Bold Teacher Pledge program one highlight of new Impact 2030 initiative

Impact 2030 is an ambitious initiative designed to dramatically strengthen our already highly regarded School of Education. Thanks to generous donors who are backing these efforts, Impact 2030 is helping us push the boundaries of innovation, research, and creativity over the next decade leading up to the School of Education’s centennial in 2030. Join us on the leading edge of redefining what’s possible.

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School districts across the state and around the country are struggling to find enough qualified teachers — and these staffing challenges are growing.

In an effort to help bolster Wisconsin’s teacher workforce and give the state’s schoolchildren access to the high-quality educators they deserve, the UW–Madison School of Education publicly launched a bold new program on Aug. 18.

Winter 2020-21 Learning Connections coverIt’s called the UW–Madison School of Education Wisconsin Teacher Pledge and it went into effect for the start of the 2020 fall semester. The Teacher Pledge is open to all participating teacher education students — and is the first program of its kind offered by a public university.

Here’s how it works: The initiative “pledges” to provide financial support — including up to in-state tuition, fees, and testing certification costs — for students enrolled in one of the School’s teacher education programs. For teacher education students with greater financial need, the program can provide funds to cover additional costs, such as books or living expenses.

In return, after graduating the students “pledge” to teach for three or four years at a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school in Wisconsin. Students who go on to teach in a high-need district or in a high-need subject area will fulfill their obligation in three years, while all others will do so in four. Over the next five years, the Teacher Pledge is expected to support more than 1,500 students in the School’s teacher education programs.

“It’s so easy to lament huge problems like teacher shortages and the lack of special educators in rural areas,” says Melinda Leko, chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education. “But the Teacher Pledge is actually a tangible step toward solutions.”

“Teachers have the incredible responsibility of educating our youth, preparing them for the future, and inspiring a lifelong love of learning,” says Carolyn Stanford Taylor, Wisconsin’s state superintendent of public instruction. “It is important to commit to programs like the Teacher Pledge to recruit the next generation of Wisconsin educators.”


The program, which is being funded with $18 million in donor support, is also designed to help the School of Education attract and retain diverse cohorts of students who are dedicated to becoming educators across Wisconsin.

“The Teacher Pledge will help ensure that talented and com- mitted students — regardless of their economic backgrounds — have the financial support needed to become teachers,” says School of Education Dean Diana Hess.

The Teacher Pledge is just one part of the School of Education’s ambitious new Impact 2030 initiative that’s designed to build upon the School’s excellence and its efforts to serve Wisconsin and beyond over the next 10 years. Impact 2030, which is being made possible with $40 million in donor support, is centering its efforts across four pillars leading up to the School’s centennial in 2030:


As the School of Education challenges its students to change the world, it realizes they need support to do so. The School is significantly increasing its scholarship and fellowship packages, and utilizing a new strategic plan for equity, diversity, and inclusion to better attract and serve students from groups that are historically under-represented at UW–Madison.


The goal is to provide the very best, high-impact educational experiences for students across the School’s 10 departments so they can become equity-oriented agents of change and productive citizens who embody the Wisconsin Idea. The School is innovating beyond its classroom walls by putting new resources into developing the highest quality online and hybrid learning experiences that the COVID-19 crisis accentuated a need for. The School is also committed to helping undergraduates become involved with cutting-edge research projects, is creating and expanding in-person and virtual paid internship options, and refocusing its vital global education and engagement strategies.


Faculty members are central to the School’s success as dedicated educators, ground- breaking researchers, and vital mentors to the next generation. The School is committed to recruiting top academics with diverse backgrounds who are dedicated to scholar- ship, teaching, and service that embraces and engages the full measure of the diversity of society. As part of these new efforts, the School is committing significant resources over the next decade to a new faculty fellowship program that provides flexible funding to further faculty research and scholarship. The School is also establishing new professorships and chairs through Impact 2030 and a campus-wide Morgridge Match program.


These efforts are centered on the new Teacher Pledge program.


“There are many ingredients that go into building and maintaining a top-ranked School of Education,” says UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “World-renowned faculty. Great students. Leaders who foster a culture of innovation. And cut- ting-edge scholarship. Impact 2030 will allow us to make import- ant investments in all of these areas to ensure that the School of Education remains one of the best in the country. I am grateful to the alumni and friends who support our mission, and who believe — as we do — in the power of education to change lives.”

While some aspects of Impact 2030 will evolve and grow over the next decade, the launch of the initiative in August paid immediate and substantial dividends for faculty, staff, and students across the School, including:

Bridge to Success Scholarships: To better support students experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 crisis, the School established the Bridge to Success scholarship program. The first round of scholarships, for students taking Summer Term courses, supported 367 scholars with $1.34 million in scholarships. A second round of funding for the 2020 fall semester helped 502 students with $1.04 million in support. These scholarships were funded via a legacy gift to the School that was doubled utilizing Impact 2030 Morgridge Match funds.

Tech Equity Program: With many classes being moved online or utilizing a hybrid of online and in-person sessions due to the coronavirus, the School provided students in need of laptops or better internet connectivity with assistance. Through this program, the School provided 35 computers and 55 mobile hotspot devices to provide connectivity to the internet.

Teaching Innovation Grants: Across the School, 82 instructors teaching classes this fall received financial support to invest additional time reconfiguring or converting their courses to high-quality online or hybrid modes, or to physically distanced face-to-face instruction. The School provided pedagogical and instructional design support, as well as technological help in the form of software and/or equipment when needed.

Faculty Fellows: The School announced a new faculty fellow- ship program in August, with these fellowships providing flexible funding over five years to further a faculty member’s research and scholarship. The first nine faculty fellows were announced in August, with even more to be awarded by 2030.

Real Talk for Real Change: At a time when the School is committing to be a leader on issues related to equity, diversity, and inclusion, a new Real Talk for Real Change symposia series was launched. The series is open to the public and focuses on critical issues of racial justice in education by centering the voices of UW–Madison scholars of color and community members. The series was made possible, in part, utilizing Impact 2030 funds.

Teacher Pledge: For the fall semester, 166 students are utilizing the Teacher Pledge, a number that is expected to grow in the years to come.

Schools around Wisconsin, like those elsewhere in the country, continue to face staffing challenges. One way to measure this issue is by examining the number of teachers working in classrooms who are not professionally trained for their position. In Wisconsin, there were 2,863 emergency teacher licenses issued by the Department of Public Instruction for the 2018-19 academic year — a 180 percent increase from the 1,021 administered in 2012-13.

While these challenges are hitting both rural areas of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee School District especially hard, most districts across the state are utilizing teachers on emergency licensure to fill gaps in at least some high-need areas, such as special education, bilingual education, and STEM fields.

Kara Grajkowski
Kara Grajkowski is utilizing the Teacher Pledge as she pursues dual certification in elementary and special education.

In addition, enrollment in teacher preparation programs both nationally and in Wisconsin has declined by about one-third since 2010, according to U.S. Department of Education figures. Low starting pay, coupled with student debt, can make teaching a tough career choice for young people. The Teacher Pledge program is designed to help alleviate these stressors so all students can consider a future as a teacher.

“Knowing I have this financial support, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I can breathe and can focus on the students I’m teaching,” says UW–Madison senior Kara Grajkowski, who is utilizing the Teacher Pledge as she pursues dual certification in elementary education and special education. She plans to teach in Milwaukee after graduating.

Similarly, while young teachers are leaving the profession at high rates after only a year or two on the job, the Teacher Pledge incentivizes teachers to stay on the job for at least three or four years.

“Teachig is a very difficult job, especially early on,” says Hess, who began her education career as a high school social studies teacher in Downers Grove, Illinois, in 1979. “We feel if teachers stick with it, they will start to see the value they bring and enjoy the important work they are doing.”

Researchers at UW–Madison are studying the Teacher Pledge closely and will be sharing key findings to help aid efforts around Wisconsin and across the nation in building a more diverse and effective teacher workforce. The initiative is being examined through the university’s Student Success Through Applied Research (SSTAR) Lab that is led by Nicholas Hillman, an associate professor with the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.

“We’re knee deep in getting the data infrastructure in place so we can monitor and provide feedback to help the program improve over time,” Hillman says of the early stages of the research. “Student debt is a big issue nationwide, so this program will help us learn valuable insights into the effects debt has on students but also on the best ways to administer loan and loan forgiveness programs.”

From a vision … to a ‘winner’

Thanks to the generosity of donors and friends, in November 2017 the School of Education met its fundraising goal of $65 million — about three years ahead of schedule — for the All Ways Forward campaign that the university launched in 2015. Even before that goal was met, Dean Diana Hess, Betsy Burns, the School’s senior director of development, and Jim Thompson, then chair of the School’s Board of Visitors, starting thinking about what to do next.

Although the All Ways Forward campaign was scheduled to run through at least 2020, no serious thought was given to simply re-setting the fundraising goal and continuing on.

Jim Thompson

“I remember we weren’t thinking about dollars — but what could be done to excite faculty, staff, and students across the School, plus the communities the School serves,” says Thompson, a 1973 graduate of UW–Madison with a degree in agricultural economics. Thompson retired after a successful career as an executive with Cargill Inc. and The Mosaic Company. His strong tie to the School of Education is that both of his parents are alums who made significant impacts in the state as leading educators. His mother, Barbara Thompson, served from 1973 to 1981 as the Superintendent of Public Instruction of Wisconsin, becoming the first woman to be elected to that post.

Over the next year, Hess brought together School leadership, department chairs, the Board of Visitors, which serves as an external advisory body, and other stakeholders to share ideas and rank priorities about initiatives to pursue next.

“It was such a collaborative process with all these groups thinking big about both needs and opportunities moving for- ward,” said Professor Adam Nelson, who during this period was chairing the Department of Educational Policy Studies and today co-directs the School’s Global Education Office.

“Diana was visionary in the things she thought should be priorities and then it became a dialogue and a process that got us to Impact 2030,” says Thompson, who wrapped up his tenure on the Board this past summer. “We’d identify possibilities, first as individuals and then in groups of two, and then in small groups — trying to figure out what was most important and could have the most impact on the School and the communities it serves.” In June of 2018, Thompson and Hess attended the Ameri- can Family Insurance Championship, a pro golf tournament at UW–Madison’s University Ridge Golf Course.

“If you’ve ever attended a golf tournament, you know the action can be a little slow and it’s a great opportunity to talk,” says Hess.

“That’s where Diana started talking about the Teacher Pledge,” says Thompson, who walked the entire course with Hess that day. “Sometimes just by chatting you think about different ideas and start to dream — and through that dreaming process we started some really good conversations about the Teacher Pledge.”

In December 2018, UW alumni Tashia (1955, education) and John (1955, business) Morgridge provided a lead gift to the Impact 2030 initiative. Over the next year, a small group of donors joined the Morgridges in making leadership gifts, allowing Impact 2030 to become a reality.

“As individuals we can’t stop global warming and we can’t stop pandemics — but we can get kids in this country educated,” alumna Susan and James Patterson said of why they supported Impact 2030 as lead donors. “Teachers save lives.”

A major, in-person launch party was scheduled for April 2, 2020. But the COVID-19 pandemic shut those plans down. Instead, the School launched Impact 2030 virtually on Aug. 18 — with a website (, videos, social media and email campaigns, and more.

“Diana deserves kudos for her vision behind this,” says Thompson. “But she’d be the first to tell you there was a multitude of people who made this possible — from faculty and staff, to the development team working with donors, to central campus and Chancellor Blank, to Mike Knetter and the UW Foundation. I love how it all came together, and how comprehensive the initiative is. It’s just a winner in every way.”

Strengthening student scholarships

One pillar of the School’s Impact 2030 initiative is a focus on providing significantly more scholarship funding and fellow- ship packages to recruit and support both undergraduate and graduate students.

While the Teacher Pledge went into effect for the fall 2020 semester and other initiatives designed to bolster student sup- port are being strategically developed, many young scholars from across the School found themselves in immediate need of help following the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. In April 2020, a team of faculty and staff — under the leadership of Lesley Bartlett, a professor with the Department of Educational Policy Studies — made individual calls to over 1,500 undergraduate and graduate students to check in and identify their barriers to success in this environment.

During these Community Wellness check-ins, faculty and staff asked students about: adequacy of access to the internet and devices needed to complete coursework that had moved online; potential delays in progress toward graduation due to the pandemic; and financial and/or food insecurity concerns, among other questions. Student responses were logged via a survey, and members of the Wisconsin Evaluation Collaborative, housed within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, analyzed the data and trends.

Trang Diem Tran
Trang Diem Tran, a master’s degree student with the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, received a Bridge to Success scholarship to help overcome financial hardship brought on by COVID-19.

Many students reported that their employment had been canceled during a period when there were already high levels of unemployment — leaving them uncertain as to how they would support themselves through the summer and beyond. In addition, more than a quarter of students reported they were unsure or already knew that they would need to extend the length of their academic program to graduate. The check-ins also showed that international students and students of color were often disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

As a result of the calls and through private support from the School’s Impact 2030 initiative, the School was able to provide $2.38 million in emergency support, in the form of Bridge to Success scholarships, to 869 students over the summer and fall semesters. Trang Diem Tran, a student with the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and an emergency scholarship recipient, expressed her gratitude.

“I am deeply appreciative of this support from School of Edu- cation alumni and friends, and especially for your empathy and dedication to help students in these challenging times,” said Tran, who is pursuing her master’s degree. “The financial assistance provided was of great help to me in paying my summer educational expenses as my daughter and I were facing the financial hardship brought on by COVID-19.”

Added Jessica McQueston: “When COVID began in March, I was in the middle of data collection with my dissertation in a K-12 school and planned to graduate in May. With the ongoing school closures, I needed to start an entirely new dissertation and extend my program by at least two semesters. Thanks to the financial support I received this summer and fall from the Bridge to Success scholarship, I have been able to continue pursuing my PhD in special education. As a first-generation college student, your support means so much.”

School leadership is currently engaging its stakeholders to think about how best to initiate additional scholarship programs. These efforts are centering on the School’s commitment to new student support initiatives that can most effectively grow undergraduate enrollment and continue the School’s upward enrollment trend among targeted minority, Pell grant eligible, and first-generation college students who enroll and successfully matriculate through programs across the arts, health, and education fields.

In concert with scholarship funding to alleviate financial burdens, these new pro- grams will also build in additional academic and social supports designed to strengthen academic success.

“These efforts are going to allow us to recruit and support the very best students from all backgrounds,” says Nelson, with the Department of Educational Policy Studies and the Global Engagement Office. “From a department standpoint, this is very exciting.”

Transformational and innovative learning experiences

Another pillar of Impact 2030 centers on the School’s commitment to providing trans- formational and innovative learning experiences for students.

The Adapted Fitness program run through the Department of Kinesiology is an example of how faculty and staff across the School are innovating beyond the classroom walls, while educating and empowering students to be equity-oriented agents of change. Led by Distinguished Faculty Associate Tim Gattenby, the program helps both adults and children from the community with a range of disabilities establish a healthier lifestyle, become more independent, enhance functional fitness, and participate in sports and other recreational activities. The Adapted Fitness and Personal Training classes offered through the Department of Kinesiology serve a diverse population — including clients with permanent and temporary disabilities, as well as individuals who are interested in weight loss and stress management.

Tim Gattenby
Distinguished Faculty Associate Tim Gattenby, who heads the Adapted Fitness program, has spent more than three decades helping people with a range of abilities find new and innovative ways to stay active.

During more traditional times, the pro- gram serves about 100 clients, as Gattenby and his colleagues train and utilize more than 250 UW–Madison student volunteers who are essential to the success of the program. Each client the program serves works closely with two to four students, forming a “fitness team.”

“We are training students in kinesiology who are going to go on to medical school or be physician assistants, and occupational and physical therapists — and this experience is opening their eyes to what is possible for their patients,” says Gattenby, who has spent more than three decades helping people with a range of abilities find new and innovative ways to stay active.

As part of the School’s Impact 2030 initiative, UW–Madi- son alumni Ginny (1978, physical education) and Mike (1978, engineering) Conway made a generous major gift to make sure the Adapted Fitness program will have dedicated space in the new UW Natatorium, which is scheduled to open in 2023 following the demolition of the current Nat, which got underway this past fall. The Conways are passionate about the work being done by Gattenby and his colleagues, and this support — plus generous backing from the university — will assure there is a new, state-of-the-art Adapted Fitness space that will not only better serve clients from the community, but continue to provide incredible training and leadership experiences for students.

Until the disruptive nature of the COVID- 19 pandemic created new realities, work conducted by Gattenby and his students was done in face-to-face settings, typically at the UW Natatorium. Since the onset of the pandemic, the Adapted Fitness program overhauled how it operates, moving most consultations/projects online until it’s safer to return to in-person activities.

“I’ve seen lots of negative press about education faltering due to the distance learning methods that many have adapted to,” says Gattenby. “I believe that we are actually doing the opposite — and thriving as instructors and students.”

While COVID-19 restrictions have limited the number of clients currently being served to around 65, once the new Natatorium opens the Adapted Fitness program is expected to grow to the point where it can serve 150 clients, utilizing more than 300 UW–Madison students.

In addition, the School’s Impact 2030 initiative is also committed to helping undergraduates become involved with cutting-edge research projects, and is creating and expanding valuable in-per- son and virtual paid internship options.

“The funding to support paid internships is going to be a game changer for preparing our undergraduate and graduate students to be competitive in the workforce,” says Leko, who chairs RPSE. The School is also refocusing its vital global engagement strategies and, once it’s safe again to travel internationally, growing the number of study abroad opportunities tied to one’s major. “Though some of our work related to study abroad, and

international research and travel, isn’t currently allowed due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, bolstering our global engagement strategies remains an important aspect of Impact 2030 — and our commitment to providing transformational and innovative learning experiences for our students,” says Hess. “These efforts are more important now than ever, and the Global Engagement Office will play an important role in strengthening our historic emphasis on global connections.”

Bolstering faculty support

Faculty members are central to the School’s success as dedicated educators, groundbreaking researchers, and vital mentors to the next generation.

The School remains committed to recruiting top academics with diverse backgrounds who are dedicated to scholarship, teaching, and service that embraces and engages the full measure of the diversity of our society.

One highlight of Impact 2030’s efforts to further support faculty doing outstanding work is the launch of a new faculty fellows program that provides flexible funding over five years to further a faculty member’s research and scholarship. The School announced the first nine fellows this fall, with even more to be awarded by 2030.

“The faculty fellows are so impactful because these awards are providing support for faculty in the middle of their careers,” says Leko. “There often is a good deal of sup- port available for faculty members when they are first starting out, but the faculty fellows program is a really special way to honor faculty across the School of Education who are becoming leaders in their field.”

In addition, the School will be establishing new professorships and chairs through Impact 2030 and a campus-wide Morgridge Match program.

“Overall, Impact 2030 is such a big and exciting initiative that as a whole it generates a new level of excitement not only within our School, but across UW, in Wisconsin, around the country — and eventually around the world,” says Nelson. “It lifts everything we do in the School of Education to a whole new level.”

Adds Hess: “As the No. 1-ranked public school of education in the nation, we look to the future with a sense of optimism and a belief in big ideas. Our commitment to pursuing some of society’s biggest questions in the arts, health, and education has never been stronger. We’re excited about redefining what is possible.”