The Odyssey Project, an initiative through the University of Wisconsin Division of Continuing Studies, is celebrating its 13th class of low-income students this year.
The Odyssey Project offers free tuition, textbooks, childcare and a weekly dinner to support 30 low-income adults as they enroll in a year-long six-credit humanities course.
Director of the Odyssey Project Emily Auerbach said the course is designed to give people who live in poverty access to an education that would be impossible to receive otherwise.
Anyone who has faced barriers receiving an education may be chosen to participate. The 30 participants are screened through written applications and an interview process, Auerbach said.
“We look for students who have a hunger to learn — for people who being in the class could change their lives,” Auerbach said.
The goal is to help these students realize their gifts and give them hope for the future, Auerbach said. About two-thirds of course graduates further their education in some way or another, with many continuing to use the Odyssey Project for support and resources as they work toward their bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
According to an Odyssey Project statement, the project has already helped more than 300 low-income adults.
Auerbach said her colleague, Jean Feraca, began the Odyssey Project in 2003. While working at Wisconsin Public Radio, Feraca learned about a similar program in New York, The Clemente Course in the Humanities that worked to introduce adults below the poverty line to the humanities.
For the last two years, Sybil Pressprich, Odyssey Project career and educational counselor, has worked with students more individually, meeting with them informally before or after class and setting up appointments to work with the students, even as they become alumni of the program.
“It’s always really great to be at the classroom when we have last year’s students present,” Pressprich said. “It is fantastic to see students believe they can be successful and move in a direction towards their goals.”
Pressprich has worked with students like Keena Atkinson, a participant of the 2010 class of the Odyssey project.
As a mother of two, the Odyssey Project allowed Atkinson to get started and continue her education. Atkinson said she was thankful to the project for the support, tools and study skills it equipped her with.
“The Odyssey Project gave us a safe environment where it was okay to ask questions,” Atkinson said. “It was okay to not know something.”
Atkinson is set to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from UW this December.
It’s a lot of effort to keep up with her kids, work and studies, but Atkinson said she has managed to develop a system.
“I keep a really structured planner,” Atkinson said. She laughed when asked how she raises two children, ages 1 and 11, and runs a salon while pursuing her bachelor’s degree. But she credits the Odyssey Project’s weekly assignments and readings to improving her time management skills.
The continuation of the Odyssey Project relies on resources like grants, private work and donations to support the free tuition and the other services offered to the students.
To raise support, the Odyssey Project is hosting the Night of the Living Humanities, a pre-Halloween party at the University Club.
The event will be Thursday, Oct. 29, from 5 to 7 p.m.