Transformational gift charts course for new UWM research vessel

Study and protection of the Great Lakes reached a watershed moment in November when an anonymous donor of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation committed $10 million toward a new research vessel for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences.

The Research Vessel Maggi Sue, named in recognition of the gift, will be the most advanced research vessel on the Great Lakes according to UWM and the first designed specifically for conducting sophisticated research on these bodies of water. It will replace the Neeskay, a converted Army T-boat that is more than 65 years old. Purchased by UWM in 1970, the 71-foot Neeskay is currently the only research vessel that sails year-round on the Great Lakes.

“This gift has such catalytic power, not only for helping drive the research enterprise at UWM, but in further signaling Milwaukee is a city capable of leveraging its unique resources for economic, educational and ecological benefits,” said Ellen Gilligan, president and CEO of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. “I applaud our donor’s remarkable commitment to freshwater science, which is giving UWM the leading-edge tools needed to better understand our Great Lakes while putting Milwaukee on the map in this vital field.”

Sustaining our inland seas

More than 40 million people rely on the Great Lakes for clean drinking water, and the lakes sustain 1.5 million jobs and generate over $62 billion in annual wages. But they are ecologically fragile, and monitoring their condition requires the type of physical data collection made possible by a dedicated research vessel.

“This gift will transform UWM’s efforts to protect the Great Lakes, our nation’s largest freshwater resource,” UWM Chancellor Mark Mone said. “Its impact extends well beyond UW-Milwaukee and, frankly, beyond Wisconsin. It strengthens our efforts to protect the Great Lakes – all of them. On behalf of UWM and our research partners, I extend my deepest thanks for this incredible act of generosity and for the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s role in making it happen.”

The gift equals the largest ever received by UWM and demonstrates how the Foundation partners with its donors to achieve significant impact through philanthropic investments of any level.

State-of-the-science research platform

Measuring 120 feet in length, the Maggi Sue will possess onboard technology that will open new avenues of research and increase scientists’ ability to understand, explore and manage freshwater resources. The vessel will feature sensors that collect real-time data, interchangeable laboratory pods that can be switched out depending on scientists’ needs, and a dynamic positioning system that allows the vessel to stay in one place regardless of current, wind and waves.

The lab spaces will enable scientists to conduct experiments on the water. Classrooms aboard the vessel will allow groups of university students as well as K-12 students the opportunity to learn at sea. Unlike the Neeskay, the Maggi Sue will have sleeping accommodations for up to 18 people, allowing scientists and crew to remain on the water for longer periods of time to gather continuous readings without needing to return to shore.

“Science is the key to keeping our lakes healthy,” said Val Klump, dean of the School of Freshwater Sciences. “The Great Lakes are one of the world’s truly great natural resources. They drive agriculture, energy production, manufacturing, real estate, shipping, tourism, recreation and quality of life. Yet, they are also biologically highly susceptible to natural and human impacts. Dead zones in Green Bay are growing larger, water levels in the lake are oscillating dramatically, and water quality is threatened by runoff and contaminants like pharmaceuticals. The Maggi Sue will give us the means to gain a clear and up-close picture of the challenges facing the Great Lakes and help us go further in generating solutions to these problems.”

The gift amount covers half of the $20 million cost of the new vessel, which includes $15 million for construction and $5 million to sustain its operation. Once fundraising is complete, it will take another 12 to 18 months for the actual construction of the vessel, according to UWM.

For more information, watch our Nov. 6 joint news conference and take an inside look at the Neeskay, UWM’s longtime research vessel.