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Day 2: Chancellor Mnookin connects campus and community

August 5, 2022

After a whirlwind first day that included meetings with dozens of students, faculty, staff and shared governance leaders — not to mention a giant ice cream party for the entire community — Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin turned her focus toward UW–Madison’s partnerships with the Madison and Dane County communities.

View photos from the ice cream social and her day one visits.

Her plans for day two include opportunities to meet with local, state and tribal officials; a visit to one of Dane County’s most important community organizations, the United Way of Dane County; followed by lunch with Zach Brandon of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and local CEOs.

To close her first 48 hours, Mnookin is touring two vital hubs for the community: the South Madison Partnership, home of UW’s Community Relations and the Odyssey Program, and the Urban League of Greater Madison.

Throughout her initial meetings, Mnookin has reiterated her desire to learn everything she can while following the vision of the Wisconsin Idea.

“In my first few months as chancellor, my focus will be on listening and learning in order to understand more deeply our greatest opportunities as well as our challenges,” she says.

To see what else Chancellor Mnookin is up to, follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

3 P.M., Aug. 5

Operating in partnership with the community

Chancellor Mnookin walked across the parking lot from UW South Madison Partnership to visit Ruben Anthony and the Urban League of Greater Madison. There, she learned more about the challenges and opportunities faced by Madison’s South Side and Dane County’s Black residents. 

For instance, Anthony shared that though 46 percent of Black Americans across the nation own homes, that’s true of just 10 percent of Dane County’s Black residents. And of 10,000 businesses in Dane County with more than one employee, only 40 are run by Black business owners. 

Urban League is working to change that and Anthony, president and CEO, shared with Mnookin efforts to create the Black Business Hub — a physical space and programming intended to address the disparities between Dane County residents and access to entrepreneurship and wealth, from building financial literacy to offering grant funding and loans. 

The Black Business Hub will serve as the entryway into the city from the South Side, Anthony said. “The road to the university from South Madison is going to look a lot different.” 

And there’s a role for the university, he told Mnookin, including leveraging the university’s resources, including through academic programs and expertise. 

 “I look forward to partnership and calling upon you for counsel,” Mnookin told him. 

2 P.M., Aug. 5

At South Madison Partnership, Chancellor Mnookin found alchemy

Located less than three miles from campus, UW South Madison Partnership serves as a gateway between campus and Madison’s vibrant South Side neighborhood. Chancellor Mnookin visited SMP to meet with community relations director Brenda Gonzalez, South Side community members, UW–Madison student interns for the Literacy Network, as well as staff and graduates from the UW Odyssey Project. 

Among those graduates was Char Braxton, who now works for Odyssey while pursuing degrees in Chinese and creative writing. With overwhelming emotion, she read a poem about her educational journey that started with a high school counselor telling her she was not “college material.” She paused; others in the room dabbed tears from their eyes. 

“As we think about the impact and lives that have been changed (by education), it’s our responsibility as a public university to make change in all the ways we can, but sometimes it takes alchemy,” Mnookin said “It’s clear that alchemy is here.” 

Founded by UW–Madison’s Emily Auerbach, the Odyssey Project offers low-income adults access to education. The program has more than 500 alumni, many of whom have — often despite lives affected by homelessness, incarceration and substance abuse — gone on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Odyssey uses instruction in the humanities to empower people to find their voice, increase their confidence, create pathways to further educational opportunities and break the cycle of generational poverty.  

That’s been the case for Keena Atkinson, a 2010 Odyssey graduate who went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UW–Madison in 2015. When she started with Odyssey, she was sleeping next to a heater on a mattress in her friend’s barbershop. Now, her 18-year-old son is headed to his freshman year at UW-Whitewater. 

“What you shared was extraordinary. You are extraordinary.” Chancellor Mnookin said. “And this is a space that helped you find your own strengths. To be able to live them is an incredible thing and exactly what we should be doing as a public university.” 

Noon, Aug. 5

Building a strong economic future with Wisconsin business leaders

Chancellor Mnookin met with several business leaders for lunch at Cooper’s Tavern, located on the Capitol Square in downtown Madison, to discuss UW–Madison’s continuing work to provide education to develop the state’s workforce, along with research and resources to Wisconsin businesses. From the University Research Park’s support of growing businesses, to the Office of Business Engagement’s partnerships, UW–Madison helps build a strong state economy.

10 a.m., Aug. 5

Two women look at a whiteboard with plastic gears on it, and talk.

Chancellor Mnookin meets with Renee Moe, CEO at the United Way of Dane County. The gears on the white board are a visual representation of United Way’s role in bringing various services together to help people. Photo: Jeff Miller

Planning a better education for all with the United Way

As part of the day’s community outreach, Chancellor Mnookin met with Renee Moe, CEO of the United Way of Dane County, to discuss ways that UW–Madison and the United Way can work together. Making sure that all children have access to a good education is a key part of the United Way’s mission, and is also a priority for the university. In 2021, The United Way of Dane County raised more than $18 million to support over 850 nonprofit organizations.

UW–Madison has regularly collaborated with United Way of Dane County throughout the years. In 2016, the organization was awarded a Community Opportunity Grant for the Smart Meds Program, aimed at improving health outcomes for vulnerable adults. More recently the university partnered with The United Way of Dane County on DreamUp Wisconsin, a community-university collaboration that works to promote shared prosperity and increase American competitiveness.

8 a.m., Aug. 5

Breakfast with elected officials

The morning was cool and sunny as Madison-area leaders gathered at Olin House for breakfast and conversation with Chancellor Mnookin. She was joined by people including state Rep. Francesca Hong, Madison Common Council President Keith Furman, Dane County Board Chair Patrick Miles and other local and state elected officials. Also in the conversation were UW–Madison Tribal Relations Director Aaron Bird Bear and representatives from the Ho-Chunk Nation. Over pastries and coffee, they talked about their shared goals and swapped ideas for ways to move the university, region and state forward.