College News

New community relations director to focus on bursting 'campus bubble'

New UW-Madison Community Relations Director Leslie Orrantia said she wants to expand the reach of the university not just throughout Madison, but into all of Dane County.

Image By: Katie Scheidt

As she prepares to step into her new role as UW-Madison’s director of community relations, Leslie Orrantia is poised to send a message of collaboration between the university and all of Dane County.

Orrantia, who will take the position Aug. 10, praised former Director Everett Mitchell’s extensive work to get the campus engaged with its surrounding community. Mitchell left the university in 2016 after being elected as a Dane County Circuit Court judge.

Although Orrantia plans to swiftly continue Mitchell’s emphasis on partnerships throughout Madison, she said her first task is simple: listening.

Listening to “Who’s doing what, who’s involved in what,” Orrantia explained, citing the success that intentional listening has brought her in an earlier job as a caseworker and her many volunteer positions with the Latino community in Dane County.

As a caseworker, Orrantia worked in an office on South Park Street, where she said she “never interacted with the campus community.”

Orrantia said she recognizes what has been nicknamed the “campus bubble,” where students attending the university may have little to no idea what their surrounding city and county is like.

“There are students from across the state, country and world that attend UW-Madison, and they’re going to be there from two to 10 years,” Orrantia said. “They may not leave this two-square-mile radius. That’s where the bubble lies.”

In the past, the director of community relations has focused most on partnerships within the city of Madison. Orrantia said, however, that she wants to broaden the scope of her position to reach out to all corners of Dane County.

During his tenure, Mitchell created the UW South Madison Partnership, a space on South Park Street for campus students and leaders to interact with community members through a variety of programs, such as Afterschool Expeditions for elementary and middle school students.

Orrantia praised Mitchell’s work in that arena, saying it sends a “strong message of collaboration,” and added that once that physical space reaches capacity, it does not mean those partnerships have to stop.

Orrantia said she plans to continue working with Badger Volunteers and the Network Fellows, graduate students working for the Wisconsin Collaborative Education Research Network, to foster outreach throughout Madison and Dane County.

If students and community members can begin to interact in the spaces where they all work, study and live, Orrantia said, it is then that productive partnerships will flourish and people will see how campus work connects to the community.

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