UniverCity Year is a three-year partnership between UW-Madison and Wisconsin communities.
- In year one, the community partner identifies projects that would benefit from UW-Madison expertise. UniverCity Year staff match those projects to UW-Madison faculty, staff, and graduate students.
- In year two, UW-Madison faculty, staff, and students conduct research through courses, independent projects, and internships. Local governments then receive big ideas and feasible recommendations that spark momentum towards a more sustainable, livable, and resilient future.
- In year three, UniverCity Year staff support the community with resources and tools to move projects from idea to implementation.
This past year was one for the UniverCity Year history books. In 2020-2021, we expanded our community partnerships sevenfold and collaborated with five additional higher education institutions. Together, 520 faculty, staff, students, and community members championed the Wisconsin Idea across campuses, our state, and the world. It is this high-quality, community engaged approach that distinguishes and defines UW-Madison’s UniverCity Year program.
How to Apply
UniverCity Year accepts proposals from Wisconsin local governments to partner with UW-Madison faculty, staff and students for three academic years. Proposals are reviewed each September for the following academic year.
Projects can address a wide range of issues. Previously, our partners focused on sustainability, economic development, education, social services, health, housing, child care, infrastructure, arts and humanities, and more.
Please contact us with any questions about the program or for information about developing a successful proposal. We are also available to visit your community to talk with your leaders and committees about the program and possible partnerships.
Support UniverCity Year
UniverCity Year is made possible through the generous support of American Family Insurance, Evjue Foundation, UW-Madison’s Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment, COWS, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, and alumni John Holton and Patrick Thiele.
As we seek to expand the program across Wisconsin, we welcome donations of all types and sizes. You may donate online to the Hometown Partnership Fund. Gifts to this fund provide broad, discretionary support to UW-Madison’s UniverCity Year program and will be used to enhance and expand the program’s teaching, research, and public and community engagement roles.
For more information, or other giving options, please contact us.
Frequently Asked Questions
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Who can apply to UniverCity Year?
Any local government in Wisconsin can submit a proposal to bring the UniverCity Year program to its region. Partnerships are most commonly sponsored by a city or county executive in collaboration with boards of education, public health agencies, development authorities and others. There is no size restriction for a local government partner. Our partners have included the City of Monona (~8,000 residents), Dane County (~516,000 residents) and Green County (~36,800 residents).
How is a community chosen to participate in UniverCity Year?
Local governments submit a proposal to participate in UniverCity Year. Strong proposals demonstrate executive level sponsorship of the partnership (mayor, county executive, city council president, board of supervisors chair), clearly describe the projects to be addressed and the anticipated deliverables, and quantify the amount of local government staff time that will be allocated to coordinating the program. Proposal reviewers also consider how well local government projects align with UW-Madison faculty expertise when considering which community to select for a partnership. Feel free to contact us before submitting a proposal.
How long does a partnership last?
UniverCity Year typically lasts three years. In year 1, we scope and match projects with courses at UW-Madison. In year 2, students execute projects and create deliverables for the community. In year 3, we provide follow-up support and explore additional connections to drive projects toward implementation.
What is the local government's time commitment?
The partnership lead—usually a senior staff person directly accountable to the local government’s executive—supervises and coordinates the partner’s participation in the program. This person should expect to spend an average of 5-10 hours per week on the project. More time is required during the initial phase of the program, and less time is required once the program is under way.
Who pays for the program?
A combination of funds from UW-Madison, private donors, corporate foundations and the local government partner pay for program expenses. We strive for a very high return on investment to communities, somewhere close to a 10:1 ratio. In other words, for every dollar invested, we try to multiply that by $10. Mayor Mary O’Connor from the City of Monona said about our partnership: “Our return was definitely worth far more than our initial investment. The completed projects will save Monona tax dollars in the future because we will be able to go to consultants with refined project ideas, avoiding the time and expense of going through the initial development process.” Student and faculty hours add up!
How much do local governments contribute to UniverCity Year?
That depends on several factors, including the number of broad themes a local government would like to address and the availability of grant funds to supplement the partnership. We typically think of a thematic cluster (e.g. sustainability, health, transportation, parks), which will include 5-7 projects, as costing $20,000–$30,000.
How can I sponsor UniverCity Year?
UniverCity Year welcomes donations of all types and sizes. You may donate through the UW Foundation to the Hometown Partnership Fund. Gifts to this fund provide broad, discretionary support to UW-Madison’s UniverCity Year program and will be used to enhance and expand the program’s teaching, research, and public and community engagement roles.
What is the role of the private sector and non-profits?
We work directly with and through local governments on their existing strategic or comprehensive plans. In lieu of formal plans, we encourage local governments to engage non-profit and private-sector partners when completing the request for proposals and defining the projects to be addressed. Additionally, non-profit and private-sector partners can participate on project teams and help the local government raise funds to participate in UniverCity Year if needed.
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How much time will students spend in the community?
This varies by the individual project needs. In some cases, students will visit the community multiple times throughout the semester. In other cases, the research will happen exclusively on the UW-Madison campus. At the end of the semester, some students will present their findings in the community, while others will give presentations in the classroom. The local government partner and the UW-Madison faculty jointly decide about student visits at the start of a project.
How do both the local government andUW-Madison benefit?
Local governments are trying to address issues encountered by its citizens. Professors teach students about new and innovative approaches to solving issues. Local governments share their wisdom and practical experiences with students and faculty, while UW-Madison experts and future professionals share their problem-solving skills with the local governments. Students need to learn. Faculty need to teach. Local governments need to address issues. UniverCity Year fulfils the needs of the different partners involved.
What have you done in other communities?
Students have completed projects around economic development, affordable housing, environmental conservation, historic preservation, consolidation of local services and much more. You can find many examples of past projects and read student reports on our website.
How does student work relate to and compare with consulting services?
Faculty and students produce high-quality research and reports. However, these deliverables cannot serve as substitutes for that of professional consultants who are often certified by professional licensure groups. Consider student and faculty work the exploratory phase of local projects and springboards to future professional projects directed by local government staff or consultants. The UniverCity Year program is complementary to consultant services.
Once the program starts, can the local government still add projects?
We are always open to new ideas and will try to match projects that are a good fit with faculty expertise throughout the partnership if in alignment with the academic calendar.
Are other University of Wisconsin institutions involved?
If we are working in a community close to another UW institution, we seek ways to collaborate with them. Since each UW school has specializations, some courses at that institution may be excellent fits for participating with UniverCity Year. Contact usif your institution wants to get involved.
What resources does the university provide the local government?
UCY staff experienced in working with community projects will guide the partnership every step of the way. We will work with you to write a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between UCY and your municipality, de ne the partnership’s scope, engage in quality control, coordinate media relations, trouble- shoot, and generally take care of the logistics associated with setting up, running, promoting, and evaluating the effort. We are here to make the partnership successful and as easy as possible.