that will feature aquatic science demonstrations, entertainment and tours.

The expanded school, which has nearly doubled in size, will offer students, faculty and outside researchers the latest in teaching and research equipment, and 55,000 square feet of new lab space. The project calls for spending $5 million to equip new bio-secure and quarantine facilities for studying aquatic species; a pathogen-testing facility; and the Great Lakes Genomics Center, which is the first DNA sequencing lab in the country dedicated to freshwater issues.

Eric Leaf, director of development at the school, said the expansion and state-of the-art tools are all part of UWM’s overall strategy to make the facility a destination location when it comes to freshwater research.

“We want students from all over the country to be thinking that this is the place they need to come for freshwater research,” Leaf said. “Not only students, but researchers, industry and environmental groups. We want the kind of reputation that everyone wants to work with us, no matter where you are – whether it’s the Great Lakes region, Buffalo, New York, or anywhere in the world. We don’t need to get that in one fell swoop; we don’t need to accomplish that in one year, but we definitely need to head in that direction.”

The school, the only graduate-level school of its kind in the nation, now has about 55 students and 20 faculty members, and Leaf said officials would like to see significant growth on both fronts.

“We want to move to 120 students, and the key to being a successful research program is having outstanding people and having the environment and facilities that can support this level of work,” Leaf said. “This is high-tech stuff. In this building, you have a suite of labs that holds three DNA sequencers and all sorts of ancillary equipment. These are really powerful machines that can tell us info about lakes and organisms in it and us that never before was possible. This gives us the facilities that we need to accomplish a lot of our goals.”

UWM officials also envision more synergy between the School of Freshwater Science and the Global Water Center, which is located about 1-½ miles away in Walker’s Point. UWM’s researchers work with large companies such as Badger Meter Inc. and A.O. Smith Corp., as well as with small businesses, startups, nonprofits groups and government agencies like the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Leaf sees the school’s role as complementary to what the Water Council is doing at the Global Water Center. He noted that since the Global Water Center opened in September 2013, it has attracted water technology companies of all sizes — both in the facility itself and throughout the Walker’s Point area.

But, he noted: “While attracting companies here is nice, I don’t think that’s the goal of the Water Council. I think their goal to do have more home-grown companies. And where we really fit in. We’re developing talent. If Milwaukee is going to succeed, it isn’t because we make a pump. It’s because we have the brain power here to make better pumps. It isn’t because we have a company that deals with wastewater, it’s because we have the next great breakthrough in water treatment. In order to do that, you need to have top, top intellectual talent here. Whether it’s at the university or with companies, it doesn’t matter. You have to have those kinds of minds in Milwaukee. And the school has a role to play to play in attracting those kinds of people here.”

UWM officials noted that many of the school’s graduates already have been hired by water technology companies in Milwaukee.

“What we’re building is a pipeline of exceptional talent,” said David Garman, dean of the School of Freshwater Sciences. “The one thing we hear from industry about our graduates is, ‘When can we get more?’”

For more information on the grand opening events at the UWM School of Freshwater Science, visit http://www4.uwm.edu/go/freshwaterodyssey.

Mark Maley is the public information manager at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which, along with The Water Council, is hosting a state delegation that is attending the Water Environment Federation’s Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC) this fall in New Orleans.

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