Six new Wisconsin communities have been selected to work with the University of Wisconsin-Madison to address and solve problems facing their local population, thanks to the UniverCity Year (UCY) program.
Created in 2015, the UCY program has already worked with 14 different Wisconsin communities. In their time, the initiative has had hundreds of successful projects, such as helping Green County develop a dashboard compiling opioid use throughout the county and a mental health navigator program. UniverCity Year also helped the Adams-Friendship School District change its teacher recruitment and compensation structure.
The City of Stoughton, the Town of Germantown, Sun Prairie, Deerfield and Cottage Grove, as well as the counties of Outagamie, Columbia and Polk, are slated to be the next communities teamed up with UW-Madison’s UniverCity Alliance initiative to help tackle the local projects community leaders see pressing.
“[UCY] is a 3-year program that connects local governments and communities across Wisconsin with UW-Madison faculty, students and research to work toward locally-identified goals, ” Managing Director of UniverCity Alliance Gavin Luter said to The Daily Cardinal.
The UCY program works by allowing UniverCity Alliance staff to include the task of solving community issues into faculty, staff and student research, coursework, internship opportunities and independent projects.
Luter explained that UniverCity staff help community leaders develop and define projects before paring them with a UW-Madison faculty member or instructor’s class.
“Students in that class work on those projects for generally a semester and produce a final report to the community,” Luter said.
However, the progress does not stop after the final year of the program is complete for the community. UW-Madison provides the building blocks in order to help Wisconsin communities continue to grow and improve long after their partnership with UCY is over, according to Luter.
UCY is a unique program because it can provide something no other local Wisconsin program can: access to UW-Madison resources, minds and time.
“The university's resources are immense and can sometimes be difficult to navigate,” Luter emphasized. “We help partner communities with the right people on campus to help them with their goals.
“Local governments and their hard-working staff are often strapped for time and resources,” Luter continued. “The UCY program can help local leaders make headway on projects that may otherwise get delayed due to the day-to-day grind.”
As for UCY’s six new community partnerships, plans are already in the works.
“The Town of Germantown is reflecting on its stunning population growth and wanting to plan for the future in terms of how it allocates public services,” Luter said.
Additionally, Polk County hopes to design a unique identity and brand, while the City of Stoughton is pursuing a project that expands Wisconsin’s first FabLab, a program focused on experiential learning for grade-school students, into a community-based innovation center.
Looking to the future, the UniverCity Alliance hopes to continue to partner with more Wisconsin communities through the UCY program, in order to provide the right resources to fulfill any community's needs.
“Our goal is to strengthen communities and live out the Wisconsin Idea, which is that education should benefit people's lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom,” Luter concluded.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 9:15 a.m. on Thursday, February 24, 2022, to reflect the correct municipality and county designations of the UniverCity Alliance's 2022 community partnerships.