UniverCity Year named finalist for 2022 C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s UniverCity Year program has been named a regional winner of the 2022 W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Engagement Scholarship Award from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, in recognition of its community engagement initiatives.

UniverCity Year, the hallmark program of UniverCity Alliance, connects communities across Wisconsin with resources, faculty and students from UW­–Madison to tackle community-identified challenges.

“UniverCity Year embodies the Wisconsin Idea, which is the premise that the university should improve communities and lives across the state of Wisconsin and beyond,” said UW–Madison Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin. “This program provides wonderful support for our communities, but also creates an enhanced teaching and learning experience for our faculty and students.”

UniverCity Alliance Managing Director Gavin Luter, right, and former Green County Development Corporation Executive Director Cara Carper accept the 2022 C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award during the Engagement Scholarship Conference on Sept. 21, 2022.

As a regional award winner, UW-Madison will compete for the national C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award, which will be announced in November. Other finalists for the award are the University of Georgia, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and the University of Vermont. The honor is bestowed by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

The C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award includes a sculpture and $20,000 prize. The three other regional winners will each receive a $5,000 prize to further their work.

Since 2007, APLU and the Engagement Scholarship Consortium, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, have partnered to honor the engagement scholarship and partnerships of four-year public universities. The award recognizes programs that demonstrate how colleges and universities have redesigned their learning, discovery, and engagement missions to deepen their partnerships and achieve broader impacts in their communities. The national award is named for C. Peter Magrath, APLU president from 1992 to 2005.

“Community engagement is a critical part of public universities’ mission and we’re pleased to highlight the work of institutions that are engaging communities in need,” said APLU President Mark Becker.

UniverCity Year’s award submission used Green County as a case study to illustrate how UniverCity Year works and what can be possible for communities through this partnership. Green County’s partnership with UCY took place from 2017-20.

“We’ve been so lucky to work with Green County using this model of engagement,” says UniverCity Alliance Managing Director Gavin Luter. “By listening to what would be most helpful to Green County, we’ve been able to tackle projects that have resulted in some tangible impacts in a variety of areas — from public health to economic development to environmental sustainability,”

This model of engagement is replicable in other communities through the Educational Partnerships for Innovations in Communities – Network, which Luter said is an “added bonus.”

Since its inception, UCY has partnered with 20 communities. These include cities, towns, villages, counties, and community organizations of all sizes from villages with 66 residents to counties with over 1 million residents.

“New engaged scholarship and teaching opportunities are out there to be discovered in rural and urban communities, and this model helps unearth them in a way that’s respectful of our community partners and does not add a lot of new bureaucracy,” Luter said.

Green County’s partnership, which was championed by the Green County Development Corporation, addressed 50 projects across seven areas: communications and operations; community and economic development; health, housing, parks, sustainability and transportation. Teams of UW–Madison students and faculty worked with community members on projects including:

  • Developing an opioid use data dashboard.
  • Implementing a mental health navigator program to improve connections to mental health resources.
  • Cutting the Juda School District’s energy costs by 40% after receiving energy efficiency recommendations.

GCDC Executive Director Olivia Otte said UniverCity Year “provided a great way to get some very important projects ‘unstuck’ and prompted forward momentum.”

“Green County communities are always looking for ways to improve, but change is hard. Staff and elected officials in our communities often lack time, knowledge or political space to make the changes our local residents demand,” Otte said. “UniverCity Year students have a tremendous amount of creativity and desire to make change.”

The students helped Green County look at old problems in new ways, she said. “We are so appreciative of their efforts, and we were happy to provide some real-world experiences, with all the messiness that bureaucracy brings, to their education.”

UniverCity Alliance Managing Director Gavin Luter speaks during an award ceremony for 2022 C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award regional winners during the Engagement Scholarship Consortium conference in Athens, Georgia on Sept. 21, 2022.

The UniverCity Year program is a three-year partnership, starting with the community identifying challenges they want to work on and priorities to move forward, followed by university-based experts designing research-to-practice approaches for addressing community needs. Because problems are community-identified, projects span a wide array of challenges including transportation, housing, health, agriculture, childcare, economic development, and the arts.

The community engagement awards also recognize universities with exemplary projects. Michigan State University, Texas Tech University, the University of Louisville, and West Virginia University are receiving recognition for outstanding efforts in Community Engagement Scholarship. Both exemplary projects and Magrath Award finalists will be showcased at the 2022 Engagement Scholarship Consortium’s Annual Conference taking place this week in Athens, Georgia.

A team of community engagement professionals from public research universities judged this round of the award. A second team will pick the national winner following presentations at the 2022 National Engagement Scholarship Conference.

APLU is a research, policy, and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening and advancing the work of public universities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.