Odyssey Updates

The latest happenings in the Odyssey program and community

  • A group of six UW–Madison Odyssey Project instructors stand together smiling.

    Instructors old and new ponder what makes Odyssey ‘magical’

    Jean Feraca, Kevin Mullen, and Erin Celello share insights about the program's impact and some favorite teaching moments.

  • Robert Taliaferro standing, smiling, in front of his bookcase, wearing a yellow shirt

    Odyssey Beyond Bars: Communities benefit from prison education program

    This article is part of a series celebrating 20 years of the Odyssey Project. Follow along as we remember where we’ve been and look forward to where we’re going.   After serving 38 years in …

  • Robert T, alumni from OBB

    One year out: OBB alum pursues graduate degree, community mentorship

    In December 2021, alum Robert Taliaferro had a lot to look forward to. He was celebrating the end of a successful semester with Odyssey Beyond Bars, writing a feature for the Prison Journalism Project — and completing the last of his 38 years in prison.

  • Peter Moreno and Odyssey students at CTN

    Correcting the Narrative: Celebrating community success stories

    At Odyssey Beyond Bars, we know that connecting people with high-quality education in prison equips them with tools for lifelong success — and we were thrilled to celebrate some of those successes at the Second Annual Correcting the Narrative Awards.

  • Odyssey Beyond Bars student smiling in front of chalkboard

    UW CHEP director’s letter – November 2022

    Our alums remind us that returning home isn’t easy, and successes are sometimes interrupted by setbacks. Ongoing support is key to making sure the good days outnumber the bad. Our new Odyssey Beyond Bars Success Coach, Mike Exum, helps students navigate the inevitable struggles of reentry and provides a voice of encouragement in tough times.

  • Dominique Christian with her U.S. Army personnel, standing in a group and smiling in uniforms

    UW Odyssey Project launches free education initiative for veterans

    In fall 2023, veterans can start a new UW Odyssey Project course tailored to them. Read about the program and learn how to apply now!

  • Marisol with flowers

    From classroom to stage: Odyssey represents in The Moth StorySLAM

    Each month, people gather in Madison to watch storytellers match “wits and words” at The Moth StorySLAM competitions, and Odyssey students and alumni are often found not only in the audience but in the stage’s …

  • Eight adult Onward Odyssey students of varying ages and ethnicities smile while standing in a classroom

    Odyssey Project alums continue learning journey with Onward Odyssey

    Since 2015, more than 160 graduates of UW–Madison's Odyssey Project's core course have earned additional college credits through its sister program, Onward Odyssey. Two of its students share their experience with the program — and what they'd like to do next.

  • Odyssey crafts

    From personal to professional: Odyssey’s bazaar returns this holiday season

    “I didn’t realize that my products were both going to be my platform and my vessel to care for people,” Jasmine Banks told Madison Magazine this past April, describing how she created her business following …

  • Joe Robinson signing paper

    From service to stories: Odyssey beyond wars

    “The transition from military life back into the civilian world is a lot more difficult than most people realize,” said Joe Robinson, Army veteran and alum of Odyssey’s very first graduating class. “Odyssey is life …

  • Odyssey students holding a teddybear with a 'Vote' shirt

    An empowering trip on “Odyssey Day”

    Madison’s mayor proclaimed October 12, 2022, to be “Odyssey Day” in recognition of our 20 years of changing lives. Instead of holding a regular Wednesday evening class, the Class of 2023 traveled again by bus …

  • Odyssey students on a trip to American Player's Theatre

    A magical evening in Spring Green

    What a magical evening we had last Sunday at American Players Theatre seeing A Raisin in the Sun with 70 Odyssey students, alumni, staff, and guests! Current student Aida, whose nine-year-old son loved attending the …

  • Odyssey class of 23

    Class of 2023 conquers campus

    For the first time since 2019, we resumed our annual tradition of taking 30 new Odyssey students by bus from South Madison to the UW campus. The first stop was Union South, where the Wiscard …

  • Duke the therapy dog

    Duke Ellington passes his tests

    Congratulations to Duke Ellington, a German shorthair pointer, for achieving certification by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and for making progress towards becoming a Canine Good Citizen! Owner-trainer Brian Benford, Odyssey alum and full-time success …

  • Anthony with Chancellor Mnookin

    Chancellor hails Odyssey alchemy

    “You are extraordinary!” UW’s new chancellor told Odyssey alumni as she visited Odyssey’s South Madison home on her second day on the job. Odyssey Codirector Emily Auerbach welcomed Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin, gave her a brief …

  • Books from the OBB Library collection on their way to prisons around the state

    Odyssey Beyond Bars Library brings the gift of books to Wisconsin prisons

    Caption: Books from the OBB Library collection on their way to prisons around the state “Freedom begins with a book.” — Reginald Dwayne Betts, a formerly incarcerated Yale-educated lawyer, poet and founder of Freedom Reads Peter …

  • Gavin with students

    Twenty years of experiencing A Raisin in the Sun (September 18)

    Caption: APT’s Gavin Lawrence coached Odyssey students in readings from A Raisin in the Sun. Just tell me where you want to go to school and you’ll go. Just tell me what it is you want …

  • Eric poses in front of the poetry wall

    New enrichment classes build educational momentum

    “We make a choice each moment that affects the rest of our lives and the lives of everyone around us. The decision is about whether we are the situation we are in — or if …

  • Students from OBB’s English 100 course at Oakhill, spring 2022

    UW CHEP director’s letter

    Caption: Students from OBB’s English 100 course at Oakhill, spring 2022 In May, Odyssey Beyond Bars (OBB) concluded an incredible semester of growth in which we offered courses in three new prisons, in addition to …

  • Michael Lozano in his graduation cap

    A seat at the table for Michael Lozano

    UW–Madison may be only an hour’s drive from the Huber Correctional facility, but for Michael Lozano, caught in a cycle of incarceration, it might as well have been on the moon. By the time he …

  • Ben Shannon and Erin Celell

    Odyssey Project welcomes new instructors

    The Odyssey Project is excited to announce the addition of two new staff members/literacy instructors, Erin Celello and Ben Shannon. Both Erin and Ben trace their passion for Odyssey’s mission in part to a parent …

  • Mark with Senator Tammy Baldwin and Grisel with her family

    20th Odyssey class selected

    July marks the official start of the 20th year of the UW Odyssey Project. Thirty new students have been selected to form the Class of 2023. Beginning in September, they will receive two semesters of …

  • Joy with Ahmad and Grisel, Caption: “Odyssey graduate and monthly donor Joy (left) with classmates

    Recognizing our amazing monthly donors

    Joy discovered Odyssey while working as a custodian at UW and found the program life-changing, a place where she felt unconditional love from staff determined to remove obstacles that got in her way. Five years …

  • Photos of Christy, Baron and Brenda

    Recognizing our award-winning team

    As she stepped to the podium to accept her YWCA-Madison Woman of Distinction award last month, Odyssey teacher and Friends of Odyssey board member Professor Christy Clark-Pujara said, “I would like to thank Emily Auerbach …

  • Michelle Bozeman doesn’t give up

    When Senator Tammy Baldwin visited the Odyssey Project, she asked alumni in the room how they discovered the free UW humanities program. Michelle Bozeman responded: “You asked me, ‘Did I find Odyssey or did Odyssey …

  • Corey in his graduation cap and gown poses with Emily

    Corey Saffold achieves a dream

    “One of the most impactful programs in our state, the UW Odyssey Project has completely transformed my life and the lives of many others,” noted Corey Saffold as he donned cap and gown this month …

  • A collage of images of Corey Saffold and Michelle Bozeman in their graduation caps and gowns, students with Tammy Baldwin

    Senator Baldwin marks an Odyssey milestone

    “I’m just so honored to support the Odyssey Project,” said Senator Tammy Baldwin last month when she visited Odyssey’s home in South Madison, adding that she felt “proud to bring home $500,000 in new federal …

  • 3 members of Odyssey Junior with their father

    Celebration spotlight: Odyssey and Odyssey Junior

    Odyssey Now completing its 19th year, Odyssey offers a free, transformational two-semester UW course for 30 students each year to explore literature, philosophy, history, art, music, and writing. “My mother and sister both graduated from …

  • Cynthia and her daughter

    Sponsor a 2022 graduate and honor mothers past and present

    Will you sponsor one or more of our 30 Odyssey Project graduates this year as they receive UW–Madison credits during another difficult year? While reading Plato, studying Frida Kahlo, and acting out scenes from Lorraine …

  • Dead of UW College of Letters and Science Eric Wilcots, and Continuing Studies Dean and Vice Provost for Lifelong Learning Jeffrey Russell

    A tale of two deans

    “The Odyssey Program has an impressive track record of transforming lives through higher education,” says UW College of Letters and Science Dean Eric Wilcots. Continuing Studies Dean and Vice Provost for Lifelong Learning Jeffrey Russell …

  • Baron Kelly and Nidia Bañuelos

    New faces and courses in our new space

    Near the outbreak of the pandemic, Odyssey moved its offices into the new, larger UW South Madison Partnership space and created the Odyssey Family Learning Center. This semester, Odyssey alumni are earning more UW credits …

  • Collage of photos of Talaisha, Ontario, and another Odyssey student and her children

    Uncovering the faces of the Class of 2022

    “The Odyssey Project has helped me rediscover parts of myself and has been a beautiful gem in tumultuous times,” writes Jonathon, one of 30 students nearing the end of the two-semester journey for the Class …

  • Mark in class at Oakhill

    Celebrating stories at Oakhill

    “I’ve never in my life felt so free as I have felt taking this class.” —Mark, Odyssey Beyond Bars student in English 100 at Oakhill, fall 2021 On a bright, cold day in December, more …

  • Danny with his English 100 course reader

    Odyssey Beyond Bars expands throughout the state

    “Look around. You may not know each other yet, and this situation will test your comfortability, but you’ll all discover a community within yourselves.” — from “A letter to next year’s class,” by Danny, Odyssey …

  • Odyssey Beyond Bars students Billy, Danny, and Mark from fall 2021

    UW CHEP director’s letter – March, 2022

    UW System has received a transformative $5.6 million grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to establish degree and certificate programs in state prisons, with the goal of preparing more students for professional success …

  • Collage of Odyssey graduates in their caps and gowns

    Loving our graduates

    We love supporting Odyssey graduates as they go on after our two-semester jump-start humanities course to earn certificates, two-year, four-year, and advanced degrees. The photo collage above celebrates eight Odyssey alumni who earned degrees in …

  • Crystal and daughter

    Thanks to our donors for new hope!

    Although 2021 brought the Odyssey Project hardship and heartache, stretching our staff and emergency funds to the limit, it also reminded us of the generosity of our donors and community partners. So many of you …

  • Odyssey class of 2022

    We can’t stop now!

    “Before I got accepted into the Odyssey Class of 2022,” Yasmine wrote on her final assignment for 2021, “I was like an oyster in its shell — closed off from the entire world around me. …

  • Chancellor Blank poses with Char Jackson, making the UW W hand sign

    UW chancellor wins Friend of Odyssey Award

    “Odyssey is one of our best examples of the Wisconsin Idea in action,” Becky Blank observed. We proudly announce that outgoing UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, winner of the 2022 Friend of Odyssey Award, will speak …

  • Collage of photos of Josephine alone, with her family, and of her ATHENA award

    Odyssey alum wins ATHENA Young Professional Award

    Josephine Lorya, alumna of Odyssey’s Class of 2008, received the 2021 ATHENA Young Professional Award last month from The Business Forum Madison in recognition of her work as a Dane County social worker, multicultural performer, …

  • Success coach Brian Benford and his therapy dog, Duke Ellington

    Admiring Odyssey students’ courage

    Odyssey students this year have endured incredible hardship, from contracting COVID themselves to losing loved ones, from facing eviction notices to fleeing abusive partners, from going into early labor to being racially profiled. As success …

  • Collage of images of Bob Auerbach with his wife Wanda, alone, and with Cha Braxton

    Applauding Bob Auerbach’s generosity

    The UW Odyssey Project proudly announces its successful nomination of 92-year-old Robert “Bob” Auerbach for a 2021 Outstanding Individual Philanthropist award from AFP-Greater Madison for their National Philanthropy Day. At a November 11 ceremony at …

  • Classic Rosie the Riveter image seen in a jumpsuit, breaking a chain in a chain link fence, while holding a diploma, symbolizing breaking cycles of incarceration through education

    Inside-Out program changing perspectives at Taycheedah women’s prison

    “This experience has enabled me to look outside the box that I’ve kept myself securely in for so long. I am not just a number or a lost cause like society has labeled me. I …

  • Mark, a student in English 100 at Oakhill this fall sitting in a classroom

    Odyssey Beyond Bars returns in-person at Oakhill

    “You’re only remembered by what you did in your time on earth, and I want to be remembered as a valiant man that despite his mistakes and hardships took a horrific situation and turned it …

  • OBB students Billy, Danny and Mark sit at a table in a prison classroom and talk with with OBB director Peter Moreno in fall 2021

    Director’s letter

    We enter fall and the holidays with keen excitement, thankful to be back to in-person teaching and meeting classrooms full of new students. Some programs suspended during the pandemic are resuming, like UW–Parkside’s Shakespeare Prison …

  • Odyssey student Anthony standing with his classmates at UW–Madison information desk

    Amplifying Odyssey voices

    “Odyssey is the pencil of life with which we can erase past regrets and rewrite our future. Every ‘word’ formed solidifies our resolve, those periods at the end a proud stamp of success. Sentence by …

  • Odyssey members Juan, Carmen, and Luis smiling

    Strength in numbers: Please spread the word!

    UW Odyssey Project Co-director Emily Auerbach likes to quote Helen Keller: “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.” Emily knows that as a small program, Odyssey depends on the strength …

  • Image of a pregnant Kayanna next to a photo of her new baby

    New mother determined to succeed

    When Kayanna Branch applied for Odyssey’s Class of 2022, she knew her baby (named Summer) was due on September 17, just two weeks after the course began. “I’ll do my homework, join Zoom for a …

  • Collage of mother Jeannine and her daughter Sydney

    Odyssey is a lifeline for grieving mother

    “Odyssey is an amazing program, a lifeline, a source of strength that keeps me going and lifts some of the weight off me.” So said Jeannine Shoemaker, a graduate of Odyssey’s Class of 2014, now …

  • 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 …

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