Odyssey and Odyssey Junior alumni

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Forward Motion - The Odyssey Project

Watch the documentary on the Odyssey Project that aired on the Big Ten Network!

One donor commented:

“This film makes me cry and jump for joy every time I watch it.”

Odyssey documentary

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New UW acting prof Baron Kelly uses arts to open doors

October 2020

Related to Patrick Sims’ later Theatre for Cultural and Social Awareness (TCSA) and connected to Kelly’s own work with Odyssey, Kelly saw the class as a path in to higher education for students of color.

After he left the UW, Kelly returned year after year to work with the Odyssey Project and its founder and co-director, Emily Auerbach. He’s watched the program grow, both in scope and prominence.
“It’s been generational now, with certain people,” Kelly said of the project. He has worked with Odyssey students on their interview skills and how to use their voices, “helping them be present in spaces.”

“There’s a dictum in the African American community — you’ve gotta be better than great, just to be average,” he said.

Voting Ambassadors

October 2020

In her essay Robinson references the racism that courses through U.S. history, but refuses to cede her connection to the country and her right to participate in its governance.

“This is ‘OUR’ country,” she writes. “The ‘United States of America’ belongs to everyone; not just certain individuals. Because of our ancestors, who contributed to ‘OUR’ country’s establishment and growth, it is our right to vote. When we don’t vote, it continues to give the ‘some’ permission to control and run ‘OUR’ country in an exclusive rather than inclusive manner. Change comes through voting, and voting exudes power. We must embrace each other and our differences, eliminate factions and stand as one party fighting for justice and equality for all.”

Odyssey Project students and local leaders to celebrate voting at online event

September 2020

For Hedi Rudd, the decision to vote is both personal and powerful. In her award-winning essay for the 2020 “Why Vote?” project contest, she writes of the significance of her vote:

“My vote will tell my children and grandchildren that I stood against corruption and racism and that I don’t ignore the past but learn from it. My vote will tell my friends that I care about their access to healthcare and immigration reform. It will tell my neighbors that I believe in their right to protest, their right to housing and their right to hold leaders accountable. It will tell the world that humanity and our planet are sacred.”

Student’s remarkable journey to starting his undergraduate degree at age 28, living his dream

September 2020

After 20 years, nearly 6,000 miles and a host of trials and tribulations, Walada started at the University of Wisconsin–Madison as a first-year student majoring in biochemistry this fall, with plans to eventually go to medical school.

“Everything is possible if you are willing to work hard and sacrifice,” says Walada, a graduate of both the UW Odyssey Project and Badger Ready. “All you have to do is believe and keep asking questions.”

Seeing the big picture: District security coordinator Saffold named to UW Regents

September 2020

In June, Saffold was named a University of Wisconsin System Regent, joining 17 other Regents as the non-traditional student representative. The Board of Regents governs over the state-wide University of Wisconsin System and addresses the needs of the 13 universities, sets admission standards and approves university budgets, according to the UW Regent website.

“I’m still learning how to fit in, in a way that … I can lend my lens to,” Saffold said. “The thing I’m looking forward to right now is learning – I just want to learn the process and make positive connections so I can make those best decisions.”

Editorial: Meeting the immediate needs of UW’s Odyssey Project

July 2020


“The UW Odyssey Project, providing free humanities courses for adults near the poverty level, received a new $3 million endowment a few weeks ago. Major gifts from Pleasant Rowland and John and Tashia Morgridge among others will enable Emily Auerbach’s terrific program to continue moving people from homelessness and incarceration to college degrees and community leadership.”

New $3 Million Endowment will enable UW Odyssey Project to continue to combat inequalities >>

July 2020

“In the midst of a highly insecure time, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Odyssey Project secured $3 million in gifts, a base for the future of Odyssey and its transformational work in breaking the cycle of generational poverty through access to education. Odyssey graduates, over 90 percent of whom are students of color, have journeyed from homelessness to UW–Madison degrees, from incarceration to community leadership.”

Education Can Help Fight Injustice – Peter Moreno (Letter to the Editor) >>

June 2020

“We must give men and women in our marginalized communities more opportunities to develop their voices, and we must equip people entangled in the criminal justice system with the tools they need to transcend it.”

Odyssey student triumphs over the odds to get his master’s degree as an older adult

May 2020

“Any one of his barriers could have derailed his plans, but Benford ticks off a whole list he’s overcome: cancer, poverty, raising five children on low-income wages, failed relationships and the death of loved ones.

Coming back to school in 2006 as an adult student also presented unique challenges. Computers weren’t around the last time Benford was in a classroom. He hadn’t written a paper in 30 years. And he was often the oldest student in class—even older than some professors.”

Brian Benford announces bid to succeed Fred Risser in Wisconsin Senate >>

May 2020

“The 60-year-old father of five has spent the last three decades supporting Madison’s most vulnerable and marginalized population working for community-based organizations in a variety of roles. The former alderperson for Madison’s District 12 on the near east side is currently the success coach for the UW-Maidson Odyssey Program, a program that has helped put him on a path to get two higher degrees – his bachelor’s degree in 2018 and just recently his master’s degree from the UW–Madison Master of Social Work Program.”

Virtual graduation for UW-Madison students overcoming adversity >>

May 2020


“Our families are hit hard because they’re already struggling paycheck to paycheck,” Auerbach said. “If they’re laid off, they can’t provide food on the table, can’t provide the basics. It’s really hard to think about school. How can you think about Socrates and Shakespeare when you can’t feed your family?”


Odyssey Project online graduation full of pride, community, love >>

May 2020

“Odyssey Director Emily Auerbach opened the ceremony: “This is our 17th year, and we’ve never done something like this before. Though we can’t be in a grand ballroom and share hugs, we can still be together and have people join us from other states and even other countries. We’re all here to celebrate the amazing resilience and courage of the class of 2020 as they earn credits from one of the top universities in the world.”



Coronavirus pandemic presents UW Odyssey Project with unprecedented challenges >>

April 2020

“This pandemic has really highlighted the discrepancies, especially for students of color who have already been struggling with lower incomes and fewer resources, and now are being hit disproportionately hard by schools closing and jobs laying them off and lack of support systems around them,” UW Odyssey Project Director Emily Auerbach tells Madison365.

Pandemic Hit UW Odyssey Hard >>

April 2020  –  Editorial by Emily Auerbach

“This crisis highlights economic inequities. To meet online with Odyssey’s class of 2020, we delivered rented laptops to students dependent on libraries to connect. But how can students focus on Socrates and Toni Morrison when they’ve lost their jobs, have hungry kids home from school, are trapped in small apartments with abusive partners, can’t pay for medications, lack gas in their cars to reach food pantries, or are fighting severe depression?”

UW Odyssey Beyond Bars project offered first opportunity for prisoners to earn college credits in Wisconsin in 100 years >>

March 2020

“I’m happy to say that Wisconsin is now on board with offering credit-bearing courses to students in prison,” Moreno said. “There’s a tremendous demand for them. When we finished the English 100 class this last fall, many of the students came up to me and the instructor, Kevin Mullen, and said, ‘Okay, this was wonderful. We’re ready for more.’”

Writing a new future

February 2020

“[Odyssey Beyond Bars] provokes something in you that makes you want to dig into who you are and question who you are,” says Lewis. “It has given me an opportunity to examine my experiences; it provokes you to look at things in a different way and gives you the confidence to express yourself.”

UW Odyssey Project raises record amount to help transform lives >>

November 2019

“Odyssey is an expression of the Wisconsin Idea, where education is accessible to all citizens and learners,” said UW–Madison Vice Provost for Lifelong Learning and Dean of Continuing Studies Jeff Russell. “By allowing access, Odyssey creates a transformative learning experience for the students, their families, and the community at large.”

Odyssey Project featured in new podcast >>

August 2019

The cross-currents of the stories from students in UW–Madison’s Odyssey Project reflect the beat of daily life, sometimes fraught with emotion, sometimes light, carrying meanings that entertain and inspire listeners.

2019 UW Odyssey Project Graduation: Success Despite Adversity >>

June 2019

The 2019 UW Odyssey Project graduation was truly a family affair. Held this year on May 8th at the UW Memorial Union, the 16th class of Odyssey graduates was joined by their families, faculty and staff, volunteers and many of the over 400 alumnae of the program.

We are impressed with the multigenerational approach that the UW Odyssey Project takes…Surely their gifts will keep on giving to Madison and beyond.

Celebrating National Poetry Month with the UW Odyssey Project >>

April 2019

To celebrate national poetry month, the Capital City Hues published poetry from all 30 of this year’s Odyssey students!

LEAD Evaluation Affirms Lasting Benefits of the Odyssey Project >>

May 2019

A Madison community program that works to jump-start the college careers of low-income adults through a free six-credit humanities course is yielding more than just academic benefits for many students, according to the first external evaluation in the program’s 16-year history.

The evaluation found the Odyssey Project course helped students achieve an improved sense of self – a feeling of belonging in the world of organized education and a key predictor of success.

WCER Evaluators Find Literacy Program for Low-Income Kids Creates ‘Safe Place’ for Learning >>

April 2019

Known as Odyssey Junior, the program works because its welcoming atmosphere allows children to build self-confidence and become more self-reliant. Those are empowering characteristics that create hope for the future as readily as the love of reading that program instructors work to instill each week, evaluators from the Wisconsin Center for Education Research within the School of Education found.

Chance at education inspires love and generous gift  >>

March 2019

Believing in the power of education to break a cycle of generational poverty, Bob chose at the time of Wanda’s death to use her retirement account to start an endowment to benefit Odyssey students. Now he is marking his 90th birthday with a surprisingly generous offer.

The Radical >>

March 2019

Read about Odyssey’s Assistant Director of Development and Community Partnerships, Jenny Pressman, and her decades of social justice work.

Odyssey Project, Badger Ready Help Local Dad Resume Dream of Earning a Bachelor’s Degree >>

March 2019

Albert Watson had a great deal on his plate, including working and raising a family, when he applied to the University of WisconsinMadison Odyssey Project. At the time, it was hard to see past the obstacles in his life.

Watson completed the program—including its two-semester, six-credit course exploring English literature, philosophy, and history—in 2008, and he hasn’t looked back since. Now he’s beginning his next educational journey—completing a bachelor’s degree—with help from both Odyssey and UW–Madison’s Badger Ready program.

Colleen Johnson: Helping People Achieve The College Dream >>

January 2019

“Often people don’t find a community of other working parents who face similar obstacles and are succeeding,” says Johnson. “We have drop-in tutoring two nights a week, celebrations, picnics, a Facebook group, a clinical social worker, academic counselor and financial advisers. It’s like nurturing a family.”

Socrates meets Susan B. Anthony at Odyssey Project’s Night of the Living Humanities >>

October 2018

You can find Frankenstein’s monster at many Halloween parties, but only at Night of the Living Humanities will he mingle with the likes of Socrates, Sojourner Truth, and Susan B. Anthony. On Oct. 25, the Odyssey Project’s annual fundraiser encouraged attendees to dress up as political, artistic, and literary figures who play a part in the program’s two-semester humanities course.

Why Vote? Voices from the UW Odyssey Project >>

October 2018

Class of 2019

The UW Odyssey Project, an award-winning jump-start program in the humanities for adults overcoming adversity, sponsored a contest for the best short essay convincing non-voters to vote. This article contains excerpts from 15 participants, both current and former students.

Night of the Living Humanities celebrates the Odyssey Project’s life-changing power >>

September 2018


“Derrick was someone who didn’t even know his own gifts, but who found his voice and recognized his own power in the course,” Auerbach says. “When people explore works of art, they see themselves and the world in new ways, and their lives change.”

Odyssey Program helps people get back on their feet >>

September 2018

The Odyssey Project helps create an opportunity for people who had given up on or been forced to avoid pursuing higher education.

UW Odyssey Class of 2018 Graduation Ceremony Will Feature Guest Speaker Judge Everett Mitchell >>

April 2018

The greater Madison community is invited to attend the inspiring and memorable graduation ceremony for students of the UW Odyssey Project class of 2018 on May 2 at the Great Hall of Memorial Union that will feature guest speaker Judge Everett Mitchell.

New report shows Odyssey Project’s profound impact on families >>

April 2018

In 2008 Sherri Bester graduated from the Odyssey Project, University of Wisconsin-Madison’s two-semester humanities course for adults facing obstacles to a college education. That achievement inspired her daughter Keziah, who participated in a related program for kids called Odyssey Junior in 2015-16.

Three years in, UW South Madison Partnership shows strong growth >>

April 2018

It is both a physical space and a broader philosophy, one rooted in building relationships — connecting UW–Madison with an area whose residents historically have had less access to the university.

Celebrating 15 Years of the Odyssey Project >>

March/April 2018

“I want to learn more, I want to
listen more, I want to grow more,” writes Bruce Moore as he completes this year’s two semester Odyssey Project.

ATHENA Awards: Emily Auerbach takes coveted honor >>

March 2018

Emily Auerbach, a woman who has dedicated her life to helping adult learners overcome seemingly insurmountable barriers to higher education, has won the 2018 ATHENA Award.

Odyssey Project student a cheerleader for others, and for herself >>

March 2018

“I wish cancer got cancer and died.” This was Tandalaya Taylor’s seven-word poem for a class assignment through the Odyssey Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

American Family Insurance funds a counselor to work with Odyssey Project students >>

January 24, 2018

Emily Vander Velden will help low-income adults overcome obstacles to higher education.

Odyssey Project brings families together while tearing educational barriers apart >>

October 18, 2017

With only a high school education, one participant found that many doors were closed to her. Now, with Odyssey by her side, they are starting to open.

Odyssey Project: A partner for life >>

June 26, 2017

Josephine Lorya, a refugee from South Sudan, obtained her master’s degree at UW-Madison, thanks to the Odyssey Project’s life-long commitment to its students.

Odyssey Project provides hope for immigrants and refugees >>

March 20, 2017

They enrich the Odyssey class with their varied perspectives, just as multicultural newcomers have always enriched America.

A Life Worth Living >>

February 23, 2017

From Isthmus, this cover story explores how the Odyssey Project proves that the humanities can change destinies.

Madison Magazine recognizes Odyssey Project’s Emily Auerbach >>

Oct 21, 2016

Emily Auerbach is recognized on the “M List” among innovative mentors and teachers who are creatively helping others to excel in the workplace or in school.

A Berea Legacy: The Inheritance of Emily Auerbach >>

April 2016

From Berea College Magazine, learn about the Odyssey Project’s Emily Auerbach and how her parents’ experience at Berea inspired her to found the Odyssey Project.

Priced out: Low-income students struggle to meet costs, participate in college community >>

Feb 3, 2016

From The Capital Times, this cover story featuring an Odyssey alumna examines how low-income students overcome hunger, homeless and other obstacles to pursue higher education.

A Berea Legacy: The Inheritance of Emily Auerbach >>

Winter 2016

“Why would poor people want to read Plato?” a local reporter once asked Dr. Auerbach. To understand their motivation, one needs to hear the stories of Emily’s parents.

From homelessness to commencement >>

December 19, 2015

Odyssey student, Keena Atkinson went from sleeping in her car to graduating from UW-Madison in just six years.

NBC15 Report on new Odyssey junior program >>

March 30, 2015

NBC15 news anchor Leigh Mills interviews Emily Auerbach and Qu’Anna Caffey, a participant in the new Odyssey Junior program.


Professor wins national honor for expanding >>

October 30, 2014

Odyssey Project’s Emily Auerbach is honored by one of the nation’s leading higher-education organizations for three decades of work expanding university access to more diverse populations.

Behind the Odyssey >>

March 20, 2013

From Madison Magazine, this cover story by the Odyssey Project’s Emily Auerbach explores the lives changed by one college course.

Lady Godiva “Inspirational Woman” award video >>

March 19, 2013

Odyssey’s Emily Auerbach awarded as Lady Godiva “Inspirational Woman” Honoree for her service.

The Odyssey of Learning >>

April 25, 2012

From the Huffington Post, Odyssey guest and author Doug Bradley explores the impact of the Odyssey Project.