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New UW program pairs students with city staff to finish improvement projects

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MONONA (WKOW) -- A new, pilot program at UW-Madison is giving the city of Monona some help on improvement projects that were put on the back burner.

UniverCity Year is a partnership that pairs college students studying city planning and other related coursework with communities in the area. The first city to sign on to the program is Monona.

City planner Sonja Reichertz says Monona is spending $50-thousand on UniverCity, which focuses on four areas: housing and economic development, improving the city's parks, connecting Monona online, and making biking and walking routes more accessible. 

It's a year-long partnership that's helping the city get some extra work done and helping students learn skills they need on the job.

"[We picked] projects that are maybe a little bit more complex and were stuck, just because they're not a day-to-day priority, not a lot of staff time," says Reichertz. "So getting those front of the project things out of the way allows us to move forward with the project more quickly, I think, with some real progress on these things quicker than we would have expected."

Sydney Prusak, a UW grad student working toward her urban planning masters degree, is an intern at the city of Monona and also is working on the housing and economic development team. She says it's great experience.

"Being able to talk to Monona staff and have them tell our class what they want, what deliverables they'd like to see, it's just giving me more experience for the real world, because what we do will impact the community, when normal academic settings, it just impacts our grade," she says.

By the end of the year, the city is hoping to have made progress on things like: how many people are riding bicycles and where in the city, along with which paths need improvement; a database to transfer the city's paper records to electronic recordkeeping; strategies and recommendations based on a 2007 strategic housing plan; and proposals from students on commercial redevelopment projects.

UniverCity Year is modeled after a similar initiative at the University of Oregon. The program is already accepting applications for their next community partner for the following year.

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