2024-25 Wisconsin Idea Fellowships Awarded to Five Projects

The 2024-25 Wisconsin Idea Fellowships have been awarded to five outstanding undergraduate projects at home and across the globe.

The projects, which are all rooted in the concept of addressing needs identified by community partners, range in topics from reducing food waste, sustainable systems, bilingual education initiatives and more. A total of 12 UW–Madison undergraduate students are part of this year’s projects, sponsored by the Morgridge Center for Public Service.

Wisconsin Idea Fellowships (WIF) are awarded annually to UW–Madison undergraduate projects working to address issues identified by local or global communities. Fellowships are awarded to semester- or year-long projects designed by an undergraduate student or group of students in collaboration with a community organization and a UW faculty or staff member.

Projects receive both logistical support as well as financial support — up to $7,000 in total depending on project scope and duration. A portion of each project’s funding is awarded to students as a personal stipend, allowing them to pursue a WIF project using time they might have otherwise worked a job. Some projects will begin this summer, and some will last through next May.

1. Fostering Cultural Identity: Establishing Cultural Bonds through the ‘Cultivating Connections’ Mentorship Venture

 Students: Amber Chang, Max Hsu, Maisha Islam
Academic Advisor: Kevin Wong, APIDA Student Center
Community Partner: Madison West High School

Amber, Max, Maisha
(L-R): Amber Chang, Max Hsu, and Maisha Islam

The primary purpose of their project is to establish a mentorship framework that empowers Asian American college students to guide high school mentees in navigating the complexities of cultural identity. In the current socio-political landscape, the importance of discussing cultural identity has become increasingly evident. As societies become more diverse, understanding and appreciating various cultural backgrounds is crucial for fostering inclusivity, empathy, and social cohesion. By fostering these one-on-one interactions, they hope to facilitate a safe space in which students feel comfortable discussing topics on cultural experiences, challenges, and aspirations. At the initiation of their project, they will collaborate with West High School, a local high school in the Madison area. Their community partner has given them insight into how the Asian American identity is not reflected in high schools. The project will recruit, train, and support mentors, as well as create and maintain the online platform. Workshops and events will be organized by mentors to raise awareness about the importance of cultural mentorship and to cultivate a community that understands the significance of these conversations. The program will also support the development of educational materials and resources for mentors to guide their mentees effectively. This project represents a crucial initiative to empower Asian American youth in navigating their cultural identities.


2. Citizen Science: Empowering Native Youth Through Collegiate Collaboration

Students: Matilde Acosta, Liam Henn, Jack Gardner, Owen Blomberg
Academic Advisor: Dr. David Lovelace, PhD, Department of Geoscience
Community Partner: Fort Washakie High School

Matilde, Liam, Jack
(L-R): Matilde Acosta, Liam Henn, and Jack Gardner

In collaboration with the UW Geology Museum and the Wind River Reservation, their undergraduate lab cohort seeks to address a significant challenge faced by the Wind River Reservation community. Previous unauthorized excavations from 2014 to 2018 on tribal lands—lacking transparency—resulted in the removal of a 230-million-year-old phytosaur skeleton from sacred Eastern Shoshone grounds. The fossils were returned, but they remain in field jackets and unorganized containers, burdening the Tribal Historic Preservation Office. Their project aims to engage Tribal middle- and high-school students in the scientific process, fostering critical thinking and problem-solving. The goal is to create a student-led paleontological exhibit each semester at Fort Washakie High School. Ideally, each class is made up of interactive sessions and a monthly breakdown detailing skill development, covering subjects from species identification to exhibit curation. The primary goal is to empower students, bridging gaps between academia and community. The project envisions a “sister lab” at Fort Washakie High School and contributes to decolonizing paleontology and museum collections, fostering a lasting partnership, and uplifting Indigenous voices. By involving students in the curation and exhibition process, the project familiarizes students with post-high-school education but also presents the opportunity for them to grow a deeper connection with their community. The ultimate objective is to create a shared understanding of science that reflects diverse experiences and fosters collaboration among students, community members, and university resources.


3. Table to Garden: Reducing Food Waste and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Madison

Students: Isaac Homar, Zach Harmon, Colin Farrell
Academic Advisor: Dr. Matthew Ruark, Department of Soil Science
Community Partner: Brittingham Community Garden

Isaac and Collin
(L-R): Isaac Homar and Colin Farrell

The purpose of this project is to reduce food waste and greenhouse gas emissions in the Madison-area while simultaneously helping local gardeners and educating the community about the benefits of composting. Society is very wasteful, especially when it comes to food, and this results in stench and wasted space in landfills, as well as excessive greenhouse gas emissions. Restaurants create a large part of this waste because of the large volume of food that they produce. Food waste from restaurants is an untapped source of organic matter that can be used to cycle nutrients into local gardens. Many restaurants are willing to recycle their waste, however the composting process can be time-consuming, difficult to do on-site, and costly. To combat this issue, they are building four composting bins at Brittingham Community Garden (BCG), then regularly transporting food waste using bicycles with cargo trailers from the Park Hotel and other restaurants to be composted. This system will remove barriers for restaurants to participate in food waste recycling and simultaneously include community members in the process. Gardeners will be encouraged to add their own food and garden waste to the system, and the compost product will be available for the BCG gardeners to use. Gardeners and community members will be educated about how they can participate, what can and cannot be composted, and what they can do at home to recycle their own food waste.


4. Back to Basics: Prioritizing Equity in Bilingual Education Initiatives

Student: Briana Medina
Academic Advisor: Dr. Mariana Pacheco, Curriculum and Instruction/School of Education
Community Partner: Nuestro Mundo Community School

Briana Medina
Briana Medina

The project addresses inequities within the dual-language immersion program and identifies ways to center equity beyond bilingual instruction. Two key questions guide the research: How are existing structures perpetuating inequities in dual-language immersion programs in Madison, and how can these programs be restructured to prioritize equity? This research includes a comprehensive literature review, exploring instructional methods, and volunteering at Nuestro Mundo for ethnographic observations and interviews. The ultimate goal is to provide insights into equity within dual-language immersion schools, driving recommendations for the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). Anticipated results include a thorough analysis of Nuestro Mundo’s program structures, documentation of existing inequities, and recommendations for restructuring dual-language immersion programs. This project aspires to contribute to sustained and enhanced equity within dual-language immersion programs across MMSD schools, fostering long-lasting positive impacts on students and families.


5. Read To Excel Project: Working to Improve Reading and Comprehension Skills of Under­resourced Students in Rural Ugenya Sub-County, Kenya

Student: Syprian Oduor
Academic Advisor: Dr. Peter Wardrip, Curriculum and Instruction/School of Education
Community Partner: Geno Touch Childcare

Syprian Omondi Oduor
Syprian Omondi Oduor

The principal objective of this project is to support vulnerable children in communities within Ugenya Sub-County to improve their reading and comprehension skills. In conjunction with Geno Touch Childcare (GTCC), they will make critical learning materials accessible to a group of schools that have been singled out to be critically under-resourced. These learning materials will be shared among the students, encouraging them to periodically lend and borrow these materials among themselves. In close collaboration with GTCC and partnering schools, they hope to institute a designated ‘reading hour’ to nurture an active reading culture among the students. Ugenya Sub-County has almost 50 percent of its school-­going children at the risk of being left behind in their reading and comprehension skill level, this greatly impacts the students’ future levels of success.