Odyssey Project receives $1 million match from Pleasant Rowland Foundation

Mother holding her son and standing next to Bucky with a big smile on her face

UW–Madison’s award-winning Odyssey Project has received its largest donation to date: a $1 million gift from the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. The gift to the Odyssey Future Fund will support the program’s long-term sustainability and comes as a challenge match: Any donations made to the Odyssey Future Fund by December 31, 2023, will be matched up to $1 million, creating a $2 million endowment.

Rowland, a former classroom teacher who created American Girl and developed reading and language arts programs used nationwide, shared her admiration for the program: “Odyssey’s impact extends far beyond the classroom, as its graduates become active and engaged citizens who contribute meaningfully to their communities. I am honored to be able to support the Odyssey Project, and I hope that this will inspire others to join me in changing lives and building a brighter future for all.”

headshot of Pleasant T. Rowland
Pleasant Rowland

The Odyssey Project takes a whole family approach to breaking the cycle of generational poverty through access to education, giving adult and youth learners a voice, and increasing confidence through reading, writing and speaking. 

“We now have six parts of our program: the original Odyssey course, Onward Odyssey, Odyssey Junior, Odyssey Senior, Odyssey Beyond Bars in Wisconsin prisons and Odyssey Beyond Wars for veterans,” said Odyssey Director Emily Auerbach. “I cried when Pleasant Rowland told me the news. This gift will help build the foundation to support our future growth.”

The UW Odyssey Project celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2023. More than 600 students have completed the humanities jumpstart program since its inception in 2003, with alumni going on to receive associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. This fall will see the first Odyssey alumnus begin UW Law School, while others study for medical school and attend graduate school. 

“Because of all the love and support through Odyssey, I have changed the cycle of poverty in my family, and my children are doing the same,” said Tineisha Scott, alumna of Odyssey’s first year who earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and became a therapist. “No more generational poverty! For that, I owe it to all the kind people in Odyssey who touched my life, believed in me and supported my life journey.” 

For more information, visit odyssey.wisc.edu.