As another year closes on the UniverCity Year program, a new partnership between Green County and the University of Wisconsin was announced as a way to find practical solutions to community based-issues.
The UniverCity program was created with the Wisconsin Idea in mind to bring assistance to communities across Wisconsin and the U.S., according to according to a UW press release. Both the UniverCity Alliance and UniverCity Year program bring students, faculty and community members together to find new solutions to long-standing problems.
This three-year partnership aims to find practical solutions to community-based issues throughout both Dane and Green Counties, director of UniverCity Alliance and the UniverCity Year program Gavin Luter said.
“[The program will] bring a lot of interesting ideas on how to address the issues in Green County,” Luter said. “Since students are a little bit more removed, they can think creatively and are not bound by what’s always been done.”
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For the UniverCity Year to work, classes are aligned with each project in the county. The projects range from community and economic development to health and housing throughout the county. Students will then find a solution and see that project through during the semester, trying to better Green County along the way, Luter said.
Luter said the project will bring 250 to 500 students into Green County to work on projects for six different municipalities. These include Brodhead, Browntown, Juda, Monroe, Monticello and New Glarus as well as running projects with the Brodhead Business Improvement District, the Green County Development Corporation and the Healthy Communities Commission.
The partnership will hopefully allow students and faculty to build a more knowledgeable student base that can speak to both urban and rural experiences.
“Green County will help us get out of the Madison bubble and really give us a sense of a different kind of county,” Luter said. “Green County is jointly urban and rural. I think this is going to allow us to expose our students and faculty to a completely different environment that is not the traditional city.”
To find the issues important to community members, UniverCity Year reached out to local officials and government workers to outline 80 issues in Green County, Luter said. From there, projects were established and UW classes were assigned to each project and adjusted to fit into the UniverCity program.
For Luter, the program serves as a way to find possible solutions to an array of issues communities are dealing with, such as a lack of resources.
“People at the county level see [these problems] on an amplified basis and they really see the biggest challenges and problems,” Luter said. “Often times the form of government doesn’t have the capacity to address those challenges, and so this is a way that we can help. A lot of people are thinking of solutions to real world challenges.”
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The program also allows students to round out their education by giving them problem-solving skills and better prepare them to enter the workforce, Luter said.
Giving students the opportunity to participate in the UniverCity program also makes UW even more attractive to incoming students, as other universities don’t have options like it.
“Book knowledge is incomplete without real world perspectives. There are a lot of things that the local government and those local communities we are working with can actually teach us,” Luter said.
Green County Development Corporation, Cara Carper said other benefits of the program included the ability to create quick changes and physically see the effort in the community.
But Carper also said Green County sees more of a benefit in the potential growth and the program’s ability to bring new people into Green County.
“This is a great way UW students to learn to love Green County as much as we do,” Carper said. “Perhaps because of their experiences, they’ll come back someday to live and work here.”
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The connections that are made throughout the partnership will likely be long-lasting ones that will continue to further Green County, Luter said.
Luter said this partnership will help both Green County and UW in many ways, but the experiences gained far outweigh the other benefits.
“Green County communities are always looking for ways to improve yet, at a local level, change is often hard. Staff in our communities sometimes lack the time and resources to work on important issues,” Carper said. “UW students bring a tremendous amount of creativity and desire to make change. They are learning best practices and the latest theories, and they can facilitate conversations in communities that are less threatening.”