Odyssey Project brings families together while tearing educational barriers apart


The Odyssey Project helps low-income adults overcome barriers to higher education, starting with a transformative humanities class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It also addresses other barriers, from the material to the psychological. For instance, it helps local mom Asha Green find confidence and resilience when the going gets especially tough.

With only a high school education, Green found that many doors were closed to her when it came to finding work and caring for her family. Now, with Odyssey by her side, they are starting to open.

“Odyssey has opened up so many doors that I didn’t even know were out there for young people going back to school,” she told her daughter Aszhianna in a recent video (see below).

At first, the thought of taking a college course made Green nervous. She wondered if she was ready. She didn’t want to fail. But once she got started, these concerns melted away. Green saw that teachers like Prof. Emily Auerbach, Odyssey director and cofounder, were not going to let her founder.

“They have given me strength. I have belief in myself, belief that I can conquer anything,” she says.

The healing power of the humanities

Green is not alone. According to a recent survey, graduates of the 15-year-old program are more likely to attend college. Many of the 400-plus participants have overcome struggles with poverty and incarceration. Almost all envision a brighter future for themselves and their loved ones.

Odyssey’s efforts to smash barriers extend to these loved ones as well. A program called Odyssey Junior ensures that Odyssey students’ kids and grandkids have a place to go when classes are happening. It also brings the program’s curriculum—with works by greats ranging from Abe Lincoln to Toni Morrison—to entire families, amplifying the learning.

Many of these history-makers will appear at Odyssey’s pre-Halloween fundraiser, Night of the Living Humanities, Oct. 26 at the University Club. It’s a chance for Odyssey students and donors to mingle and dress up as some of their favorite writers, artists, and philosophers.

For details on Night of the Living Humanities, or to register, go here. To learn more about the Odyssey project, go here.