Odyssey Updates

The latest happenings in the Odyssey program and community

  • Yaa Gyasi and Transcendent Kingdom

    New Tuesday Morning Booktalks for fall

    When the pandemic struck in March 2020, Odyssey classes shut down and so did Emily Auerbach’s Tuesday Morning Booktalks, a long-running series of community discussions of literature held at the public library. “I naively sent …

  • Screenshot of Brenda's Community Chat video

    New Friends of Odyssey board member

    “I love Odyssey and am honored to be invited to join the board to help Odyssey succeed.” Last month, Brenda González became the newest member of the all-volunteer Board of Directors for the Friends of …

  • Alum and staff member Char Braxton with fall class supplies

    New classes in a new space

    “I’m excited and nervous.” New students in Odyssey’s Class of 2022 chose “excited” and “nervous” more than any other adjectives when describing their feelings about starting the college jumpstart program. As they entered the classroom …

  • Marisol and family

    From online to in person: Launching the Odyssey Class of 2022

    The 19th year of the award-winning UW Odyssey Project will begin on September 8, with 30 adults embarking on a two-semester journey leading to six UW credits and a new sense of hope. Newly admitted …

  • Jayda in cap and gown poses with her donated laptop from American Family Insurance

    From shyness to leadership: Odyssey Junior grad begins UW adventure

    “I’m really excited and nervous to start my new chapter,” Jayda says as she moves into the residence halls before starting classes at UW–Madison. A 2021 Odyssey Junior graduate, Jayda calls it “cool” to have …

  • Odyssey ’04 graduate Anthony Ward in cap and gown

    From trauma to triumph: Odyssey grad starts master’s degree program

    “Anyone looking at me, I want them to see that no matter what happens — it can be the darkest, deepest pit — you can get out of it,” Odyssey Class of 2004 Anthony Ward …

  • Dominee, a 2019 alum of Odyssey Beyond Bars. Photo: Angela Major/WPR

    Odyssey Beyond Bars alum advocating for better futures

    “What English 100 did for me, I want to do for others. I blossomed in that class. I want others to experience that.” —Dominee Meek, Odyssey Beyond Bars alum (fall 2019) Dominee was in the …

  • Devin, a student in Afro-American Studies 155 (spring 2021) reads a booklet

    Multicultural literature course hosts family, friends for online graduation

    “Reading and reflecting on writings at this magnitude has allowed us to respond and be heard, to be a part of the community […] and to be more than just numbers in a system or …

  • Jacob, a 2019 graduate of OBB’s first English 100 course at Oakhill

    Odyssey Beyond Bars expands!

    “In finding yourself, you discover an array of beauty within. You discover that you actually are intelligent, when your teachers and classmates had written you off as dumb because you didn’t apply yourself. Now you’ve …

  • Students at Oakhill share their writing with the class

    Director’s letter

    We wind down the 2020-21 academic year proud of our students and what we have accomplished in the face of adversity. When the pandemic interrupted our face-to-face instruction, Odyssey Beyond Bars (OBB) rose to the occasion, …

  • Odyssey theatre class poses on stage

    Thespians come out of their shells

    “How am I going to die today?” Loche asked herself as she entered UW–Madison’s Hemsley Theatre for Onward Odyssey’s first-ever Acting Techniques class. Professor Baron Kelly notes of Loche and her nine classmates, “The students …

  • Diane lying in a hospital bed wearing a respirator, and holding her Odyssey graduate diploma

    Remembering a class MVP

    Students in the Odyssey Class of 2021 called one classmate their MVP, hero, warrior-scholar and inspiration. Lifelong learner Diane Walton logged on from the hospital to read scenes from A Raisin in the Sun, even …

  • hree photos of Hezouwe, one with his daughter, one solo, and the final with Emily Auerbach

    From bleeding feet to doctor-to-be

    When Hezouwe Walada was growing up in rural Togo, West Africa, he craved learning so much that he walked 30 miles daily without shoes, his feet bleeding, to attend the closest village school. Hezouwe brought …

  • Odyssey’s award-winning Director of Development and Community Partnerships, Jenny Pressman poses with Odyssey students holding a giant check

    Odyssey staff garner awards!

    Shortly after announcing Odyssey theater professor Baron Kelly’s national honor and Odyssey cofounder Jean Feraca’s selection for the Athena Award, we learned that Odyssey’s Director of Development and Community Partnerships, Jenny Pressman, had been chosen …

  • Emily Auerbach with scholarship winner Char Braxton

    Odyssey alumni win scholarships!

    “It’s a sweep! When I nominated four amazing Odyssey women for prestigious Business Forum of Madison scholarships, I hoped all four would win the four adult scholarships — and they did!” says Odyssey codirector Emily …

  • Collage of photos of Odyssey and Odyssey Junior's 2021 graduates

    Odyssey alumni graduate!

    “Odyssey is a major reason why I have succeeded. It was my foundation, my stepping stone, to overcoming so many obstacles.” So said Dominique Christian, Odyssey Class of 2009, who earned her master’s degree in …

  • Professor Baron with students doing acting exercise

    While coaching Odyssey students, theater professor wins major award

    In the middle of coaching Odyssey students for their graduation videos, Professor Baron Kelly got a call that left him in tears, overwhelmed: He had just been selected for the prestigious College of Fellows of …

  • Feather and family

    Real photos of a virtual class

    “It was a full circle moment for me,” says Odyssey alum Hedi Rudd ’12, as she snapped pictures of the graduating Class of 2021 and their families. “I remember the day my class got our …

  • 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 …

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