UniverCity Year helps Wisconsin local governments ‘do more with less’

Partnering with UniverCity Year provides communities a jumping off point for major projects, quality results, and the resources to tackle long standing issues. 

At two recent conferences, local partners involved in UniverCity Year (UCY) shared how their experiences in the program are benefitting their communities. They highlighted the quality of student projects and encouraged local government leaders and staff to consider participating.  

“I highly recommend the program if you’re willing to put in the time,” Outagamie County’s director of Development and Land Services Kara Homan said at the American Planning Association-Wisconsin Annual Conference on May 25.

Outagamie County is in the “thick” of the UCY program. Though the partnership just began, Homan said it has already been worthwhile even though just three projects have been completed.

“If you’re like Outagamie County or multiple municipalities in Wisconsin, we have tight budgets, we have levy limits, every year we’re asked to do more with less,” Homan said. “This is definitely worth your time, especially if you enjoy mentoring students and helping them grow.” 

Outagamie County applied to UCY to address community resiliency, economic opportunity, and the efficiency and sustainability of county operations. During the Spring 2022 semester, La Follette School of Public Affairs students researched supports for child care businesses and recommendations for housing developments. Additionally, a Management and Human Resources course explored how to solve the wage deficit for early childhood educators.

Homan already sees how the county could use the housing project.

“We’re planning to use some of their findings as we make proposals for the county board around American Rescue Plan funding,” Homan said. “We do anticipate recommending to our board allocating money for housing developments.”

Andrew Lynch, former transportation planner at the Marathon County Metropolitan Planning Organization, assisted the partnership with Marathon County and joined Homan at the planning conference. Lynch, who is now an assistant planner with the City of Wausau, said the county had a “very good experience overall.” 

Marathon County partnered with UW-Madison faculty, courses, and students on 38 projects addressing sustainability, economic development, evidence-based decision making, equity, and emergency medical services. 

“You get some very high-quality results,” Lynch said. “If it’s not in the case where it’s a full fledged document, you’re given a starting spot.” 

Village of Waunakee Administrator Todd Schmidt, left, attended a conference in June with UniverCity Alliance Managing Director Gavin Luter, center, and Village of Shorewood Hills Clerk and Treasurer Sam Liebert, right.

At a joint conference of the Wisconsin and Illinois City/County Management Associations on June 10, Sam Liebert, the former assistant city administrator and redevelopment authority executive director for the City of Monroe, reflected on working with UniverCity during a partnership with Green County from 2017-2020.  

Liebert, who is now the clerk and treasurer for the Village of Shorewood Hills, oversaw a group of students researching what effect consolidating the area’s 911 centers could have on Green County. A sensitive topic, Liebert said a success “worth its weight in gold” was convening two police chiefs and the sheriff.  Though the student report, which determined a consolidation could bring a $3 million cost savings, has not been implemented, Liebert said he appreciates knowing the work is available if the county decides to pursue that route. 

“The community got a good bang for their buck,” Liebert said. 

The Village of Waunakee is wrapping up its UCY partnership focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Administrator Todd Schmidt shared with conference-goers how Waunakee first approached UCY about how best to include the Ho-Chunk Nation into a community celebration. That has since developed into an ongoing relationship and tangible action like approving a land acknowledgment statement.  

Schmidt pointed to a ceremony that Waunakee hosted on June 20 with tribal members and students from the Ho-Chunk Nation to celebrate and honor the journey of a dugout canoe through area lakes and rivers as an example of that relationship.  

“That super special moment and opportunity for us as a community with a Native Nation is something that we never would have touched without what the UniverCity network has allowed us to accomplish,” Schmidt said.  

UniverCity Year is currently accepting applications for 2022-2025. Please contact Managing Director Gavin Luter at gavin@cows.org with any questions. 

—By Abigail Becker