Beth Tryon Paves Foundation for Equitable Community Engagement at the Morgridge Center

With the final days of the fall semester on the horizon, the Morgridge Center for Public Service says goodbye to beloved professional staff member Beth Tryon. 

Beth Tryon
Assistant Director of Community-Engaged Scholarship Beth Tryon

After 11 years of working at the Morgridge Center, Tryon will retire from her position as the assistant director of community-engaged scholarship at the end of December. Tryon specializes in work with community partners, faculty, academic staff and students to develop Community-Based Learning (CBL) courses, Wisconsin Idea Fellowship (WIF) programming, and professional development and community-based research grants for faculty and grad students. 

Tryon got her first community-based learning job at Edgewood college after working 35 years as a professional musician and jazz educator. She obtained her masters degree while working full time and raising three kids. Always seeing parallels between her work as a musician and her later work in community engagement, she brought her firm belief in an equity-over-charity community engagement model to the Morgridge Center staff in 2009.

Beth Tryon and family
Tryon with husband Ted and son Miles at a scholarship event

Tryon and her CES staff worked diligently with instructors and community partners across campus to design CBL courses for students, allowing them to get hands-on experience connected to their academic pursuits. With over 4,400 students participating in CBL in any given year, Tryon helped nearly double the amount of courses offered during her time at the Morgridge Center.

“We made it worth the community’s time to supervise students,” Tryon says. “We feel like there is a growing community of scholars who are not only acting and exhibiting good practice and good partnerships — they are also acting as ambassadors back in their own departments.”

Tryon says the quality of CBL partnerships has improved immensely since she started working at the Morgridge Center. She helped establish new requirements for CBL courses to increase the amount of required engagement hours for students, and implemented curriculum and a community of practice for instructors, to elevate the quality of CBL course development grant applications.

Tryon at Campus Compact event
Tryon at Campus Compact in Chicago

Tryon says one of her greatest achievements at the Morgridge Center was watching these programs evolve into more equitable community relationships. 

“The outcome and the long term impact are more equitable because it is not something where we just have to keep coming in as ‘saviors’,” Tryon says, “It’s about helping build community self-capacity by co-designing projects, after listening to community members share assets and priorities.” 

One of the things she will miss the most is mentoring graduate and undergraduate students. Tryon also takes pride in her work with WIF scholars, as she helped many students realize their ambitions and community-based projects throughout the years.

With nearly 200 projects completed since WIF’s founding, Tryon says one of her greatest joys at the Morgridge Center was seeing students tackle issues with creative solutions.

“When I have an undergraduate who is a WIF scholar, and they come back or get in touch after 10 years, and they’re doing a bunch of really great stuff … they talk about how their WIF grant helped them do what they are doing now, and sometimes they say it was the most valuable experience they had at UW,” Tryon says.  “That’s really gratifying.”

Tryon at Halloween party
Tryon at the Morgridge Center Halloween party with staff and interns

As her time at the Morgridge Center comes to a close, Tryon hopes to publish her second book and continue her musical pursuits in her retirement. 

Even after she parts with her colleagues and friends from the Red Gym, Tryon sees a bright future for the Morgridge Center.

“I feel like there’s nothing they can’t do with the staff they have to build student leadership and keep expanding connections across campus,” Tryon says. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what kinds of new ideas that people can come up with because at some point, you just need to allow new, fresher ideas. You need to feel like you’ve done what you can do, and know it’s time to step aside to let other people take up and lead the work.”