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Hanson Family Fund for sustainability research

spring2020 | By Bekah McBride

The Hanson Family joined Paul Robbins, dean, Nelson Institute, to celebrate their gift. Front row, l-r: Julie Kelley, Gwendolyn Kelley, UW-Madison student, Lorraine Hanson, Faye Kelley, Nazli Yesiller (PhD, Civil and Environmental Engineering, 1994). Back row, l-r: John Hanson (BA, History, 1984), Lew Hanson (BA, Business, 1954; MBA, 1955), Paul Robbins, dean, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, Jim Hanson (BS, Civil and Environmental Engineering, 1990; PhD, Civil and Environmental Engineering, 1996).

Detering Gurfield Family establishes new scholarship

Local business owners of Ian’s Pizza and Batch Bakehouse, world travelers, and nature lovers, Ian Gurfield and Susan Detering established the Detering Gurfield Family Scholarship to support undergraduate and graduate students whose research efforts are helping to move our world toward a decarbonized future. The $1,500 scholarship provides support for students whose research focuses on climate change, alternative energies, clean technologies, geoengineering, public policy, economic analysis and related studies that will help lead our world to a sustainable energy model. The inaugural award was presented to Jiaqi Lu, a graduate student pursuing a degree in public affairs and a certificate in Energy Analysis and Policy.

The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies is pleased to announce the Hanson Family Fund for Sustainability Research, which will support faculty and student sustainability-related research as well as an annual sustainability-related public lecture. This fund is made possible thanks to the generous support in the form of a gift of $500,000 from the Lewis P. Hanson family.

The Hanson family has a long history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with 12 family members and four generations attending the university over the past 100 years. Hanson Family Fund donor and business major Lewis (Lew) P. Hanson of Cedarburg, Wis. was the second generation to attend UW-Madison, following in the footsteps of his father, who graduated from UW-Madison in 1917. Lew’s son, Jim Hanson, and his wife, Nazli Yesiller, who helped to inspire Lew’s donation, were among several members of the third generation of the Hanson family to attend the UW, earning degrees in civil and environmental engineering. As family members have graduated from a variety of programs, the Hanson family was eager to create a fund that could be used to support interdisciplinary sustainability research. The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, which encourages broad, interdisciplinary collaboration across the UW-Madison campus through its various graduate and undergraduate programs, fit well with the family’s interdisciplinary goals for the fund.

"We met with some folks at the Nelson Institute and had a good feeling about following through with the gift being donated to the Nelson Institute,” said Jim Hanson. “The Nelson Institute was a good point for opening the fund to the entire university while ensuring that it supports sustainability efforts.”Lew, his wife, children, including Jim and Nazli, and two grandchildren visited campus in late summer to meet Dean Paul Robbins and sign the Memorandum of Agreement. The signing took place at Earth Day founder and Nelson Institute namesake Gaylord Nelson’s desk which is maintained at the Nelson Institute. And, while Lew did not personally attend the Nelson Institute, he said he is proud to be contributing to a university that has meant so much to him over the years. In fact, he shared that, to him, the UW has always been synonymous with education. He said, as a child, “If you were thinking of a university, I thought that it was spelled starting with a W.”

Members of the Hanson family also shared that they are excited to be able to contribute to a fund that will provide direct support and travel funds to faculty and students who are working on sustainability, a topic that has been a lifelong passion for civil and environmental engineers Jim and Nazli Hanson.

“Career wise, we both have strong ties to sustainability and continue to work in these areas,” shared Nazli. “It’s a lifetime commitment from our end.”

Jim echoed this and added, “Both Nazli and my research involved a lot of field work and we feel that’s where the rubber meets the road. It’s important to be able to do large-scale research in the right climates and building travel funding into this sustainability fund will allow for this. This is good discretionary funding for a faculty member as there is always a need for all sorts of funds, but often the funding isn’t there or you need to apply months ahead of time, so this kind of funding is meant to improve productivity, support faculty research, and help fund travel, which gets the word out and spreads the name of the university.”

Likewise, Nelson Institute Dean Paul Robbins echoed the need for sustainability funding that supports a range of individuals working on critical issues.

“Right now, research on sustainability is crucial.
This fund not only supports faculty and students
doing things of critical importance, it helps to
build a sustainability community on this campus,
a tradition and culture of thinking creatively
together about the future.”

–Dean Paul Robbins

Jim and Nazli also shared that in addition to contributing to the sustainability work on campus, they are proud to have the opportunity to create this gift in an endowed format, which will provide benefits to the university in perpetuity and help new and future Badgers such as Gwendolyn (Gwen) Kelley, who represents the fourth generation of the Hanson family to attend UW. Gwen is majoring in nutritional sciences with certificates in global health as well as Chicanx and Latinx studies. While running between finishing a paper for her Climate Change Governance Course and attending a UW Sustainability Club meeting, Gwen shared the importance of the Wisconsin Idea—the principle in which everything the university does should improve the lives of every individual in the State of Wisconsin.

She said, “I believe sustainability is a huge aspect of this. As students and at a large research university, we should be leading towards a more sustainable future, with the intent of reducing environmental injustice and preserving the environment for generations to come.”

“This gift will change lives, and in an educational setting, nothing is more exciting than seeing a student have a true learning moment – seeing a lightbulb going on,” said Jim.

Nazli added, “We are living in an era, both nationally and internationally, where people, animals, and plants are constantly threatened by political, industrial, and military forces, and interests. We consider UW a bastion against these threats. The Hanson Family Fund for Sustainability Research is intended to support these efforts by encouraging faculty members to positively contribute to the well-being of humans and the environment.”

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