UW–Madison UniverCity Year program to partner with seven counties and villages
This year, the University of Wisconsin-Madison program, UniverCity Year expects to make a greater impact across the state by partnering with seven communities at the same time: the villages of Egg Harbor and Marshall, the city of Wisconsin Rapids, and Adams, Brown, La Crosse and Milwaukee counties. Launched in 2016 with the Wisconsin Idea in mind, this three-year program facilitates engagement between the UW–Madison learning community and localities, ultimately bringing faculty, students, and community members together to address some of the greatest challenges facing Wisconsin’s local governments.
Now in its fifth year, UniverCity Year has engaged with over 1,000 students and faculty members on more than 100 projects with the City of Monona, Dane County, Green County, and Pepin County. While traditionally, UniverCity Year has launched one new partnership per year, the program is now planning to engage with seven communities on a range of projects over the next three years.
In each partnership, the community will be at the heart of the UniverCity Year program. While UniverCity Year will administer the program and provide resources for faculty and community members, the three-year partnership relies on the community to determine which challenges should be addressed and what projects would be most impactful. Each of the seven municipalities will be identifying challenges or projects to address during this partnership. To date, specific topics include flooding mitigation, child care affordability, access, and quality, government function improvements, jail inmate re-entry strategies, highway expansion that would include bike and pedestrian focused designs, racial equality, and more.
“We are committed to achieving racial equity in Milwaukee County, but we know we cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to driving this vision forward,” said UCY community partner, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. “The partnership with UniverCity Year will bring in bright, new perspectives to help us address the most significant challenge we face as a community. We are thrilled to work hand-in-hand with faculty, staff, and students at the university to build on our efforts and help us work toward more equitable access and outcomes for the residents we serve.”
In an effort to help each community reach its goals, UniverCity Year staff match each project to interested faculty members who then incorporate it into their coursework or research. UCY staff also facilitate interactions between the community and students, and allocate funds for classes to travel to communities and conduct research.
“A lot of the work that goes into most projects includes: fact finding, data gathering, brainstorming, and public engagement which eventually leads to developing scope for a project. Typically, consultants are engaged to facilitate with the process of scope development, especially for smaller communities that lack the in-house resources to dedicate to the process,” said UCY community partner, Egg Harbor Village Administrator Ryan Heise. “We envision that UniverCity will be able to assist the village in exploring and developing projects which will lay the foundation for taking concept to design. We trust that the university students will be familiar with emerging trends and industry standards.”
“The Village of Marshall is elated to have the opportunity to work with the UniverCity Year program,” said, UCY community partner and Village of Marshall Administrator/Deputy Treasurer, Adam Ruechel. “The village for many years has discussed and debated the concept of a new municipal building and when the opportunity presented itself to partner with UniverCity Year to work with some of the up and coming minds in the engineering and architectural fields it was a win-win for us. We are looking forward to working with students and faculty on what we hope will present to students a real work scenario they may face one day in their respective fields.”
To support these community partnerships and opportunities, UCY operates with generous support from American Family Insurance as well as the UW-Madison’s Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment, COWS, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, and alumnus John Holton.
“We’ve been truly impressed by the growth and development of the UCY program,” said American Family Insurance Associate Vice President of Community Investment and Partnerships, Judd Schemmel. “The service they are providing to Wisconsin municipalities, as well as students on campus is exactly what we had hoped for when we decided to support the program.”
UniverCity Year is a program of the UniverCity Alliance (univercity.wisc.edu), a cross-campus effort to make UW-Madison better positioned to help localities solve their most pressing challenges.