UniverCity Alliance announces six partnerships with Wisconsin communities

University of Wisconsin–Madison’s UniverCity program is excited to announce six Wisconsin local governments are partnering with university resources to address community-identified challenges. 

Since 2016, UniverCity Alliance has connected Wisconsin communities with faculty, staff, instructors, students, courses, and more during a three-year partnership. UniverCity is an alliance of interdisciplinary leaders dedicated to fostering innovation in communities of all sizes. 

“Year after year, we are excited to work with Wisconsin local governments and pair them with UW–Madison’s faculty, staff, instructors, and students to jumpstart their goals,” UniverCity’s Managing Director Gavin Luter said. “Our primary aim is to listen to these local leaders and find the best match for their community’s needs.”  

Since inception, 29 communities have partnered with UniverCity. The new cohort brings the total to 35 communities, with 18 counties and 17 cities, towns, and villages participating. 

“UniverCity is making UW–Madison more accessible and responsive to a growing number of Wisconsin communities,” Luter said. “These partnerships are a two-way street: We learn from our partner communities, and they learn from UniverCity’s on-campus partners.”  

The six communities include the villages of DeForest and Mount Pleasant; the city of Waupaca; and Chippewa, Jackson, and Iowa counties. Jackson County applied to UniverCity in collaboration with the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin. 

Over the past several years, UniverCity community partners have worked during a three-year engagement to identify and complete projects. DeForest, Mount Pleasant, Waupaca, and Chippewa and Jackson counties are partnering through 2026, while Iowa County is engaged in a more accelerated timeline.  

Iowa County sought out UniverCity to study the feasibility of consolidating services within the county and across the region to save taxpayer dollars, improve service delivery, or unlock innovation.  

“This is an exciting opportunity to respond to Iowa County’s needs in a different way that adds to UniverCity’s traditional three-year engagement model,” Luter said. “We want to support Wisconsin communities in ways that best meets their needs.”  

Future thinking 

Local leaders from these communities are forward thinking and looking to the university to support their long-term goals. They are also excited to play a part in UW–Madison students’ academic experiences. 

“The Village of DeForest is excited to team up with UniverCity,” Village of DeForest Administrator Bill Chang said. “We are proud to be working with creative future professionals to make the Village of DeForest a preferred community to live and be a destination for recreation and business.”   

Waupaca City Administrator Aaron Jenson said the UniverCity process will support priority planning efforts and increase the city’s ability to secure grants and execute important projects.  

“After reviewing outcomes in other communities, the City of Waupaca is confident the UniverCity program is a great option for planning efforts that will mimic professional level documents,” Jenson said. “We look forward to partnering with UniverCity, the faculty and students, to take necessary steps in the continuous improvement of Waupaca while playing a role in the development of young professionals in our related fields.” 

Village of Mount Pleasant President David DeGroot is also hopeful UniverCity can help the village prepare for the future. The village aims to explore service costs for new developments, a master plan for a 73-acre park, and the potential expansion of the Public Works Department.  

“As the village continues to see an increase in commercial and residential development, coupled with a fast-growing population, Mount Pleasant seeks to plan for its future,” DeGroot said.  

UniverCity has helped Wisconsin communities address a wide range of needs, from environmental sustainability to child care policies and strategic messaging campaigns. Chippewa County applied to UniverCity to analyze technology services – a first for the program.  

“Technology is constantly changing and we want to ensure that we are providing the best and most secure systems to serve the needs of our citizens,” County Administrator Randy Scholz said. “Utilizing the knowledge and expertise of the UniverCity program, we look forward to creating a technology roadmap to meet these needs.” 

Jackson County plans to address projects in the City of Black River Falls, the villages of Melrose and Taylor, and with the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin. These topic areas range from energy use and downtown revitalization plans, to tourism initiatives and relationship building with the Ho-Chunk Nation.  

“Jackson County government is excited to partner with UniverCity to explore the possibilities to make our county and local communities more resilient and ready for the challenges ahead,” said Max Hart, chair of the Jackson County Extension Education Committee.  

Village of Melrose President Ben Boardman said the village is interested in projects that “enhance the beauty of our village and build activities in the village that encourage a stronger sense of community and identity.” 

UniverCity is now matching community projects with campus resources. If you are a UW–Madison instructor interested in partnering with Wisconsin communities, please email Gavin Luter at luter@wisc.edu.