Odyssey Project wins $100,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant

December 14, 2016 By Dean Robbins
A Humanities Access grant will help expand Odyssey Junior, an innovative program for the children and grandchildren of Odyssey students. Odyssey Junior creates a pipeline to college for economically disadvantaged children through a humanities-based course of self-discovery and expression.

A Humanities Access grant will help expand Odyssey Junior, an innovative program for the children and grandchildren of Odyssey students. Odyssey Junior creates a pipeline to college for economically disadvantaged children through a humanities-based course of self-discovery and expression. Credit: UW–Madison

The University of Wisconsin–Madison Odyssey Project has received a $100,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to help expand Odyssey Junior, an innovative program creating a pipeline to college for economically disadvantaged children through a humanities-based course of self-discovery and expression.

The grant is among the inaugural round of Humanities Access grants, awarded to 34 organizations that provide cultural programming to underserved groups. Odyssey must raise $100,000 over the next two years to receive the matching funds. It will then have three years to spend $200,000.

The Odyssey Project has a 14-year track record of empowering adults near the poverty level to overcome adversity and achieve their dreams through higher education. It offers a two-semester humanities course that lets students rediscover the joy of learning while earning six credits from UW–Madison. Odyssey has helped nearly 400 low-income adults find their voices and get a jump-start on earning college degrees. Two-thirds of the alumni have continued their education and dozens have completed two-year, four-year, or graduate degrees.

“The Odyssey Project gave me a hope that was long lost within me,” says Sahira L. Rocillo Ramírez. “It gave me light to illuminate my past, and it expanded my mind. I no longer feel like I walk alone on this earth.”

“Odyssey Junior is pioneering a multigenerational approach to breaking the cycle of poverty through the transformative power of the humanities,” says Odyssey Project director Emily Auerbach. “Students between ages 2 and 18 gain a sense of pride, and whole families become more hopeful about their futures.”

With NEH funding, Odyssey Junior, which is open to children and grandchildren of Odyssey participants, will provide students with books and offer scholarships to programs that match their interests. The grant will also support the quarterly publication of a newsletter written by students.

The Odyssey Project grant is among 290 new projects funded by NEH in 43 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The $16.3 million in grants will support a variety of humanities-based research and programs.

“The humanities help us study our past, understand our present, and prepare for our future,” says NEH Chairman William D. Adams. “The National Endowment for the Humanities is proud to support projects that will benefit all Americans and remind us of our shared human experience.”