After working hard to create a link between the University of Wisconsin and south Madison’s residents, doctoral candidate Julissa Ventura was one of six women honored March 7 with UW’s Outstanding Women of Color award.

The award recognizes women of color for their passion for social justice, service and community outreach. Ventura, who is a graduate fellow at the Morgridge Center for Public Service’s Community-University Exchange, said UW has collaborated with south Madison in the past, but the process has been difficult to maintain.

South Madison’s community members have always been expected to come to campus or UW has had to hold events in areas that are already tight on space, Ventura said.

After 2 to 3 years of research, obtaining funds, acquiring space and making renovations, the UW South Madison Partnership opened in February 2015. The partnership is located near the Urban League of Greater Madison and Madison College’s south campus.

Along with UW Director for Community Relations Everett Mitchell, Ventura said she wants to help south Madison’s residents establish a “mutually beneficial” connection with the university’s personnel and admissions department.

“[This link] is a way to tell the community that UW is really invested in true, mutually beneficial relationships, and that they are willing to create a space for that,” Ventura said.

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In September 2014, Ventura set out to determine how the space should be used, and decided it should be set up as a class or meeting area. UW’s Odyssey Project, a free program that provides yearlong humanities credits for adults who have faced economic barriers, is one of many programs that benefits from the space.

Other UW initiatives and community groups, such as the Dementia Outreach Group or religious organizations, are also looking to use the space, Ventura said.

“UW South Madison Partnership gives folks the space they need to expand existing partnerships and create new ones,” Ventura said.

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Through the space, Ventura wants to help south Madison’s youth see UW as a “possibility” for their college education.  She hopes the partnership will help the community create different projects and that UW could help facilitate and expand some of them.

Ventura said the partnership could also help UW students explore and learn from the south Madison community.

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Though she has left the partnership, Ventura has not stopped making Madison’s communities a better place. She is currently working with Latino youth for her doctoral dissertation and wants to continue her partnership with the south Madison community. Ventura is looking to start a Latino youth leadership program for high school students at Centro Hispano of Dane County.

“I’m excited to see the partnership grow,” Ventura said.