Odyssey Project celebrates 10 years of life-changing education for adults

The free UW humanities course has led students from homelessness to college degrees

Published On: Mar 22 2013 04:21:11 PM CDT   Updated On: Mar 25 2013 08:53:27 AM CDT

By Emily Auerbach

Tineisha Scott remembers running out of the house in the middle of the night with no shoes on, scared, hiding to get away from the abuse and drug use overrunning her home. As a young man, Corey Saffold found himself racially profiled. Sherri Bester suffered from PTSD and anxiety so extreme she got severe panic attacks during tests.

These three Madisonians faced personal struggles and obstacles that often seemed insurmountable. Fortunately, they also each encountered a class syllabus that included Plato, Whitman, Dickens, Shakespeare and Toni Morrison.

And they embarked on paths to success beginning in a classroom in the library on the south side of Madison.

Scott, Saffold and Bester are all graduates of the Odyssey Project, a free humanities course offered through UW–Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies and English Department to adult students facing economic barriers to college. Each year, the Odyssey Project gives thirty students free tuition, textbooks and childcare—and access to life-changing discussions of literature, philosophy, history and art led by UW
humanities faculty.

Ten years ago when I launched this program with the help of my Wisconsin Public Radio colleague Jean Feraca and a team of other UW faculty members (Craig Werner, Marshall Cook and Gene Phillips), we hoped our challenging two-semester course would not only give students six UW credits but also help them find a new sense of power.

Since then, three hundred adults have walked through the doors of our classroom. Some of our students have moved from homelessness to UW degrees and on to graduate school, from incarceration to meaningful work in the community. Whole families have been transformed.

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Photo by Chris Hynes.