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Saturday, November 26, 2022
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UW–Madison’s UniverCity Year program finalist for national community engagement award

The university was selected as the winner of the regional W.K. Kellogg Award for its commitment to bettering communities across Wisconsin.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison’s UniverCity Alliance organization was recognized last week for its exemplary work by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU).

UniverCity Year’s submission to the APLU was based on a case study of their work in Green County. The Green County initiative lasted from 2017 to 2020 and involved 288 UW–Madison students and 27 faculty members across nine schools. It included 50 projects across all sectors, combatting issues like the opioid crisis, food deserts, rural healthcare and more. 

The APLU named the program one of four regional winners of its W.K. Kellogg Community Engagement Awards, deeming it the most impactful organization across the land-grant universities in the North Central region’s twelve states. The UniverCity Alliance will compete against the Universities of Georgia, Vermont and Texas at Austin for the C. Peter Macgrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award. 

The recipient will also be awarded a statue and $20,000 to further their mission of community development. The other three universities will receive $5,000.

The award was given to the organization’s flagship program UniverCity Year, which began with a sustainability partnership with the city of Monona in 2015. Since then, over 1,500 students have engaged with 20 communities across the state of Wisconsin, completing over 200 projects that address issues like child care in La Crosse, tourism infrastructure in Egg Harbor and environmental preservation for Koshkonong Creek.

Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin said UniverCity Year “embodies the Wisconsin Idea,” which states the effects and benefits of education should extend far beyond the university campus. UniverCity Year allows students to directly apply their skills and knowledge in communities across the state, benefiting Wisconsinites and Badgers alike.

UniverCity Alliance also provides students with the opportunity to do field research in a number of disciplines, from sociology and economics to environmental sciences, while working on these projects. This allows students to advance their education in the field in order to better understand and serve their communities in the future.

Gavin Luter is the managing director of UniverCity Alliance and holds a Ph.D. in educational administration. He said UniverCity Year “pulls students into the Wisconsin Idea by helping them apply their course content to projects relevant to Wisconsin communities," and allows them to make the world a better place through the application of their own ideas and skills. 

Luter expressed that the award gave validation that the department’s strategic model was working. Since the program was experimental, the award also demonstrated that “the impacts we’re seeing in the communities we work with are legitimately exciting, even from afar."

UniverCity Alliance sponsors a number of other programs outside of UniverCity Year, including resources for community improvement and trainings that encourage civic engagement. Luter encouraged those interested to attend their next training, focused on explaining cities and municipal government, at Memorial Union at 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 12.

Editors Note: This article was changed at 11 a.m. on Sept. 30 to reflect UniverCity Year commitment to bettering communities across Wisconsin and 2015 as the year UniverCity Year started.

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