Discover Pepin County through collaboration and research

Replica of the Little House in the Big Woods in Pepin, WI, the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Image courtesy of Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum.

Finding practical solutions to community-based challenges is at the heart of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s UniverCity Year. The program is currently seeking faculty to teach courses and guide student research in partnership with members of Pepin County, Wisconsin during the 2019-2020 academic year.

Launched in 2016 with the Wisconsin Idea in mind, UniverCity Year offers an exciting opportunity for faculty and students to engage on a number of economic development and sustainability projects. These issues require interdisciplinary problem-solving, ingenuity and provide excellent learning opportunities for students.

“One of the benefits of working with this program is the opportunity to create real-world projects that allow students to see their work benefit a community,” said Scott Williams, a UW-Madison faculty associate, the Research and Education Coordinator for the Wisconsin Energy Institute, and a past participant in the UniverCity Year program. “UniverCity Year also has a lot of resources available to help students and faculty to get the projects off the ground.”

In fact, the program has already engaged with hundreds of students and faculty members on dozens of projects with the city of MononaDane County and Green County. By bridging university research, and state-of-the-art technology with community knowledge, UniverCity Year is helping communities to improve sustainability, resilience, livability and general wellbeing.

“As one of the smallest counties in Wisconsin, we saw this partnership as a chance to provide greater services to our residents and to initiate meaningful projects that will have positive outcomes for those living within Pepin County,” said Pepin County project leader, Maria Nelson. “We believe that the partnership will result in projects and research that will help us to improve the health, quality of life, the environment and our rural economy.”

The process for a UniverCity Year partnership begins in the community as members and leaders work together to select impactful projects. In the case of Pepin County, they identified a number of sustainability related projects as well as some economic development work.

“Pepin County is excited about the potential of our economic development projects to help support our efforts to promote Pepin County and our small local businesses,” said Nelson. “We hope to complete an inventory that helps us to attract complementary businesses that can be supported with our existing infrastructure. Additionally, the environmental and water issue projects will hopefully help us to reverse the trend of groundwater pollution and identify solutions that can be implemented in our agricultural community to protect those living in rural areas. There are also a couple projects designed to enhance our solid waste and recycling program which could potentially improve services to our residents. We are hoping that the environmental engineering students at UW-Madison can help us to determine base flood elevations for floodplains so that we can help people understand the risks associated with building in certain areas of the county.”

Once the projects have been identified, UniverCity Year staff match each project to interested UW-Madison faculty members, who then incorporate the selected project into their coursework. UniverCity Year provides support to the faculty by facilitating interactions with the community and providing funding opportunities to supplement or enhance course work as it relates to the project.

“We know we have a lot to learn from Pepin, and they are eager to learn from us,” said Gavin Luter, director of the UniverCity Alliance and the UniverCity Year program. “Ultimately, we want to see both UW-Madison and Pepin be in a better place after we work with them. We hope to create actionable products that ensure a better quality of life for all residents in the county. We would also like to see as much resident involvement as possible. The more our UW students and faculty work alongside residents and local officials, the better their educational experiences will be.”

Faculty interested in partnering with this program can contact Gavin Luter or use the form below.

UniverCity Year is made possible through the generous support of American Family Insurance, UW-Madison’s Baldwin Wisconsin Idea EndowmentCOWSNelson Institute for Environmental Studies and alumnus John Holton.

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