The Odyssey Model

UW-Madison Chancellor David Ward speaking to the Odyssey class of 2012


The UW Odyssey Project helps adults overcome adversity and achieve dreams through higher education. Recognizing a change in self-worth as a crucial step in breaking the cycle of poverty, the Odyssey Project first offers an empowering course in the humanities designed to help students recognize their own gifts. Next the Project helps its graduates confront the many obstacles they face as they continue their educational journey toward becoming self-relaint, contributing members of society.

Part I: The Odyssey Course. Each year, the Odyssey Project offers thirty adults near the poverty level a free two-semester college course in the humanities bringing about a profound transformation in their sense of inner worth. After engaging in lively discussions of literature, philosophy, history, and art history and receiving intensive help with reading comprehension, critical thinking, and writing, students find a voice, gain confidence, and discover a newfound sense of hope and empowerment about their futures. Students who complete the course report that they feel better about themselves, have more hope about their futures, become more active in their communities, read more, and improve their abilities as parents, even if they have not yet escaped poverty. “The world may still see me as poor, but I am rich in knowledge and wisdom,” wrote one student at the end of the year. The Odyssey Project asserts that this inner transformation offers a critical though insufficient step towards overcoming poverty.

Part II: Continuing studies. Following completion of the two-semester course, approximately two thirds of Odyssey Project students continue on in college but continue to face obstacles. The second part of the Odyssey Project’s mission is thus to help provide its motivated graduates with encouragement, advising, referrals, and practical assistance as they journey toward degrees and better lives for themselves and their families. Through the help of donations and grants, the Odyssey Project has been able to help students bridge the gap between homelessness and UW degrees, to move from incarceration, addiction, and depression to meaningful work in the community as police officers, nurses, teacher aides, and counselors, giving back to the community that helped give them a jumpstart on higher education.