‘Part of who I am:’ Earlise Ward continues public service after Morgridge Center departure

By Erin Gretzinger, Morgridge Center Communications

Following three years of dedicated service as the faculty director at the Morgridge Center for Public Service, Earlise Ward will be stepping down from the position at the end of the fall 2021 semester.

Photo of Earlise Ward

After the Morgridge Center says goodbye to Ward in the coming weeks, she will return to her full-time faculty duties at the School of Nursing and continue her research. With a grant review pending at the National Institute of Health, Ward plans to conduct a community-based participatory research project to develop a faith-based depression intervention program for African Americans.

“There’s just a wealth of knowledge that I gained in working at the Morgridge Center that I’m excited to take to the School of Nursing in ways that allow for us to grow as well,” Ward says.

Ward has been with the School of Nursing since 2007 and at UW–Madison since 2002. She received her doctorate in counseling psychology from UW–Madison, master’s degree from Brooklyn College, and bachelor’s degree from Baruch College. Ward started as the faculty director at the Morgridge Center in 2019 following the departure of political science faculty member Kathy Cramer. The Morgridge Center for Public Service is housed in the UW–Madison School of Education.

Ward was always drawn to public service, starting from a young age. Whether she was gathering groceries for her elderly neighbors as a child or working with community organizations in her early clinical internships, she continuously strived to further her involvement in the community.

“Seeing my parents doing community engagement, and then majoring in psychology and seeing the need for it, I was able to just continue to advance my education and training,” she says. “And the more I did that work, the more I realized that is just part of who I am.”

This passion for community engagement was part of the reason she came to UW–Madison in the first place to earn her PhD. She latched on to the principles of the Wisconsin Idea — which aims to connect UW–Madison to local, statewide, and global communities — and never looked back.

With the Wisconsin Idea in mind, she dove into community-based, participatory research at UW–Madison, which she has continued to do for the last 15 years. When she learned about the faculty director position, Ward saw a chance to bridge her passion for public service and background in community-based research at the Morgridge Center.

“I was thrilled to be selected for faculty director because I believe in the mission and vision of the Morgridge Center,” she says. “I see and appreciate the value of working with students so they can become their best civic selves and move on to living a life where they’re able to make contributions regionally and nationally.”

One of Ward’s biggest projects during her time as faculty director was bringing the Morgridge Center’s civic action plan to life. At the directive of Chancellor Rebecca Blank in 2017, the Morgridge Center was tasked with developing and implementing nine recommendations to strengthen civic and community engagement on campus.

Ward was instrumental in changing the tenure and promotion process to institutionalize support for community-engaged scholarship and research — a major step forward in the civic action plan.

She reviewed community engagement curriculum developed by professional staff members to better educate students, staff, and faculty on how to equitably work with community partners and ensure mutually beneficial outcomes. Ward played another key role by growing the Morgridge Center’s Board of Advisors.

As she prepares to part ways with the Morgridge Center, Ward aims to wrap up one of her research projects in collaboration with graduate project assistant CC Vang that focuses on better understanding the experiences of underrepresented racial and ethnic minority students’ in civic engagement on campus.

“I launched the study with the goal of being able to partner with [underrepresented] students in ways that are more aligned with what they’re wanting and to be able to support them so that they can get as great of benefits as other students,” Ward says.

The study’s primary focus is to improve the programs housed in the Morgridge Center while also helping other departments plan strategically and strengthen civic engagement efforts across campus. Ward will continue her work on the project through the spring, when she anticipates the findings will be ready to present.

Looking to the future, one of Ward’s hopes is that more underrepresented students engage with the Morgridge Center’s programs and further the creation of an inclusive environment at the Red Gym.

Though she is sad to leave the Morgridge Center, Ward is thrilled to bring all she has learned to her colleagues and community-based research — excited to continue her work in public service for years to come.

“The opportunity to come to the Morgridge Center and walk in the footsteps of campus leaders was just a truly awesome experience,” she says. “An experience that I will always feel blessed to have.”