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Campus gives Go Big Read author Dan Egan a warm welcome

The press leading up to Dan Egan’s campus visit and author keynote on October 16th showed how excited the community was to receive Egan and his message. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, at which Egan covered the Great Lakes as a reporter for decades, described how the “Majesty” of the region was finally “getting its due.” Many in Wisconsin grew up either directly on the Great Lakes or are frequent visitors to this unique and vast system of freshwater. The Lakes are part of our community’s collection memory, imagination, and reality. The question for many of us, and the question Egan tackled in his keynote, is how we can make sure the Great Lakes are a vibrant and healthy place for future generations.

Before the keynote, on October 16th, Water@UW-Madison sponsored a poster session featuring the work of UW faculty, students, and water resource professionals. Topics ranged from climate change, to policy, to invasive species and community engagement.

State Fellows Drs. Stephanie DeVries, Liz Tristano, and Yi Liu present on the new opportunities offered by the program. Photo by Michala Roberts.

When the doors to Shannan Hall opened at 6:30, there was a rush that did not end until doors closed at around 7:10. When Vice Provost for Libraries Lisa Carter introduced Chancellor Becky Blank, Director of the Center for Limnology Dr. Jake Vander Zanden, and Dan Egan, 1000+ people had filled the auditorium.

The auditorium at Memorial Union Shannon Hall fills up with students and members from the community. Photo by Michala Roberts

Chancellor Blank explained the significance of The Death and Life of the Great Lakes to our community, notably that 80% of UW students come from a Great Lakes state or province.

After remarks and thank you’s, Dan Egan stepped up to the podium. A journalist by profession, he expressed that he is not a public speaker, and was overwhelmed by the amount of people in the audience. This proved to be an example of classic Midwestern humility, as he quickly hit his stride and delivered an organized, engaging, and personal presentation. After going through his connection to the Great Lakes, the history of the St. Lawrence Seaway, and the ecological catastrophe of invasive species, Egan arrived at the enduring point of his research: the way to save the Great Lakes is to make sure future generations are connected to and appreciative of what the Lakes have to offer.

The keynote was followed by a question and answer session moderated by Dr. Jake Vander Zanden. The session turned into a community conversation, as Egan answered questions about industry and the Great Lakes Compact as well as how optimistic he is about the future of the Lakes.

October 17th was a busy day for Egan. He spoke to several Communication A classes about his writing process, where we learned that he likes to write in busy and energetic places like the Milwaukee airport lobby.

Dan Egan and Sarah Jedd talk to CommA students about his career as a journalist and his writing process. Photo by Michala Roberts

In Urban & Regional Planning 865: Water Resources, Institutions and Policies, Egan answered questions on human intervention in the Great Lakes ecosystem. He expressed how much damage has been done in the last century compared to the Lake’s whole ecological history.

The evening of the 17th proved to be more casual, as Dan Egan spoke to almost 200 community members at Working Draft Brewing Company as part of the Science on Tap-Madison series.

Dan Egan talks to community members at Working Draft Brewery. Photo by Michala Roberts

Reminding everyone that he is a local, having grown up in Green Bay and lived most of his adult life in Milwaukee, he told the bartender to keep the Brewers game on during his talk. He told everyone that the story of the Great Lakes is a national, not regional story. When he explained his surprise at the book’s success, many laughed. Residents of Great Lakes states are happy, and not so shocked, that the nation is so interested. We see the majesty of the Lakes often, and Egan has written has clear picture of what we see for the world.

Dan Egan’s author keynote was recorded and archived. You can find it on the homepage at All events were live-tweeted by the Go Big Read office. Follow @GoBigRead on twitter to connect to the conversation and to find information about events relating to the Great Lakes.


Michala Roberts

Graduate Assistant