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UW-Madison First Wave performers head to Broadway stage

February 18, 2011

Four standout student performers from the groundbreaking First Wave Spoken Word and Urban Arts Learning Community at the University of Wisconsin–Madison will perform on Thursday, Feb. 24, at the New Amsterdam Theatre on New York’s Broadway as part of the New York Knicks Poetry Slam Finals.

The annual event is the first program to bring a poetry slam to a Broadway stage. In 2010, the year’s finals were standing room only, with more than 1,900 people in attendance.

On stage from UW–Madison’s First Wave will be freshman Ashlyn Akins from northern California; freshman Shameaca Moore from Columbus, Ohio; senior Kelsey Van Ert (who performs as Pyro) from St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minn.; and freshman Ittai Wong from Hawaii.

“Our partnership with the New York Knicks and Urban Word NYC allows us to showcase the exciting talent and creativity of our First Wave students in the world-class setting of a Broadway theater,” says Willie Ney, executive director of the UW–Madison Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives, which runs the First Wave program. “These young people stand out as leaders on campus and in the community, and their performances are electrifying. This event is a highlight of our year.”

Each year, UW–Madison awards a full four-year scholarship to the university and the First Wave program to two college-bound New York City students. Bringing together young artists and leaders from across the United States, the First Wave program offers students the opportunity to live, study and create together in a close-knit, dynamic campus community.

Administered by the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives, the First Wave Learning Community is the first university program in the country centered on spoken word and hip-hop culture. First Wave won the 2009 Wisconsin Governor’s Award in Support of the Arts in Wisconsin and was the first university-based arts program in the state to be so honored.

The First Wave scholarship is offered through Urban Word NYC’s partnership with the Knicks Poetry Slam Series. Each fall, interested high school seniors participate in Creatively College Bound workshops to prepare application materials for the program. Culminating with the “Reason I Write” Essay Contest, students have a chance to win by exploring the impact of the written and spoken word on their lives.

The scholarship winners will be honored at the Knicks Poetry Slam Finals, as well as on court during a New York Knicks game. Visit for more on the First Wave program at UW–Madison.

For biographies of the First Wave performers and First Wave students from New York, visit:

Facts about OMAI/First Wave:

  • The current group of 56 First Wave students is drawn from 22 different cities and 18 states, including the District of Columbia, and consists of primarily first-generation college students.
  • Academically, First Wave students have a 95 percent retention rate and an overall 3.1 GPA across all cohorts, with the class of 2013 (entering cohort of 2009) earning a 3.3 cumulative GPA through the most recent semester. First Wave will celebrate its first group of graduates in the spring of 2011.
  • First Wave students have assumed leadership roles in myriad campus-based student organizations as well as in community-based service learning projects (as poet-mentors, programming specialists, workshop leaders, etc.) and have been selected as Teach for America corps members.
  • As artists in 2010 alone, First Wave students have won the College National Poetry Slam Championship; won the “On, Wisconsin!” 100th Anniversary Video Award; performed at Madison Square Garden, on Broadway and as the representative of North America at the semiannual Contacting the World Theatre Festival in Manchester, United Kingdom; have been showcased as keynote performers at the Committee on Institutional Cooperation Academic Leadership Program Seminar, the UW System President’s Summit on Excellence in Teaching and Learning, the Madison Downtown Rotary Club’s annual Ethics Symposium, and the National Conference on Student Leadership in Atlanta, among many other events at the local, regional and national levels.
  • First Wave students recently have been showcased on national television, including on BET (“The Mo’Nique Show”) and HBO (“Brave New Voices”).