Odyssey Updates

The latest happenings in the Odyssey program and community

  • Edward, a current student enrolled in Afro Am 155, reads intently from his course textbook

    Odyssey Beyond Bars offers new multicultural literature course at Oakhill

    “We often search for scars which lay bare on the outside, never considering the more hurtful scars present on the inside. Having served nearly 25 years of incarceration, I know firsthand that the hidden scars …

  • Ben and Cory, dads in the Dane County Jail and Parenting Inside Out students read pamphlet together

    New educational program supports parent-child connections during incarceration

     “Parenting doesn’t come with a handbook. And a lot of times our parents only gave us what their parents gave them, and so this is an opportunity for us to learn things that we didn’t …

  • Students from English 100 tell their stories to an enthusiastic audience over Zoom

    Despite COVID setback, Odyssey Beyond Bars storytellers return to share their stories

    “I never thought I’d ever be a writer. I wasn’t even good at writing letters. But then I took English 100, and wow, it really helped my communication and writing. I have overcome my fear …

  • Darren, Odyssey Beyond Bars student enrolled in Afro Am 155 this semester at Oakhill

    April UW CHEP E-Newsletter intro

    “He who opens a school door closes a prison.” —Victor Hugo Spring 2021 is a time of triumph and hope for UW’s students in prison. After enduring outbreaks of COVID-19, long periods of lockdown and …

  • Josephine & family

    Overcoming barriers

    “I am forever grateful to Odyssey,” Josephine Lorya remarks in a new video created for virtual services at a local church taking up collections for Odyssey and Odyssey Junior. “Odyssey opened up many doors that …

  • Baron with students

    Overcoming shyness

    “I’m a very shy person, and I think working with Baron will help me overcome barriers and stop being in my shell,” Barbara writes. Every year since 2003, theater professor Baron Kelly has flown to …

  • Marisol and family

    Overcoming challenges

    “I arm wrestled racism until a vein was about to pop,” Corey begins his poem. Denise describes a woman triumphing over the heartbreak of teen parenthood and domestic abuse. Marilyn writes, “In February I found …

  • Brian Benford with Emily Auerbach and Kevin Mullen

    Odyssey alum elected alder

    “In my role as the success coach for Odyssey during this pandemic, I have never witnessed so much suffering among marginalized populations,” notes Brian Benford. Just elected alder for Madison’s sixth district, Brian graduated from …

  • Jean Feraca with James Morgan, Odyssey '13

    Jean Feraca nominated for Athena Award

    “Jean Feraca epitomizes the Wisconsin Idea as well as the ideals of the Athena Award,” a nomination letter reads, as “she has demonstrated excellence throughout her career as a broadcast journalist, creativity in her work …

  • Odyssey alumni join Emily Auerbach at UW Chancellor Becky Blank's house

    Community Chats features Odyssey

    “The Odyssey Project has been life changing not just for the students in the program but for me as well,” Odyssey Codirector Emily Auerbach remarks in a new video launching the UW’s Community Chats series. Emily’s …

  • Angela Davis with group of women

    Show your love now

    Thank you all for being part of the circle of love that flows between Odyssey students, staff and supporters! Your gifts in 2020 allowed us to support our students and alumni as they valiantly overcame …

  • Ariel and her son

    Redefining love on Valentine’s Day

    Every February in Odyssey classes, students start an essay with the two words, “I love.” We ask them to think beyond Hallmark cards, Cupid and romantic evenings to other kinds of love. Here are some …

  • 2021 grads

    Loving our graduates

    We love supporting graduates of our two‑semester jumpstart program as they go on to earn two‑year, four‑year and advanced degrees. In the photo collage above, you’ll see five of our alumni who earned degrees in …

  • Martin Luther King by Stanley Sallay, Odyssey '07

    Dreaming with Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Odyssey students start the new year just after Martin Luther King Jr. Day by reading his powerful 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” With its fervent call for justice, equality, unity and love, King’s words …

  • Fernando and his children receive gift bags

    Pondering a pandemic

    COVID‑19 hit home for Odyssey last month as even our online Odyssey Beyond Bars classes were suspended due to the complete quarantine mandated to stop the rampant spread of the virus in state prisons. More …

  • Odyssey student and her two daughters in masks

    Continuing the journey

    “Odyssey is a journey I need to complete so I can overcome fears and make a new life for myself,” Michelle wrote on her final assignment for 2020. Classes for the second half of our …

  • Corey at Board of Regents

    Odyssey shines at the UW System Board of Regents

    As a new member of the prestigious UW System Board of Regents, Odyssey alum Corey Saffold advocated to make Odyssey part of the agenda. Corey was joined on November 5 by Odyssey Codirectors Emily Auerbach …

  • Layla and her sister, Naliyah painting

    Transforming lives in a pandemic — and double the impact of your support

    Despite unimaginable hardship, students in all four parts of our program — Odyssey, Odyssey Junior, Onward Odyssey and Odyssey Beyond Bars — have triumphed this semester as they learned with us online. Adults in the …

  • Dominique, Antoinetta, and Shanita

    Odyssey alumna receives Transformation Award

    After a childhood of homelessness, abuse and teen pregnancy, Shanita Lawrence found herself incarcerated at age 18 and separated from her young son. “I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for the …

  • Onward Odyssey student Jelissa with her kids, on the cover of BRAVA magazine

    Odyssey gives thanks

    We celebrate Thanksgiving this year at a time of hardship and heartbreak. Our UW Odyssey Project team wants to take a deep breath and share what makes us feel grateful and hopeful. We remain thankful for: …

  • René Robinson with classmates from Odyssey Class of 2008

    Meet René Robinson

    “Odyssey gave me a voice through writing, and for that I am thankful beyond words,” writes alumna René Robinson, Odyssey ’08. In her graduation poem, “My Journey,” René spoke of her discovery of the humanities …

  • Denise Maddox '04 as Sojourner Truth and Derrick Allen '18 as Duke Ellington

    Remembering our Nights of the Living Humanities

    “Odyssey helped me find my voice, that courage I have to speak,” remarked Odyssey alum Corey Saffold at our 2018 “Night of the Living Humanities” fundraiser. In late October of any other year, you might have …

  • Brandice Hatcher and her children

    Powerful voices for change

    “I am a first-time voter and just cast my vote,” said one 63-year-old Odyssey student. Another in his early thirties admitted, “I didn’t vote four years ago . . . but now I will.” Both …

  • Odyssey Beyond Bars goes online

    Last fall we were so excited to offer the first credit-bearing course in a Wisconsin prison in over 100 years. (This Isthmus article from February 2020 describes the fall program and its moving December graduation ceremony at Oakhill …

  • John Lewis with quote about voting 'The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It's the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society, and we've got to use it!'

    Voices for voting: REGISTER NOW

    “Odyssey gave me a voice, and for that, I am thankful beyond words,” remarked René Robinson, an Odyssey alumna and member of the Friends of Odyssey Board of Directors. René and several other Odyssey graduates …

  • Burnett with his daughter

    New Odyssey families need your help

    “I believe in the philosophy that everyone deserves a chance, and Odyssey is the chance I need to expand my horizons and learn,” Burnett Reed wrote when he applied for the Odyssey Project. A special …

  • Powerful alumni responses to the pandemic and the protests

    Throughout the summer, Odyssey staff and alumni have gathered online on Wednesday nights to keep learning, share heartbreaking experiences, and support each other during these unprecedented times. We have explored vocabulary words ranging from asphyxiation …

  • Professor Baron Kelly

    The beloved Dr. Baron Kelly joins Odyssey faculty!

    We are delighted to announce that this month Baron joins us as a senior, tenured professor with a joint appointment between the Odyssey Project and the UW Department of Theatre and Drama. For Baron, this …

  • Odyssey Beyond Bars

    College Behind Bars — August 7

    The UW Odyssey Project, First Unitarian Society, and MOSES Team invite you to a viewing of College Behind Bars, a film by Lynn Novick, as part of the First Friday Film Series on August 7 at 6:30 p.m. Join …

  • Brian Benford with Emily Auerbach and Kevin Mullen

    Success Coach Succeeds Himself!

    Brian Benford, Odyssey Class of 2007, survived cancer, raised five children, and battled poverty as he journeyed toward degrees and a career. Although the pandemic robbed him of the chance to walk across a stage …

  • Emily with bear that says 'Let's make America think again'

    Virtual class of 2021 feels real excitement

    For the first time in Odyssey’s history, we are beginning a new online-only class. The challenges are immense, as we will be working to create a warm community and life-changing effects without in-person discussions, hugs, …

  • Emily Auerbach with her parents, Wanda and Bob

    New $3 million endowment empowers UW Odyssey Project to combat inequities

    During insecure times, we are thrilled to announce a $3 million endowment to help secure Odyssey’s future. The endowment is named after Emily’s mother, Wanda, who made it out of dire poverty through her love of reading …

  • Odyssey’s virtual graduation ceremony is a success!

    From London to Seattle to Austin, comments poured in from Odyssey supporters who watched our first-ever online graduation ceremony last month: “You pulled the rabbit out of the hat and created magic under the direst …

  • Mustafa and family

    “No longer deferred”: Odyssey grads become college grads

    Mustafa Mohammed Saed (pictured above, far right) watched his sister and fellow Odyssey 2016 classmate Umaima (third from left) graduate from UW–Madison in December, wearing cap and gown and walking across the stage at a …

  • Odyssey class of 2020

    Odyssey made history on May 6 with its joyous, first-ever online graduation ceremony. Read our blog about the ceremony here. We’ll share graduation highlights in our June newsletter; in the meantime find NBC 15 coverage, student …

  • The faces of Odyssey students in Zoom class

    Odyssey during a global pandemic

    In-person, lively, Socratic discussions in a classroom filled with laughter, shared meals, and plentiful hugs have been at the heart of Odyssey classes for 17 years. What should we do in a pandemic? How can …

  • Photo of Umaima graduating

    From Iraq to UW–Madison

    During December’s University of Wisconsin–Madison graduation ceremony at the Kohl Center, Chancellor Becky Blank singled out Umaima and her family for special mention (watch the video here). A refugee from Iraq, Umaima graduated from the UW …

  • Adult Odyssey student with toddler daughter

    A Decade of Love

    Every February, we broaden our understanding of Valentine’s Day by asking Odyssey students to start an essay with “I love.” Here are samples from the past decade, including many focusing on the joy of learning: …

  • Smiling Odyssey students Jyneeva and Riley

    “I Am Somebody”: Starting Second Semester

    Students in the Odyssey Class of 2020 met on January 22 to start off the second half of our two-semester course. They read from the January Oracle featuring their writing from December. All students had …

  • Graduation of first Odyssey Beyond Bars class

    “I took this class to become a better writer with the hope of helping others soar. It has helped me to become a better father, son, and person as a whole. At the end of …

  • Bruce and Sidney pose with Hamilton sign

    Odyssey students got to be “in the room where it happened”

    Thanks to American Family Insurance’s generous donation of 30 tickets, Odyssey students enjoyed a mesmerizing performance of Hamilton last month at the Overture Center. Reviews and photos came pouring in: “The story of Hamilton reminded me of …

  • More Odyssey Updates