UniverCity, Green County celebrate year of community building

April 26, 2019 By Rebekah McBride
Bucky at table with students

UW-Madison students — and Bucky Badger — look over documents at a UniverCity celebration in Green County. UW-Madison

From February through June, we will be highlighting the ways that UW–Madison changes lives for the better throughout the state of Wisconsin. March’s theme is Working for Rural Wisconsin. Watch for more at #UWChangesLives on social media. And here’s how you can help.

On April 24, the UniverCity Year program (UCY) and Green County hosted their End of Year Celebration during the Green County Annual meeting.

This celebration marked the end of the second year of this three-year partnership between UW–Madison and Green County and featured flash-talks from UW–Madison students who have been working with UW–Madison experts and Green County leaders to find practical solutions to community-based challenges.

Six projects were highlighted during the flash-talks, with topics ranging from rural internet affordability and renewable energy plans to improved community health and public spaces. In total, nearly 50 projects have been developed with Green County, engaging more than 250 students and at least 45 community members.

UW-Madison undergraduate students, Soren Hughes, Connor Fahey, and Parker McManaman were among the flash-talk participants, presenting on their Landscape Architecture 321 project, which seeks to promote increased wellness in Monticello through the design of public open space. Working with Monticello community members and UW–Madison Assistant Professor Kristín Thorleifsdóttir, the students developed plans to increase bike trails, areas for children, community spaces, and green space.

“This was the first time in my academic career that I’ve been able to interact with real-world clients,” said McManaman. “It’s been a really fun project.”

McManaman, who developed plans for Monticello’s Main Street area, said he was also excited to be working on a project that not only provided him with professional experience, but also had a direct impact on the community.

“I’ve taken a lot of different classes and gained many skills, but it’s been fun to see them all come together with this project,” added Hughes. “It’s been challenging, but it’s also been rewarding to see it come to fruition.”

Students stand on the steps of Juda School.

UW-Madison engineering students (far right, clockwise) Brooke Marten, Robin Ritchey, Emma Connell, Morgan Keck and Connor Acker pose with team mentor Casey Joyce (middle), Juda High School teacher Scott Anderson (front) and his students outside of Juda School in September. The students designed a plan to cut the school’s energy usage as part of UniverCity. Photo courtesy of Scott Anderson

In addition to UW faculty and students, UCY community partners were also in attendance to support the program and share their UCY experience. Scott Anderson, a teacher in the Juda School District, worked with UCY on several projects that were highlighted during the flash-talks, including a project that designed a renewable energy system for the Juda School District.

“I am very happy with the results of this project. We were given something that is shovel ready and very professional,” said Anderson of the renewable energy project, which is currently in the financing stage. “For me, it was so much more than a project though. It allowed my students to interact with UW–Madison students on an engineering project and it showed them that college is attainable. It also made my students better people, which is something I care about as an educator. It caused them to think about their role as stewards and showed them that they can be good stewards of the planet.”

Robin Ritchey, a UW–Madison graduate student, who participated in the renewable energy project last year during her final semester as an undergraduate, was inspired by her work with Anderson and shared that experience during her flash-talk.

“I couldn’t think more highly of this project,” said Ritchey. “Scott is so passionate and we couldn’t have had a better client. It was so amazing to work with the students at Juda and to help them explore what it means to be an engineer. It also helped me to see what it means to be a professional. It was just great to be a part of improving a community.”

While the celebration gave students a chance to share their projects with community leaders, it was also an opportunity for UCY students, staff, and faculty to thank the Green County community for its support as the projects would not have been possible without contributions and assistance from the Monroe Clinic, Colony Brands, Sugar River Bank, American Family Insurance, John Holton, the UW–Madison’s Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment, COWS, the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, and the many Green County community members who participated in the projects.

“Working with Green County illustrated again what’s possible with the UniverCity Year partnership,” said Gavin Luter, director of the UniverCity Alliance and the UniverCity Year program. “This is what a true partnership looks like: all hands are on deck, both sides are open to learning, and we are sharing power. Student learning has been enhanced. Faculty teaching is more engaged. Communities have already started to see outcomes from the student projects. We are working to keep up the momentum in Green County, and we can only do that with a strong partnership framework that’s been developed here. We’re thrilled!”

Cara Carper, the Executive Director of the Green County Development Corporation also shared her thanks with the community and celebrated the accomplishments of the program so far.

“The Green County Development Corporation appreciates UW–Madison students coming to our annual meeting to highlight the results of their work in Green County through the UniverCity Year Program,” Carper said. “The event gave students the opportunity to speak to a large group of Green County influencers, and their presentations and interaction with the crowd went beyond our expectations. We look forward to ongoing results from these projects, due to the excellent work by UW students and faculty.”

Related: One project in Green County involved developing affordable housing.