New UW president explains why ‘The World Needs More Cowboys’

University of Wyoming President Dr. Ed Seidel speaks at the Evanston Roundhouse on Wednesday, May 5. Seidel and other UW officials were in town for a “The World Needs More Cowboys” event. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — University of Wyoming President Dr. Edward Seidel was in Evanston last week, where UW hosted an open house and celebrated why “The World Needs More Cowboys.”  The event was held Wednesday, May 5, at the Evanston Roundhouse.

The Uinta County event is the 13th in a series of events planned throughout the state. The series was interrupted by COVID-19 and is resuming now that restrictions on public gatherings have eased.

“Coming from outside of Wyoming, at first I wondered about the slogan “The World Needs More Cowboys,” Seidel said, “but now I think it is appropriate and timely. The Wyoming culture stands for grit, strength and friendliness. I think it is a wonderful slogan for the university.”

The evening began with free appetizers and beverages, followed by a brief program highlighting the university’s efforts to boost entrepreneurism and the state’s economy. Presentations included speeches by Dr. Seidel, three current UW students from Uinta County — Rylee Berger of Evanston, McKinley Bradshaw of Lyman and Makell Kaiser-Mountain View — and UW alumna Rachel Boyer, who teaches music at Evanston’s Clark Elementary.

Before the event at the Roundhouse, Dr. Seidel, UW Geography Assistant Zoe Pearson and the three UW students from Uinta County spoke to classes at the high schools in Evanston, Lyman and Mountain View. Seidel spoke on black holes in an Evanston classroom, and he also visited with Mayor Kent Williams and the Evanston City Council on Tuesday, May 4. 

Seidel said the year 2020 presented many challenges for the students, staff and faculty but for the most part all adjusted and did well. He said they all learned a lot about what they can and can’t do on virtual learning and that it will actually prepare them for a world with increasing technology in every field.

Most of the classes had virtual contact through Zoom. Seidel said they are gearing up for in-person classes, and  students seem anxious to get back to traditional classroom learning. He said most of the safety measures created due to the pandemic will remain in place and may continue far into the future.

“My main drive is to see graduating students placed in jobs within the state and prepare them to enter a changing work environment in a changing Wyoming,” Seidel said. “There are four strategic methods for accomplishing that: create specialized training programs; develop incubators; [develop] mentorships and apprenticeships; and gain venture capital support with firms, corporations and foundation boards.”

Dr. Seidel speaks from experience; before coming to UW, he was the vice president of economic development and innovations for the University of Illinois System. There he built and supported programs that engaged the university, public and private partners and strengthened the links among higher education, research and business to stimulate economic development across that state.

Seidel knows that budget cuts are going to be tough, but he said he is convinced the university will get through it. A main focus today, he said, is computational technology, which includes artificial intelligence (AI) and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). His four pillars for the university include more digital learning; more entrepreneurial opportunities; to become more interdisciplinary; and to be more inclusive.

He said computation and AI applies not only to the science fields but also to art and humanities, business, social science, engineering and agriculture. Seidel said he wants to raise the engineering program to the top tier. 

“The university has been working hard to tackle the problem of helping graduates to secure current jobs and the changing jobs of the future in the state. Working with Governor Gordon, we formed the Wyoming Innovation Network, a collaboration with all seven of the community colleges, to work on how we can grow and support transformation in businesses, the hospitality and tourism industry — and in agriculture. For instance, how the agricultural industry can use drones and AI in that changing field. We have been meeting regularly and discussing how to be proactive in creating a complete economic (eco) system.”

Seidel said the network is developing a statewide engineering program where students can come from other colleges to get training in digital sciences, AI use and software and have the program supported by corporate sponsors working directly with the university.

The network is working toward creating relationships with venture capital firms, creating training on how to start a business, providing incubators to get the business off the ground, fostering mentorships and apprenticeships and then, ultimately, securing the venture capital, Seidel said. They are working hard to get corporate sponsors in and outside the state.

Seidel said he knows people all across the country who have been successful at developing these kinds of programs and they are willing to provide technical assistance and advice. He said alumni also make wonderful mentors and are usually more than willing to help a UW student.

Recently, in March, four groups of students from UW and from five of the seven Wyoming community colleges attended a virtual boot camp in Wales, provided by the company Tri-Hydro, where they learned about the ways in which the country has moved successfully through an economic transition.

Wales is similar to Wyoming in that their economy was primarily based on coal and sheep production and they have had to diversify to survive. They now have a successful national software and artificial intelligence company. According to Seidel, Tri-Hydro thought the project was very successful and now wants to hire some of the students. He said the relationship with Wales will continue, and they now want to send students to UW to learn about blockchain and other effective Wyoming programs.

“At UW, we are about transforming lives,” Seidel said. “We are special; we have a unique impact on the entire state; we are small, but we can be the best. The question for us today is, ‘How do we build technology into all disciplines in order to prepare students for the rapidly changing work environment?’ The answer to that is what the Wyoming Innovation Network is working on.”

Seidel began as UW’s 28th president on July 1, 2020. Prior to his tenure at the University of Illinois System, he spent more than three years as director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was among the original co-principal investigators for Blue Waters, a federally funded project that brought one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers to Urbana-Champaign. 

Previously, he was the senior vice president for research and innovation for the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Moscow, Russia, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He also directed the Office of Cyberinfrastructure and led the Directorate of Mathematical and Physical Sciences as National Science Foundation assistant director. He also led the Center for Computation & Technology at Louisiana State University and directed the numerical relativity group at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute) in Germany.

Seidel earned a Ph.D. in relativistic astrophysics from Yale University, earned a master’s degree in physics at the University of Pennsylvania and received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics from the College of William and Mary.

His partner, Gabrielle Allen, is originally from the United Kingdom and is professor of mathematics and physics research and development at UW.

“She is a first-generation college student and a force to be reckoned with. She does a great job at UW,” Seidel said. “She is also a renowned black holes expert.”

Seidel said he loves the outdoors and is a skier and hiker. He and Gabrielle spent the entire Christmas holiday skiing around Wyoming. He said he is thrilled to be here and loves the whole state.

Seidel has two grown children, a son who is a computer scientist, and a daughter who is an opera singer and a linguistics graduate. She teaches second grade in Berlin, Germany.

During the formal presentation following the reception, Keener Fry, UW Alumni Association executive director, introduced those attending from UW and the evening’s remaining speakers.

Boyer showed a video demonstrating her work as a music teacher at Clark and her interaction with her students. She attested to how much UW had successfully prepared her for her job of teaching. She said the small-town atmosphere of the university helped her to get involved and develop strong relationships with other students. Boyer is one of 24 UW alumni featured in advertising in Wyoming newspapers and other media under the banner “The World Needs More Cowboys — and so does Wyoming.”

After the video, Boyer said, “I thank Evanston, my colleagues and the university for my success.  The world definitely needs more cowboys.” 

Rylee Berger of Evanston is a UW education major with an emphasis in science. She will graduate this spring and will begin teaching eighth-grade science at Davis Middle School next fall.   

“The Hathaway Scholarship is a huge deal and helped me to graduate with no debt. Thank you all for your support, and I look forward to teaching here at home,” Berger said.

Makell Kaiser of Mountain View also credited the Hathaway Scholarship and said it was one of the reasons she decided to attend UW because, at first, she wanted to go somewhere else. By her second year, she said she had developed a sense of community living in Laramie and the options and programs UW offered were great. 

“I am majoring in elementary education but also getting certified in English as a second language and getting a minor in psychology. No one ever discouraged me from taking all of those courses and instead encouraged me all along. That is why the University of Wyoming is the best choice for me,” Kaiser said.

Lyman High School graduate McKinley Bradshaw was the third UW student to talk of her love of the university. Bradshaw is a member of the 2021 Mountain West Conference Tournament champion UW Cowgirls basketball team. 

“The last few years, I have had an incredible time playing on the team and attending the University. It has been a huge experience for me. I felt so supported. I thank you all. If you attend the University of Wyoming it will be a great experience that you will take with you all the rest of your life,” Bradshaw said.

UW swim coach Dave Denniston shared his feelings about teaching at UW. He said his connections to UW are through the athletes. 

“Every athlete I talk to and work with realizes they represent the whole state and they take a lot of pride in that. They also take pride in academics and put education first — being a student comes before being an athlete for them. That why I love being a swim coach,” Denniston said.

Dr. Seidel then addressed the crowd again.

“Our first job is to bring students into UW and to provide what they need to be a success,” Seidel said. “We have begun relationships with national laboratories who are interested in internships for our students. We are working on developing support structures and ensuring transfer of credits. We have a $50 million budget cut to work through but when the chips are down, the people in Wyoming work together. We would love to hear from you and the ideas you have to offer. You can reach me at [email protected]

The event ended with Boyer and O’Brien leading everyone in singing “Ragtime Cowboy Joe.”

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