By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Earlier this week, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Milwaukee. The main purpose of Harris’ visit was to look at and discuss the possibilities of clean energy designs.
“It’s great to be back in Milwaukee,” Harris said, during the roundtable discussion on clean energy.
Her visit consisted of a tour of University of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s clean energy laboratories and a roundtable discussion on clean energy. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore accompanied Harris throughout her visit.
The tour of UW-Milwaukee’s clean energy laboratories was led by UW-Milwaukee Professor Adel Nasiri and Ezana Mekonnen, co-founder and vice president of technology of Present Power Systems and chief technology officer of Imagen.
Mekonnen showed a system that could charge electric vehicles faster. A car that runs on gas can fill up its tank in a few minutes, but electric cars can take four to eight hours to charge, he said. The team’s project could charge an electric vehicle in 15 minutes. The hope is to make this charger accessible at places such as grocery stores or highway rest stops.
Following the presentation, the group shifted to the roundtable discussion.
Mark Mone, the chancellor of UW-Milwaukee, opened the discussion with a few remarks. He noted that the Biden Administration is proposing the largest investment in research and innovation since World War II. Milwaukee has a long manufacturing history, he said, but the nation as a whole is facing problems.
“We need 21st century education, skills and investments to address them,” he said. “As great as our industrial backbone is, we need smart investments and sustainable energy in manufacturing.”
Joan Prince, the former vice chancellor of Global Inclusion and Engagement at UW-Milwaukee, who recently retired from the position, moderated the conversation.
“The president has made it a priority of our administration to really seek out and lift up the great work that American universities and technologists and innovators are doing,” Harris said. “We are prepared in fact to invest what will be the biggest non-defense in research and development in the history of our country.”
Universities play a big role in that creation and innovation, she said. Sadly, she added, those investments have fallen behind. In recent years, investments in gross domestic product have declined over the years.
“Not only is this an important investment as we continue to strive and see what is possible and then work toward that, but it’s also important that we gain some ground that we have lost over the last quarter of a century,” she said.
While its about the nation’s ability to compete in the global market, it is also about the nation’s investment in its own ability to see the possibility, she said.
Baldwin also gave a few remarks.
“We need to put people to work rebuilding our neglected and crumbling infrastructure,” she said. “We need to support our manufacturing economy. We need to equitably create new good paying jobs and clean energy jobs to take on our climate crisis. And that’s exactly what the Biden-Harris American Jobs plan does.”
During the panel discussion, Harris heard from local leaders such Wilkistar Otieno, an associate professor of industrial manufacturing and assistant director of UWM’s Industrial Assessment Center and Joan Johnson, the director of the Milwaukee Public Library. While Otieno explained the basics behind research and dollars, Johnson explained the sustainable energy measures the library took.
In 2005, the library along with other city entities received a call to action from Mayor Tom Barrett to reduce energy spending, Johnson said. In response, the library replaced the Central Library’s roof with a green roof – or solar panel roof – in 2009. The library has gone on to expand its original green roof and incorporate the green roof design in other branches.
In addition to the roof, the library offered education programs on green infrastructure and sustainability, she said.
Damaris Ayala, the principal of Lincoln Avenue School, talked on how green education plays a role in schools. The school partnered with the City of Milwaukee for the Better Building Challenge to see how energy efficient the school was. It also partnered with Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers to create green spaces in the school.
Lenaya Meija, a fifth grader at Lincoln Avenue Elementary School, told Harris about the school’s various green spaces and efforts which include a bioswale, rain garden and a vegetable garden.
Investment needs to happen in the places that are trusted by the community, Harris said, it’s not just the universities but the community centers.
“I think all of this is very exciting,” she said, adding. “So much of research and development is seeing what can be, seeing the potential. I have a phrase that I use often – American aspiration – aspiring, knowing it is achievable and that’s the work that is happening by all these incredible leaders.”