Wisconsin Idea Fellowship Grant Support Students and Communities

As one of the longest and richest traditions surrounding the University of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Idea, conveys a general principle: that education should influence the lives of people beyond classroom and campus boundaries.

The Wisconsin Idea Fellowship (WIF) allows undergraduate students to do just that.

Wisconsin Idea Fellowships are grant funding opportunities awarded annually through the Morgridge Center for Public Service to undergraduate students for projects working toward solving a challenge identified along with a local or global community partner.

Hannah_Stephens_WIF_WWB Graduate Mentor
WIF/WWB Graduate Mentor Hannah Stephens

“The Fellowship is very much community partnership based,” said Hannah Stephens, the WIF graduate mentor. “That is something we really want students to see the importance of.”

The grants allow for anywhere between 5 – 10 student projects per year to dive into a topic of their own interest that serves a community without having to worry about where funding is completely going to come from. Projects can be either local or internationally-based.

“[The projects are] all so different,” said Stephens. “We have some that are education focused, some that are focused on sustainability and some that are focused on working with women in Costa Rica to make their own products and sell them and how to maximize on that, for example. And there are projects that are campus focused around dating violence, so there’s a wide range of topics that aren’t limited to any specific major.”

The Fellowships are awarded to semester-long or year-long projects designed by an undergraduate student or group of students in collaboration with a community organization and a UW-Madison faculty or academic staff member that serves as the project advisor.

Projects can receive up to $7,000 in total funding and students can receive 3 academic credits toward their degree.

“It’s kind of cool because it’s set up like an independent study for students so they have a faculty advisor that helps them with the grant application process and oversees the general project,” Stephens said.

Student recipients are also invited to present their work at the Undergraduate Research Symposium that takes place during the spring semester.

2016-17 WIF recipient Maria Castillo worked to solve sustainability issues in Perez Zeledon, Costa Rica. Read More.
2016-17 WIF recipient Maria Castillo worked on sustainability issues in Perez Zeledon, Costa Rica. Read More.

Examples of projects implemented in the past include a College Advancement Mentor Program with the Bayview Foundation, addressing food insecurity in Madison with the Lussier Community Education Center, implementing solar technology for lighting and power applications in rural Kenya with MerryGo-Strong and promoting breast cancer education in Dane County with the Latino Health Council.

“One student this year went out to the low-income area on the north side teaching people how to grow their own vegetables,” Stephens said. “That’s awesome and just something she’s genuinely interested in doing and had a lot of fun with it.  There’s so many different ways to take what you enjoy doing and what you’re studying and apply that to a real world situation.”

No matter your idea, the most important aspect of the grant is finding ways for students to implement change beyond campus borders and give them opportunities to interact and learn more from the surrounding and global communities.

“It’s really a different way to get involved on campus and if we’re thinking domestically, I think it’s a really great way to get involved with the larger Madison community,” Stephens said. “It’s especially cool for undergraduate students who might literally be here just for school to get outside of downtown Madison and see the rest of the city that they have been living in for a few years. I know that campus can kind of feel like a bubble and it is in no way, shape or form representative of the rest of Madison so personally, I think it is a great way to get out into the community and work with other people you wouldn’t otherwise work with and do something good for Madison.”

Interested students should attend an information session on Wednesday Nov. 1 from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. Information sessions will be held in the Red Gym in room 154 in the Morgridge Center for Public Service.

Applications for the Wisconsin Idea Fellowships open each year in the late fall with selections to be made in mid-spring for the coming year.

Any questions about the information sessions, past projects or the grant application process should be directed to Hannah Stephens at hrstephens@wisc.edu.

By Lauren Lewandowski