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Reiland steps up to lead Wisconsin Idea Seminar

February 25, 2016 By Greg Bump

Now in its 31st year, the Wisconsin Idea Seminar is a five-day traveling study tour that transports 40 UW–Madison faculty, academic staff and administrators around the state to introduce the Wisconsin Idea to those who are new to the university and demonstrate the possibilities of collaboration between UW–Madison and community partners around the state.

Photo: Catherine Reiland

Catherine Reiland, the new director of the seminar, says the event highlights the university’s continued commitment to use its expertise and resources to help solve problems and improve lives across the state.

This year’s itinerary is currently being planned. Interested faculty and staff should approach the leadership of their department or division for a nomination. The nomination form is located on the Wisconsin Idea Seminar website. The submission deadline is March 2.

In this Q & A, Reiland, who arrives in the position after nearly eight years as assistant director of the UW–Madison African Studies Program, talks about the job and why the program is important for the university and the state.

Q: What drew you to apply to become director of the Wisconsin Idea Seminar?

A: The Wisconsin Idea has informed, inspired and mobilized so much of my work on this campus, so the opportunity to lead the historic seminar was really exciting.

The Wisconsin Idea Seminar is about exploring the rich stories of Wisconsin and it is rooted in the university’s commitment to spread our educational mission beyond campus and into the homes, gardens, factories and schools across the state.

I am thrilled to play a part in creating spaces where our faculty and staff can engage with Wisconsinites to build relationships, learn from each other, and network across disciplines, differences and commonalities.

Q: How will your leadership of the seminar help shape your relationship with Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Idea?

A: Having grown up in a Guatemalan-American, multilingual and international family, I know and experience Wisconsin not only as a proud local, but I can see the state through the lens of a newcomer. The Wisconsin Idea Seminar will allow me to learn alongside colleagues and to see Wisconsin from new perspectives. Seminar alumni have told me that the experience helped challenge their assumptions about Wisconsin and they found connections and kindred spirits where they least expected them.

Q: Why is it important for faculty and staff to participate in the program? Why is it an advantage to the university?

A: The Wisconsin Idea Seminar is an opportunity for faculty and staff to learn firsthand about the social and cultural contexts that shape the lives of many of our Wisconsin students and their families. Whether it is tasting fresh milk from a farm in Monroe County or meeting with students at a Milwaukee high school, experiences like these can be transformative for the seminar participants and bring in high relief what the Wisconsin Idea looks like in practice. Participants can also develop deep bonds with each other, connections that transcend disciplines, academic research interests, and roles at the university.

The Wisconsin Idea Seminar has persisted for three decades because the University of Wisconsin understands how place anchors history and the important role that the people of Wisconsin play in the success of the university.

Q: Are you looking for potential participants from certain areas of research or study to participate in the tour?

A: We welcome nominations from all across campus. The participant experience is really cross-disciplinary and a great opportunity to create lasting bonds with colleagues from different schools and colleges.

Q: Are you planning any changes to the program? Any changes to the scope or reach of the seminar?

A: I am attentive to the long history of the Wisconsin Idea Seminar and don’t anticipate making major changes anytime soon. As I learn more about the seminar and have the chance to participate in it myself, I will happily explore new ideas and collaborative partnerships that help us to showcase the great examples of the Wisconsin Idea in action across our state.