‘Wild Dream’ to Reality: Wisconsin Idea Fellowship Recipient Shares Her Story

Gloria Heiss will never forget the moment she found out her Wisconsin Idea Fellowship (WIF) project to create a “Pop-Up Library” in Beloit, Wisconsin was accepted last spring. 

“I got the email, and I was like… This is crazy. I am actually getting this, and I can do something for Beloit,” Heiss says. “They believe in my project, and it’s not just a wild dream. I’m sure all the other WIF scholars feel the same.”

Wisconsin Idea Fellowships are annually awarded fellowships given to undergraduate student projects working to address a community challenge in partnership with a local or global organization. 

Heiss’s project Beloit Early Readers: Pop-Up Library strives to tackle Wisconsin’s achievement gap — one of the largest in the nation — through providing books and inspiring kids to read in her hometown. 

Gloria Heiss WIF project
Gloria Heiss at “Build Your Own Library: Book Giveaway” — a literacy project she launched in Beloit her senior year of high school

“Since high school, I did volunteering with different nonprofits and the school district to get books to kids,” Heiss says. “Doing a pop-up library in Beloit… seemed like a good next step.”

After working in literacy programs and seeing the problem first hand in Beloit throughout high school, Heiss decided to apply for a WIF in hopes of taking her vision to a new level. 

Heiss worked with Community-Engaged Scholarship Graduate Laura Livingston and other representatives from the Morgridge Center for Public Service to network with community partners and construct a plan.

“I really loved the process of application for the scholarship,” Heiss says. “[Laura] was great at giving me tips, and she also set time aside to look for my application.”

Throughout the application process, Heiss says advisors listened to her input and communicated openly with her about how she could improve her project and connect with community partners.

Gloria Heiss WIF Story (2)
Gloria’s “Build Your Own Library: Book Giveaway” event gave 750 books to kids in Beloit.

As a sophomore in the School of Business, Heiss says the WIF application and project building process was one of the best experiences she had to hone in on her business skills. 

“I love the fact that not only am I going to be helping Beloit, but I am going to be able to further my education through getting credits that allow me to dig deeper into the business world and the nonprofit sector,” Heiss says. 

While COVID-19 has interrupted Heiss’ project operations, she is still in contact with her WIF project community partner — the Beloit Literacy for Life Initiative — to stay connected with their work in Beloit amid the pandemic.

Though COVID-19 exacerbated the literacy problems and achievement gap in Beloit, Heiss says it also grew her desire to help fulfill that need in her community.

“COVID-19 made it even more prevalent that we are a community of people that want to help each other out,” Heiss says. “I’m really looking forward to, in some way, getting back to Beloit and seeing kids get excited about reading.”

Interested in applying for a Wisconsin Idea Fellowship? Contact Laura Livingston or attend one of the WIF Virtual information sessions to learn how to apply and make your community-based project a reality.  

WIF Virtual information sessions:

Tuesday, October 27 from 4 to 5pm

Monday, November 2 from 5:30 to 6:30pm