UniverCity Alliance matches Madison priorities with student interns

When the City of Madison has a research question, UniverCity Alliance wants to help find the answer.  

Now, with continuing support from the Knapp Bequest, UniverCity Alliance (UCA) is prepared to support student interns with scholarship and stipends to conduct individual projects that address Madison priorities. 

“As a program of UW–Madison – an anchor institution in the city – we feel it’s important to be responsive to our own local leaders,” UniverCity Alliance Managing Director Gavin Luter said. “We’re grateful for the Knapp Bequest and the ability to be a part of creating solutions to local challenges in Madison.” 

With previous support from the Knapp Bequest, UniverCity has funded projects like an analysis of Culture Collectives, Madison’s pop-up shop program, that launched in 2021 to support small-scale businesses of entrepreneurs of color.  

Also, UniverCity supported research into Madison’s sick leave and gender equity to inform the city’s Human Resources Department rewrite of wage and life insurance plans. The analysis showed that women more often take sick leave and consequently have less money available in retirement because sick leave funds subsidize the cost of insurance in retirement. 

“This knowledge will now inform how the city proceeds with scoping the request for proposal for our next vendor to design equity considerations into service provision goals – an example of the Wisconsin Idea in action,” said City of Madison Performance Excellence Specialist Karalyn Kratowicz.   

These opportunities also provide University of Wisconsin–Madison with opportunities to put their skills into practice and learn alongside local government professionals.  

Ben Koss ’22, MS ’23 worked on the data analysis project and appreciated the opportunity to become more proficient at using Excel and AI-powered tools like Dataiku. He said the experience solidifed his interest in working with data and helped him transition to his current role as a business analyst in the customer billing department at Madison Gas and Electric.   

“A hands on experience is great, especially if you’re somebody who’s purpose driven, mission driven,” Koss said about the internship opportunity with UniverCity. “It’s a really good opportunity to help out within your local community.” 

Additional projects funded by the Knapp Bequest included creating a publicly-searchable database for 911 calls of service that would make data more public accessible and save Madison Police Department data analysts time when fielding public data requests.  

The funding through the Knapp Bequest provides the financial resources and flexibility for UniverCity to respond quickly and effectively to project needs as they come up throughout the semester.  

“Ultimately, partnering with UCA helps the city increase its organizational capacity,” Kratowicz said. “City staff are tasked with many responsibilities and do not always have the immediate bandwidth to research best practices or develop enhanced service delivery models. This is when UCA can help the city find qualified students to conduct helpful research and alleviate capacity concerns.” 

Kratowicz said the city is excited to continue working with UniverCity and collaborating on exciting projects that address Madison’s priorities, such as building capacity for working with nonprofit partners on creating logic models and ensuring city departments are driven by results-based frameworks. The city’s participation on the UniverCity Allinace Advisory Board helps make sure the projects are in line with city priorities and can be responsive to real-time issues that arise.   

—Abigail Becker