Alumni celebrate 165 years of UW excellence with Founders’ Day

Feb. 5, 2014

February 5, 1849: Twenty young men gather in a small brick building near the State Capitol for the University of Wisconsin's inaugural class.

For $20 per year, they learned arithmetic, grammar, geography and Latin. While only a quarter of these students ever graduated, they laid the groundwork for an institution that's treasured worldwide today.

Graphic: Founders’ Day logo

This spring, thousands of University of Wisconsin-Madison alumni will come together in nearly 70 cities across the country at Founders' Day gatherings hosted by the Wisconsin Alumni Association. Through learning from faculty speakers and camaraderie with fellow alumni, they'll celebrate the past, present and future of academic excellence at their alma mater.

Alumni and the university community can share their pride using #UW1849 or at the Founders' Day web page, which also includes a full schedule of chapter events.

"Taking faculty speakers off campus and into communities to share their expertise with alumni is an important part of the Founders' Day tradition," says Mike Fahey, a 1989 UW-Madison graduate and WAA's managing director of campus and constituent relations.

On Feb. 20, UW alumni in Sarasota, Fla., will hold the first of dozens of events to be hosted this year by WAA chapters. Professor Uli Schamiloglu of UW-Madison's Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia will serve as faculty speaker.

As the celebrations continue this spring, alumni in Arizona will hear from Dean Sommer, cheese and food technologist with the UW Center for Dairy Research who received his master's degree here in 1981; Morgridge Institute for Research CEO Brad Schwartz will visit alumni in Eau Claire, Wis.; and Department of Chemistry Professor Bassam Shakhashiri will wow crowds in St. Louis.

“Taking faculty speakers off campus and into communities to share their expertise with alumni is an important part of the Founders' Day tradition.”

Mike Fahey

Top university officials, including Chancellor Rebecca Blank, Dean of Students Lori Berquam, and College of Letters & Science Dean John Karl Scholz, will also travel through Wisconsin and the United States to share what's new on campus and discuss their vision for the future of the university.

The tradition began in the early 1900s, when alumni chapters began holding Founders' Day celebrations. In 1919, student leaders organized a campus event in what is known today as the Red Gym. In 1924, WAA took over hosting duties with a campus celebration that packed more than 6,000 people into the Stock Pavilion for music, cake and fireworks.

Founders' Day celebrations are presented by WAA alumni chapters, in partnership with the Wisconsin Alumni Association, UW-Madison and the UW Foundation.