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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


UW seniors across all disciplines drive change in local community

Participation in community engagement projects helps students prepare for workforce, expert says
Bennett Waara

University of Wisconsin seniors Nick Lawton and Canyon Pergande launched SideShift in February, an app that facilitates the hiring process between students and small businesses around Madison, according to the SideShift website.

The group created the app to help small business owners find student employees in a more affordable and accessible way, Lawton said.

“We found that they [small businesses] didn’t have a good recruitment system in place,” Lawton said. “They weren’t posting on Indeed because it’d be pretty costly for these small businesses, so we decided to create a digital solution that really resonates with students.”


Lawton said his education at UW has been a major contributor to his entrepreneurial success. Students have access to many on-campus resources and professionals who can help them start community-based projects, Lawton said.

But students involved in problem-solving initiatives may feel discouraged if their efforts don’t immediately yield fully functional results, Lawton said. Because of this, it is crucial to persevere, and eventually, others will come to recognize the value of students’ work, Lawton said.

Similarly, UW seniors Caroline Gillis and Nicole Salata created their own unique impact in March through their mechanical engineering capstone project — designing a prosthetic device for Arcadia High School athlete Caden — according to the UW College of Engineering website.

Caden was born with a shortened left arm and, as a result, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association restricted him from participating in track and field events that require holding a baton, according to the UW CoE website.

Gillis and Salata said their group was driven to complete the project because of the pivotal role it could have on Caden’s life.

“It has such a direct impact on Caden,” Gillis said. “It’s something we care about, and it makes it a lot easier to help someone when you care about the cause.”

Salata said she had a family member with a physical disability who reminded her of Caden and his determination to overcome societal boundaries.

It is important for students to build collaborative networks in order to create change in systems that overlook certain demographics, recent UW alum and community organizer at Freedom Inc. Jnae Thompson said. Freedom Inc. is a nonprofit organization in Dane County that works to achieve social justice in low-income and underrepresented groups, according to the Freedom Inc. website.

“As a community organizer, it means meeting people where they’re at,” Thompson said. “That’s one of the mottos that we have at Freedom Inc. — that our community is our campaign.”

UW has unique opportunities for public involvement because it’s a large university that brings a diverse group of people together in one city, Thompson said. Many Madison residents have a strong understanding of what different populations need, Thompson said.

UW senior and CEO of Demic Ian Myer found that students need community connections on campus. Demic is an app created by UW alum, Atulya Reddy, that matches students with their classmates to find study partners, Myer said.

“Helping students create connections on campus has really become an important aspect of my life,” Myer said. “I hope we can continue helping students become more involved on campus and meet new people.”

Myer was inspired to lead the app after discovering that 45% of UW students feel only occasionally or rarely connected to their peers, according to the UW 2021 Campus Climate Survey Technical Report.

Fortunately, UW attracts many outgoing students who are interested in finding opportunities for collaboration across all disciplines, Myer said. In fact, Demic was created by a diverse team of business, finance, engineering and computer science students, Myer said. This combination of skill sets helped the group generate a range of innovative ideas, Myer said.

Myer will start working as an investment analyst after graduating this spring, he said. While his job is not directly related to entrepreneurship, he said the problem-solving skills involved in building a community-based startup will greatly enhance his career and personal aspirations.

Students looking to make a change in their community should first build networks with the people around them, community-engaged scholarship specialist at the UW Morgridge Center for Public Service Cory Sprinkel said.

“Don’t go in expecting to change the world really fast,” Sprinkel said. “Nothing works that way. You have to do it with people and that means being in a deep relationship with the place that you live … this [college] is a key time to start exploring what it means to live in a community.”

Some students already heavily participate in service projects — 20% of students from the class of 2024 have completed a community-based learning course at UW — Sprinkel said. These courses require students to engage in a minimum of 25 hours of meaningful community engagement, he said.

For students who continue to stay active in public involvement, there are a number of personal and future professional benefits, Sprinkel said.

“Community engagement — whether it be volunteering or a startup — is just our responsibility in a democracy to be citizens,” Sprinkel said. “Being engaged in the community opens so many doors.”

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