Skornicka Public Service Award gives students the chance to double their impact

Joel Skornicka knows public service. In addition to a career in public higher education, Skornicka served as Madison’s 52nd mayor from 1979-1983.

He also knows the power of public service as part of a college education, which is why he established the Skornicka Public Service Award to help fund passionate civic-minded UW-Madison students.

At the end of every semester, students enrolled in the 50+ service learning coursesacross campus complete their 25 required hours of service with a community partner. These students engage hands-on with course material through their work, while providing a service to their community partners.

And you don’t have to look far to find students who will tell you how these experiences transform their education and careers. But with all the additional demands completing a college degree requires, most service learning students are unable to continue work with their community partners once the class ends.

“Unfortunately, the academic calendar does not usually correspond with community need,” said Kathy Cramer, professor of political science and director of the Morgridge Center for Public Service, which helps coordinate and support service learning courses at UW-Madison.

“Our community partners often would love for student service-learners to continue their service work when the semester is over,” said Cramer.

Enter the Skornicka Public Service Award, established 15 years ago in a partnership between Cramer and Skornicka and a gift to the Department of Political Science in order to recognize the “exceptional” work of Cramer’s service learning students.

“The Morgridge Center provides another vehicle for me to continue my intention of fostering leadership and funds for public service programs,” said Skornicka, a UW-Madison alumnus.

Each year, one or two students enrolled in Cramer’s fall service learning course, “Citizenship, Democracy and Difference,” receive generous awards of $1,000 to continue work with their community partner. The money helps students continue serving rather than foregoing their volunteer work to earn money through a job.

Pin-yu Kuo was a 2014-15 recipient of the Skornicka Award. A visiting student from Taiwan, Kuo enrolled in Cramer’s course to learn more about political science but also to gain practical experience with community issues. She spent her semester working with the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County.

“The experience was very different from my expectations, but it’s really eye opening,” said Kuo, who assisted students with their homework and with programs like the Star Credit Union, a youth financial literacy initiative.

Towards the end of the course, Kuo felt she wanted to learn more about the management of a nonprofit organization like the Boys & Girls Club and applied for the Skornicka Public Service Award to support an internship with the organization.

The award ultimately helped Kuo work with the Boys & Girls Club on their SMART Girls program, which encourages healthy body image, positive mentorship and skills in healthy eating and fitness for adolescent and teenage girls.

Kuo has now returned to Taiwan to finish her degree in political science and economics, but she says her additional semester with the Boys & Girls Club was essential to making a meaningful impact and understanding different cultural experiences in the US.

“You definitely gain some eye-opening experiences,” said Kuo. “And it’s even better if you can achieve your goals and really help the organization.”

Skornicka says his annual award is one of several ways he supports service in the Madison community, furthering his career of commitment to service in education, government and nonprofit organizations in the city and support of community organizations like the Madison Foundation for Public Schools, the Madison Symphony and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.

Cramer notes the significance of Skornicka’s involvement throughout the awarding process, for her students as well as for the service-learning program at UW-Madison generally.

“It comes from an important civic leader and philanthropist,” said Cramer. “Since Joel Skornicka is such an ardent supporter of UW-Madison, it is also a show of support for coursework that engages students in the community.

“It is a strong sign of faith that our students can and do make important contributions to the community through their service work,” said Cramer.

But Cramer also knows that many service learning students are ultimately unable to continue making these contributions once the semester ends.

“There is a great need for more awards of this nature that enable students to continue their service work.”

By: Gilly McBride


To give more students like Pin-yu the opportunity to make an impact, please consider making a gift to the Morgridge Center for Public Service.