UW Odyssey Project launches free education initiative for veterans

Dominique Christian with her U.S. Army personnel, standing in a group and smiling in uniforms

This article is part of a series of articles celebrating 20 years of the Odyssey Project. Follow along as we remember where we’ve been and look forward to where we’re going.

Army veteran and alum of the UW Odyssey Project, a jumpstart college course, Joe Robinson was a star athlete in high school but didn’t think he had the grades to get into college. He joined the Army but came home four years later without the skills or education he desired to pursue a career.

“The transition from military life back into the civilian world is a lot more difficult than most people realize,” Robinson says. “As an alum of the Odyssey Project, I can attest that Odyssey is life-changing in so many ways. The opportunity to have a program that plants a seed to pursue higher education is such a blessing. The resources that Odyssey provides would benefit any veteran.”

In fall 2023, veterans will benefit from a program tailored to them: Odyssey Beyond Wars.

Joe Robinson, sitting with peers in an Odyssey classes, writing on paper
Joe Robinson, U.S. Army veteran and UW Odyssey Project alum.

This UW–Madison two-semester program will serve veterans who might be challenged by their transition to civilian life, are looking for an engaged community of peers and would like to further their education. Graduates will earn 6 transferable college credits at no cost and without using veteran benefits.

Odyssey Beyond Wars focuses on reading and writing in the humanities as a way for students to process their military experience and adjust to civilian life. Through discussions of texts ranging from classics to modern veteran writers, thinkers, artists and musicians, the program will provide veterans context for their lived experiences and the sense of camaraderie and common purpose that many miss in their post-service lives – elements often essential for veterans’ post-secondary success.

“Odyssey could also benefit from engaging with veterans because we demonstrate appreciation, affiliation and loyalty towards those who support our lived experience,” adds Odyssey and UW–Madison alum and Army veteran Dominique Christian. “As agents for social good, veterans consistently demonstrate goodwill through civic engagement, volunteerism, philanthropic activities and contributions to our communities. Odyssey Beyond Wars fills a gap for many veterans who are left behind after discharge.”

Dominque Christian standing in cap and gown with her children
Dominique Christian, UW Odyssey Project and UW-Madison alum, with her children at her graduation from the master’s in social work program.

Odyssey Beyond Wars will meet weekly at the South Madison Partnership Space on Park Street. During class sessions, students will engage in lively discussions inspired by literature, philosophy, art, film and music. They’ll also share their writing, building confidence and community as well as critical thinking skills.

“In the Odyssey Beyond Wars classroom, discussing everything from ancient philosophy to Shakespearean drama and from modern art to music, veterans can recapture the sense of community they’ve been missing,” says Erin Celello, Odyssey Beyond Wars program director. “They can discover they’re not alone in the battle of adjusting to civilian life, or the classroom. And they can realize that their dreams, and voice, matter.”

Odyssey Beyond Wars provides textbooks and supplies, including technology, childcare and enrichment for children and grandchildren, a weekly pre-class dinner, assistance with transportation needs, tutoring, support from success coaches, and access to Onward Odyssey – tuition-free alumni courses in subjects such as history, sociology, theater and English.

All military veterans age 18+, regardless of time in service, deployment history, disability status or discharge status, are encouraged to apply. Preference will be given to applicants facing financial need and/or other significant barriers. Applications are open and due May 1, 2023, for fall 2023.

“Odyssey Beyond Wars is an excellent resource for military veterans attempting to adapt to life after serving our country,” Robinson says. “As an Army veteran that served back in the 80s, I would have benefited tremendously from a program like Odyssey. The men and women of the Armed Forces sacrifice not only their personal life, but their families sacrifice as well. Odyssey is a resource for the entire family.”

Visit the Odyssey Beyond Wars website to learn more and apply. Contact Erin Celello at 608-286-5549 or erin.celello@wisc.edu with questions.

Odyssey Beyond Wars is part of the UW Odyssey Project, which for more than two decades has empowered students facing significant challenges to pursue higher education to overcome those obstacles, find their voices and reframe their futures.

Top photo: Dominique Christian, UW Odyssey Project and UW-Madison alum and Army veteran, center.