For over 100 years, the Wisconsin Idea has remained an institutional mission driving the University of Wisconsin to extend its boundaries and connect the campus with communities throughout the state, and continues to do so to this day.
The beginning of UW’s mission to improve the lives of Wisconsin people through public service and outreach efforts began with Charles Van Hise, former UW president, the Wisconsin Idea website said.
Today, UW programs, organizations, research projects and events continue to influence communities in different ways.
The Association for Women in Agriculture, for example, makes breakfast for Madison community members every spring.
Pancakes, eggs, sausage and ice cream help the AWA attract crowds to its annual agricultural community education event, Breakfast on the Farm, said Christa Behnke, UW senior and general chairperson for the event.
Breakfast on the Farm will celebrate its 15th annual breakfast April 25 with educational activities, including a seed planting area and petting zoo for kids and adults, Behnke said.
“Breakfast on the Farm helps connect with families around campus,” she said. “They can learn about the community around them — agriculture, even if they don’t realize it, is all around them.”
With efforts spread across the campus and state, two years ago UW created a database to compile and categorize programs under subjects like agriculture, health care and outreach activities, said Bill Graf, project manager for the Wisconsin Idea.
To document UW projects that benefit the people of Wisconsin, faculty and staff submitted their best work in the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea, Graf said.
“It sends the public the idea that the university is dedicated to the Wisconsin Idea and that the staff and faculty are doing things beyond the boundaries of campus,” he said.
The database acts as a thread of information between UW and the state, as well as within campus.
With all the programs in one place, UW can easily generate ideas for project profiles distributed to counties in the state regarding local projects serving their community, Graf said.
“It’s a way to provide transparency in the state and let people know what folks on campus are doing in subject areas… that may interest them and involve them,” Graf added.
As of now, the database includes over 1,000 programs serving the Wisconsin Idea.
With faculty and training programs in rural and urban communities, the Department of Family Health of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health is stretching the boundaries of UW and the state, Richard Roberts, professor of family medicine, said.
“If you truly believe your job is to train doctors for Wisconsin, that means you need to train them all over, not just on the other side of Madison,” Roberts said.
The Department of Family Health operates seven resident training clinics across the state, Roberts said.
Having residency programs located throughout the state is the key to dispersing family physicians and getting people to stay where they train, Roberts said, adding the Department of Family Health helps locate people all over the state.
“The Wisconsin Idea is figuring out ways to help leverage resources and skills of the university across the state so everyone benefits from it,” he said.
A program utilizing a different set of skills, the Humanities Exposed Program, awards a graduate student in the humanities a grant to work with a community partner to develop a yearlong project focused on addressing poverty, HEX Program Coordinator Courtney Byelich, said.
Byelich said humanities outreach programs are slim, but introduce important skills, like writing and understanding perspectives.
The Poetry Circle, a HEX project at St. Mary’s Adult Day Health Center, reads and discusses poetry, Byelich said. One day’s theme, ocean and water, evoked emotion and shared experiences between World War II veterans.
“[The students] are in the community helping and talking and starting conversations with people outside of students’ normal realm,” she said.
That is what the Wisconsin Idea is about, Byelich said.