The Odyssey Project

Since 2003, the UW-Odyssey Project has empowered low income adults to find their voices and get a jumpstart on earning college degrees. Graduates of the UW Odyssey Project have moved from homelessness to master’s degrees, from incarceration to meaningful work in the community. The Odyssey Project joined the 4W network of projects in 2017, when Dr. Emily Auerbach joined the 4W Leadership Circle.

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Activities and Impacts

• More than 400 students have completed the Odyssey Program. Approximately two-thirds go on to enroll in further higher education.

• Participants report that they read more to their children, feel that they are better parents, have more hope about their own future, are more likely to vote and become involved in their communities, and have made plans to continue their educations and/or seek job training.

• Since 2015, Odyssey has expanded its reach to the next generation through Odyssey Junior, a program of enrichment and intensive help with literacy for children and grandchildren of Odyssey students.

Next Steps

• Expand course offerings, mentoring, counseling, and other services for our 400+ alumni.

• Build an endowment for all three parts of the program (Odyssey, Odyssey Junior, Onward Odyssey) to ensure our sustainability.

• Increase the visibility of the program, leading to new funding and new campus and community partnerships.

• Work to replicate Odyssey’s groundbreaking two-generation approach to poverty elsewhere in Wisconsin, and beyond.


Additional Information

Additional information on the Odyssey Project can be found here.

Our Project

Education can be a springboard out of poverty, but barriers including costs, child care, and lack of mentoring and support can prevent access to this critical opportunity for many. Many Odyssey students are overcoming the obstacles of single parenthood, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, incarceration, depression, and domestic abuse. As one student wrote, “The Odyssey Project helped me unwrap my gifts and rewrite the story of my life.” The Odyssey Project enrolls 30 low-income students every year into a challenging humanities curriculum, where they study literature, philosophy, history, and art, gaining six credits in English from UW-Madison. Students receive free tuition, textbooks, childcare, and a weekly dinner through support from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, grants, and private donations. After the course, the Odyssey Project continues support and advising for those who continue their college educations.

Keena is pictured here with her two sons as she receives her bachelor’s from UW. When she joined Odyssey in 2009-2010, she was homeless and sleeping on the floor of a barbershop. After graduation, Keena accepted a management position at a national company, and she also has just gotten accepted into the Upstart program to become an entrepreneur herself. Her two sons participate in this year’s Odyssey Junior.
Tamara, a graduate of our Odyssey Class of 2016, and her five children, who all attend Odyssey. Tamara is a doula who hopes to continue her education and become a midwife. 2016.

The UW Odyssey Project is a program of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies.