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Monday, December 06, 2021

UW-Madison’s UniverCity Year to facilitate community improvements

UniverCity Alliance aims to improve the sustainability, resilience, livability and general well-being of communities by partnering with UW-Madison. 

UW-Madison’s UniverCity alliance aims to motivate sustainability in urban areas through service, research and education.

“This can be achieved through education, outreach, technical assistance and research that is grounded in the priorities of local governments,” says the UniverCity Alliance website. “Through bridge-building engagement with policy initiatives, our efforts will have impacts locally and globally to improve the places and lives of people throughout Wisconsin and the world.”

In order to achieve these goals for communities, UniverCity implements a three-step process. 

First, the community and UniverCity Year partner with a county or city and identify multiple community-based projects. The UniverCity Year staff then assigns projects to UW-Madison faculty members for implementation in their coursework.

Faculty members and participating students must create a plan of action and devise research findings for the community. Lastly, UniverCity Year staff support the project through close collaboration with the faculty, students and staff involved. 

The first UniverCity Year initiative was completed by the City of Monona during the 2016-2017 academic year. The initiative resulted in over 30 written reports on four different topic areas ranging from housing, to transportation, to parks and recreation and community media, all of which which engaged more than 496 students, according to the year-end reports

UniverCity Year has since partnered with Dane County (2017), Green County (2018), Pepin County (2019) and seven additional localities in 2020.

In Dane County, there are currently 389 students, 26 projects, 20 courses and 16 faculty participating in UniverCity Year. Green County has 340 people and 15 UW-Madison departments involved with 50 projects and 25 courses. Pepin County has 198 people involved with 25 projects and 12 courses, according to the UniverCity Year website.

Each academic year, UniverCity Year adds more students, faculty, projects and courses. Joining the program allows students and the community to progress yearly in significant ways. Since its involvement in 2017, Dane County has seen the highest number of students and projects. The longer a county stays with the program the more money, participation and people become involved.

“Given what has happened over the last year, we weren’t really sure where local governments were in their thinking about doing UniverCity Year,” said Gavin Luter, Director of the UniverCity Alliance and the UniverCity Year program, in a UW-Madison press release. “To our surprise, they seemed hungry to tackle issues that will help them build back stronger after the pandemic.”

Luter also emphasized UniverCity’s collective goal to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

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“Our four communities represent urban and rural communities and tackled a range of issues,” Luter stated in the press release. “One common theme across the four communities is diversity, equity and inclusion. It was refreshing to see an openness to be thinking about how welcoming our state is to people of all backgrounds.”

UniverCity Year is also trying to reach new partners and further explore collaborative opportunities. This year, UniverCity Year has already reached out to UW-Parkside and UW-Stevens Point at Marathon County to discuss potential projects with faculty. 

UniverCity Year will soon accept proposals from Wisconsin local governments to partner with UW-Madison faculty, staff and students for three academic years starting in Fall 2021. 

“In an environment with constantly tightening budgets, local governments are always looking for partnerships to help us develop strategies to accomplish our goals,” said Marathon County Administrator Lance Leonhard. “We are excited to be part of the UniverCity program, as it is an opportunity for us to address needs across a wide range of subject areas.”

All faculty, staff and students interested in participating in UniverCity Year can head to their website to contact them with any questions, comments or concerns.

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