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Gift helps support UW-Madison REACH project

March 8, 2016 By Caitlin O'Brien

A $1.5 million gift to UW–Madison from alumni Ricky and Mara Sandler will be used to improve student learning by increasing students’ engagement in large, introductory lecture-based courses.

The gift from the Sandlers, both 1991 graduates of the university, is for the Educational Innovation (EI) Initiative’s REACH project. The project will build on already successful innovations across campus that strive to enhance the undergraduate experience through student-centered learning practices. Over the next five years, the project plans to transform student learning for tens of thousands of first- and second-year students.

Sarah Mangelsdorf

Sarah Mangelsdorf

“We are deeply grateful for the Sandlers’ generous lead gift for the REACH project,” says Provost Sarah Mangelsdorf. “We are especially pleased that our alumni and donors are excited to support our efforts to enhance the university’s educational programs. We are also pleased by the level of engagement of our faculty and staff, and their commitment to our students.”

As of fall 2015, the project is partnering with the departments of chemistry, mathematics and physics to redesign select courses. The departments are currently working through the initial stages of the transformation process with support from the REACH project team, and are eagerly continuing to move forward. While each department has unique discipline-specific needs and receives separate, one-on-one support from the project team, they are collaborating and learning with one another throughout the process.

“Over the last 20 years, many instructors have experimented with student-focused, active learning strategies,” says Professor Clark Landis, a REACH faculty project co-lead from the Department of Chemistry. “Our course redesigns transform these efforts from idiosyncratic experiments to a standard way of thinking about our courses and teaching them — centered on the student experience and promoting active student participation in the creation of knowledge.”

Clark Landis

Clark Landis

In partnership with faculty and instructors, the REACH project will integrate evidence-based practices, effective technologies and ongoing assessment into the selected courses. Some of these practices will include increased student-instructor interactions, pre-class assignments, team projects and technology-enhanced activities. By increasing the opportunity for inquiry and engagement with the subject matter, the redesigned courses will encourage students to be more actively involved in their learning process.

REACH provides direct financial support to departments in order to provide time for faculty and instructors to contribute to the course redesign. The fundraising efforts will allow the REACH team to further develop and scale the project. With additional support, the project will be able to encompass more departments and courses over the coming years, and increase its impact on student learning across campus.

In partnership with schools and colleges and the Office of the Provost, REACH is co-sponsored by EI — an initiative supported by the chancellor and provost that aims to engage and inspire students through enriched learning — and DoIT Academic Technology.

For more information about the REACH project and the Educational Innovation (EI) Initiative, please contact Steven Cramer, Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, and EI Co-lead.

Ricky Sandler is the managing member and senior portfolio manager of Eminence Capital, LLC, a long/short equity investment manager. He currently serves on the boards of the University of Wisconsin Foundation and the Wisconsin Alumni Association. His wife, Mara Sandler, is an art consultant in New York City and sits on the board of directors at the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.