Zemke gift to support 'sifting and winnowing' via occupational science research

Philanthropy

Zemke gift to support ‘sifting and winnowing’
via occupational science research

UW–Madison alumna Ruth Zemke didn’t grow up in Oconto Falls, Wisconsin, with dreams of becoming an occupational therapist.

In fact, she had never heard of the profession before seeing a brochure explaining the field at her local library as a teenager.

“When I was young, everyone thought I was going to be a kindergarten teacher and that I’d go to the local teachers’ college,” says Zemke. “But I had my heart set on going to Madison and that brochure changed my life.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy at UW–Madison in 1965 and working as an OT for several years, Zemke went on to earn her master’s and a doctorate at Iowa State en route to becoming one of the top scholars and leaders in the field. In 2017, during the centennial celebration of occupational therapy as a profession, Zemke was named one of OT’s “100 Influential People” by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).

Zemke giftAmong her many accomplishments, Zemke is regarded as a pioneer in the development of occupational science, which is the study of human participation in the world. This discipline examines how engagement in occupation can address global health concerns by promoting health, well-being and quality of life across the lifespan. The founding of this new field has not only led to significant breakthroughs but has helped open major funding streams for occupation-related research. Similarly, Zemke is recognized as a leading

figure in establishing occupational science for occupational therapy in Japan. For these efforts and more, she received the prestigious 2018 AOTA Award of Merit. “One of the things that always stuck with me from my time at UW–Madison is this concept of what knowledge is all about,” says

Zemke, who spent the bulk of her career as an internationally recognized professor at the University of Southern California, where she headed the OT graduate program. “There’s the plaque on Bascom Hall that talks about ‘fearless sifting and winnowing.’ It’s this idea that once you learn something you don’t have the answer and know it all – but that we must continuously be searching for the truth.”

To help celebrate the 75th anniversary of UW–Madison’s OT program and to help bolster its research efforts, Ruth and Wayne Zemke have made a generous donation to the OT program to establish the Zemke Fund in Occupational Science Research. “Sifting and winnowing is at the core of what I did as a researcher and my hope is we can give a boost to people trying to get their

research projects up and running,” says Ruth Zemke. Ruth and Wayne were college sweethearts and married while Ruth was pursuing her undergraduate degree in OT at UW–Madison.

Wayne holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering from UW–Madison. The Zemke Fund in Occupational Science Research is made possible, the couple explains, in part due to an inheritance left by

Ruth’s father, Victor Bast. Bast spent his career as an educator and principal, and also is an alumnus of UW–Madison, having earned his master’s degree from the School of Education.

“We’re all Badgers and wanted to give back to this great university,” says Wayne Zemke, a native of West Allis who went on to become a highly regarded engineer and a mechanical engineering faculty member at Cal Poly Pomona. “We both grew up in Wisconsin and this place is special to us.” 

For information about making a gift or other donations to the School of Education, please visit supportuw.org/giveto/education

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