UW-Madison’s UniverCity Alliance names Gavin Luter as director

Gavin Luter has been named director of the UniverCity Alliance at UW-Madison, which connects students and educators with communities to solve local challenges.

The Alliance, created in the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea, organizes the UniverCity Year program, which forged partnerships between UW-Madison and the city of Monona in 2016-17, Dane County in 2017-18 and, next year, Green County. In Monona, 23 UW-Madison classes worked on 30 projects, including parks and recreation, economic development and active transportation. In Dane County, 21 classes addressed challenge from water quality to housing.

The kickoff for UniverCity Year Green County will be August 21 at the Monroe High School Performing Arts Center.

“It is so clear to me that universities and colleges should be working alongside communities to solve their most vexing issues,” Luter says. “Not only do communities have a lot to gain from faculty, staff and students, but the university also has a lot to learn from these communities. Our knowledge is incomplete without working alongside people who are closest to the issues facing them.”

The UniverCity Alliance was established by campus leaders from units including the Global Health Institute (GHI), the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, the Morgridge Center for Public Service, COWS and others. Luter replaces Jason Vargo, a former GHI assistant scientist who moved to become a lead research scientist for the Climate Change and Health Equity Program at the California Department of Public Health.

“Gavin comes to the UniverCity Alliance with a lot of distinguished experience through Wisconsin Campus Compact and has excellent relations across the state, especially with other universities and colleges,” says Joel Rogers, director of UW-Madison’s COWS. “He is a boon for the UniverCity Alliance and UniverCity programs, and we are lucky to have him.”

Lori DiPrete Brown, an associate director at GHI, looks to Luter’s leadership to benefit Wisconsin communities. “Gavin’s vision for the program combines educational excellence and community impact,” she says. “With his leadership we can develop this program to make positive change for communities in Wisconsin, and to make local to global connections for a healthier more sustainable world.”

Luter most recently served as executive director of the Wisconsin Campus Compact, where he worked with universities and colleges to change institutional culture to support community-engaged policies and practices. He has published several peer-reviewed articles and served as guest editor of a peer-reviewed academic journal on community-school-university partnerships and the intersection of school reform and neighborhood development.

As part of his project work with the University at Buffalo Center for Urban Studies, Luter served as education planning director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhood initiative where he worked to secure over $16 million in commitments from 45 different philanthropic and higher education partners to create a neighborhood-linked education system.

“The UniverCity Alliance gets at the true nature of the Wisconsin Idea by working with local governments to ensure they can address issues most pressing to their citizens,” Luter says. “This is really about the university getting out of its traditional way of doing things and meeting people where they are.”

In addition to working with UW-Madison professors and students, the Alliance hopes to collaborate with other universities and colleges across the state. “The Wisconsin Idea is not only relevant to UW-Madison,” Luter says. “It’s a broader idea that colleges and universities should be more engaged in working with the community to solve issues.”

By Ann Grauvogl / May 16, 2018