A Taste of College Work Provides Just the Spark

Anita Weier
A class started by a UW-Madison professor four years ago to give disadvantaged people a university experience has blossomed, resulting in about 40 of 100 “graduates” going on to college at the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere.
It’s also inspiring the current Odyssey class of 31, who gather every Wednesday night in a classroom at the Harambee Center in south Madison to stimulate their minds and learn literature and writing techniques, as well as history and philosophy.
“These are people who don’t have money but have extraordinary potential. We give them a chance and it’s amazing what can happen,” literature professor Emily Auerbach said before a recent class began. “This gives them a sense of the riches they can find.”

Read more about The Odyssey Project … and consider making an end-of-year contribution.

2 thoughts on “A Taste of College Work Provides Just the Spark”

  1. I had not heard of this project until it appeared in the paper. I’m impressed with what seems like a genuinely successful project.
    The article starts with the phrase “to give disadvantaged people a university experience…” I have a sense of what “disadvantaged” means, and it’s different from how the article uses the term.
    My daughter is getting near mid-term in her first semester in college. She has grown in college and she recognizes that herself.
    I asked her, now with some experience, how these courses compare to similar courses at West. She said the college courses seem easier. I’ve heard that before from MMSD officials who tout that as proof of the quality of MMSD and West, but I wanted the “why’s”. So I ask, how is it easier?, why is it easier?
    Some differences: professors truly know their subjects, are impassioned by their subjects, and are able to impart that knowledge to the class; the homework is focused, and important (not busy work like making posters); the homework and material are discussed in class; there are no discipline problems (all the students are there because they want to be).
    What does “disadvantaged” mean? It’s more than coming from poverty, it’s attending educational institutions which do not, and perhaps, cannot focus on real education and academics. And, then, not having the opportunity to experience a real learning environment.

  2. Thanks, Larry. I am happy to be the one to first tell you — and anyone else who didn’t already know — about the Odyssey Project. I’ve known about it since its first year, having had the pleasure to meet Emily Auerbach and her family through a variety of community theater activities. (My son, Simon, played annoying younger brother to her daughter, Melanie, in a CTM production of “Cheaper By the Dozen” several years ago.” Emily’s husband, Keith Meyer, has also graced many a Madison stage over the years.) The program offers a profound learning experience and thus is a powerful intervention. It is, as you say, “a genuinely successful project” and more than worthy of the support of those in a position to give.
    I’ll say the same thing about Reach Out and Read (ROR), which has finally come to Madison. ROR is an early literacy program that is delivered through pediatricians’ offices at well-child check-ups from age 6 months to 5 years. The program takes a three-pronged approach that consists of 1) a literacy rich waiting area, ideally staffed with volunteers who read aloud to those waiting, 2) the incorporation of books, a literacy-readiness and development assessment, and a message about the importance of reading aloud to children into the well-child exam, and 3) a gift of a developmentally appropriate book to each child at each visit, making for a personal library of 10 books by the 5th birthday. For more information about the program, go to http://www.reachoutandread.org/ To help out at the local level (with money and/or volunteer energy), contact me privately at lauriefrost@ameritech.net.

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