Two new grants help Odyssey Project expand

July 15, 2013

by Susannah Brooks

The UW-Madison's Odyssey Project has received two major grants that will support a new program, "Odyssey Bridges," aimed at providing expanded services to help more low income adults complete college degrees.

For the past decade, the Odyssey Project, directed by liberal studies professor Emily Auerbach, has offered a free two-course sequence in the humanities for adults at the poverty level. Through a combination of grants and private donations, Odyssey supports students with academic advising and offers supplementary aid for college tuition and textbooks.

Watch a Big Ten Network show about the Odyssey Project

The larger of the two grants is a $66,000 College Ready grant from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation. Starting this fall, Odyssey will use these funds to add a series of workshops on career assessment and planning, as well as on "college knowledge" — information and study skills for navigating college that are specifically tailored to first-generation college students.

"This grant creates a whole new program — and formalizes a set of partnerships — for Odyssey, aimed at our overall mission of helping more of our students reach their higher education goals," says Laurie Greenberg, assistant director of the project.

In addition, the program recently received a grant for $28,172 from the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment. As part of the new Odyssey Bridges initiative, the Baldwin grant will provide career assessment and planning services to a pilot group of the 280 students who have completed the Odyssey course during the past 10 years but have not yet finished college.

"Yes, this is a new direction for us," says Greenberg. "Thanks to the Great Lakes and Baldwin grants, the Odyssey Project will be able to provide even more college support services to our students: past, present and future."

Several community partners will assist. Madison College will provide "college knowledge" workshops and individual college admissions advising, while UW-Madison's Adult Career and Special Student Services will provide career assessment workshops and individual advising for students. The Goodman South Madison Public Library will host workshops for Odyssey Bridges. The program will also work with Barbara Goldberg and Associates, a small firm that specializes in evaluation of other college access programs for low-income students elsewhere in the U.S.

“Thanks to the Great Lakes and Baldwin grants, the Odyssey Project will be able to provide even more college support services to our students: past, present and future.”

Laurie Greenberg

Each year since the fall of 2003, the Odyssey Project has offered 30 students a chance to explore their own academic gifts as they develop college skills. Meeting at the Goodman library every Wednesday night from September through May, the students explore great works in the humanities. When students complete the program, they receive six credits in English literature. Thanks to grants such as these, as well as private donations and support from UW-Madison, students also receive free tuition, textbooks, childcare and a weekly dinner.

The Odyssey Project was selected as a Great Lakes College Ready grant partner based on the strategies it has developed to prepare adult students for college and its commitment to tracking results.

The program's former students frequently receive college degrees. Two students received bachelor's degrees from UW-Madison this spring, while others received undergraduate degrees from schools including UW-Milwaukee and Upper Iowa University. In addition, two project graduates received master's degrees during the past school year, with many others currently pursuing undergraduate and graduate work at UW-Madison and elsewhere.

Great Lakes' College Ready grants are designed to support programs that help students from traditionally underserved backgrounds in grades 6 through 12 — including students from low-income households, students of color, and those who are the first in their families to attend college — as well as adult learners, arrive on campus ready to enroll in college-level courses. Recipient programs will provide services to students across Minnesota and Wisconsin during the upcoming academic year, helping a total of 4,000 students succeed in higher education, leading to a two- or four-year degree or other credential. This year's competition resulted in a total of 34 grant recipients who will receive more than $4 million in Great Lakes College Ready grant funds.

The Baldwin endowment is a competitive grant program for work conducted by University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty, staff, and students with community partners. It is designed to foster public engagement and advance the Wisconsin Idea.