Student fellowships will benefit communities across Wisconsin

April 28, 2015

Launching a community market in Cross Plains. Using Shakespeare to inspire young writers in Green Bay. Teaching the value of conservation and green space in Hudson and Kenosha.

Undergraduates from the University of Wisconsin–Madison will undertake all these things this summer through a new program, the Wisconsin Open Education Community Fellowship (WOECF), designed to foster innovative projects across the state.

The program challenged students to develop projects that could solve an issue in their Wisconsin hometown. The projects had to be designed around the content provided in one of three free massive online open courses (MOOCs) offered by UW–Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies this year.

Each student will receive a $3,000 stipend and up to $1,000 for project expenses. Community partners and mentors will also receive $1,000 for participating in the fellowship.

The WOECF is a collaboration of the Division of Continuing Studies, Educational Innovation and the Morgridge Center for Public Service at UW–Madison.

“This is the type of program I wish had been available for me as an undergraduate,” says WOECF project assistant Dave Lassen. “It reminds us that one of the major purposes of a university experience is to mold and equip better citizens. In many ways, programs like the WOECF embody the highest ideals of a university.”

The winning projects include:

  • Junior Kristen Bednar, a community and environmental sociology major, will work with The Life Foundation in Cross Plains to develop the Cross Plains Parkway Market. The market will provide multiple economic and social functions for the community, creating a much needed space for area farmers and artisans to directly sell their produce and work. Bednar will spend much of the summer recruiting small-business owners, musicians, nonprofit organizations and Cross Plains residents to create an enduring place for community development. The project will be advised by Professor Leann Tigges from the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology.
  • Sophomore Sarah Krier, a life sciences communication major, will work with the YMCA in Hudson to update and enhance the practical conservation instruction offered at the YMCA’s Day Camp DayCroix. In addition to helping administer these programs, Krier will play a key role in introducing new content in order to help campers better understand and appreciate the work of Aldo Leopold. “A Sand County Almanac,” Leopold’s most famous work, will be a central part of the curriculum designed to help older campers learn more about the environment and about sharing environmental knowledge with others. The project will be advised by Associate Professor of Life Sciences Communication Bret Shaw.
  • Freshman English major Laura Schmitt will help foster an appreciation for literature and creative writing among middle and high school students in the Green Bay area. Working with Mosaic Arts Inc., Schmitt will encourage students to write prose, poetry or essays on a variety of topics as they relate to the work of William Shakespeare. Students will be encouraged to write in whatever form is most meaningful for them, including self-reflection. Schmitt will collaborate throughout the summer with a variety of media outlets to promote participants’ work. Mosaic Arts has already agreed to continue this project beyond summer 2015. The project will be advised by faculty associate Kevin Mullen from the Division of Continuing Studies.
  • Freshman Andrew Strother, a political science major, has designed a project to build on his work as a member of the Kenosha County Green Ribbon Committee, organized to design a newly acquired park to be a sustainable space where local residents can enjoy and learn about their natural environment. Strother will design an outreach campaign to encourage families, schools, churches and youth groups to take advantage of the new park. A central element of this campaign will be a series of hands-on workshops for residents of all ages to learn about nature while enjoying the park. Activities will include a fishing clinic, lessons on responsible outdoor recreation, and a DNR workshop on how to sustain local wildlife populations. The project will be advised by Lt. Col. Gregory Goar, commander, Air Force ROTC Detachment 925.

“I am thrilled about the quality of the WOECF proposals in this first year and was inspired to see how deeply our undergraduate students are already thinking about engagement with communities and organizations around the state,” says Lika Balenovich, communication coordinator for Educational Innovation and MOOCs. “Not only that, but I think our WOECF fellows have a really keen sense of how they themselves can learn from the communities and how they plan to connect that learning back to their experience here on campus.”

WOECF is supported by and embodies the mission of the campuswide Educational Innovation (EI) initiative, UW–Madison’s strategic effort to enrich teaching and learning and inspire students.

—Mark Bennett