A Record-Breaking Year

“Superlative” was one of the vocabulary words students learned this year, and we can use many when talking about our record-breaking year: we had the BEST attendance ever for our core class, the MOST alumni classes offered, the BIGGEST number of programs, the YOUNGEST AND OLDEST students, the LARGEST gifts…and more!

Looking back at 2023, we marvel at Odyssey’s amazing growth.

  • We received more applicants than ever before – 150! – for the class of 2024, and this class has shattered previous records for attendance and homework completion, coming to class eager to participate and supportive of each other’s dreams. Mark your calendars now to attend their May 1 graduation, either in person or online.
  • With the most children we’ve ever served in Odyssey Junior, from newborns to teens, we’ve added additional classroom space for self-expression and exploration in literacy and the arts, as well as family movie and game nights.
  • We started making pre-class meals and childcare available to every Odyssey class, including Onward Odyssey and Odyssey Beyond Wars.
  • We offered the most Onward courses for our alumni in one semester this past fall — Composition, Introduction to Theatre, Sociology-Race and Ethnicity, and Introduction to History. We also supported dozens of our alumni as they worked toward their goals – including our first Odyssey alum to attend law school! Others are attending dental school, various undergraduate and graduate programs, and applying for medical school.
  • And Odyssey has expanded! We launched Odyssey Beyond Wars for military veterans, who so far have studied the music of Vietnam, visited UW-Madison’s MIA project, and discussed what Homer’s Odyssey has to say about veteran homecomings. Odyssey Beyond Bars now operates in three additional prisons statewide, helping incarcerated learners earn more than 200 college credits (including 65 students who completed jumpstart courses from UW-Madison) and offering an associates degree at Oakhill Correctional Institute through the Prison Education Initiative. And we started Odyssey Senior for alumni and their relatives ranging in age from age 60 to 91. Whether writing about the fear of lynching in Mississippi, the sounds of Motown, or being the first Black student to graduate from a Ft. Atkinson school, our Odyssey elders have made history come alive.

All this growth means we now produce SIX different “Oracles,” our beautiful student newsletters. If you follow this LINK, you can choose a year, program, and date to meet our eloquent and photogenic students from age four months to 91.

Last year was also a memorable one for Odyssey, marking 20 years of transformation through education. The governor and mayor both proclaimed April 20, 2023, “Odyssey Day,” and at the celebration, UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin called Odyssey the epitome of the Wisconsin Idea.

Our May graduation ceremony was the first time in 20 years that Odyssey Director and Co-Founder Emily Auerbach did not MC the event (out with Covid). With Professor Kevin Mullen on stage, the event went off without a hitch, demonstrating the stellar team of faculty and staff we have put together to ensure Odyssey’s continued success well into the future.

And last, but certainly not least, we’d like to thank our record-breaking donors. We received the biggest gift in Odyssey history when Pleasant Rowland offered a $1 million challenge match to secure the program’s future. Then Diane Ballweg stepped up with a half-million-dollar gift to help us reach our goal by the end of 2023, and dozens of our supporters joined them. Did we make the match? In a word, YES! Stay tuned for our February e-newsletter for details!

Growth and success like we’ve seen this past year can only happen with amazing students, staff, volunteers, supporters, and supporters. We thank everyone who helped make 2023 a super year for Odyssey!