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Cramer named interim director of UW's Morgridge Center for Public Service

April 30, 2014
by Todd Finkelmeyer

Kathy Cramer, whose academic work is steeped in providing service learning experiences for students and examining ways that UW-Madison can build stronger relationships with those outside of campus, has been named interim director of the university’s Morgridge Center for Public Service.

Kathy Cramer“Leading the Morgridge Center will be a privilege and an incredible opportunity to help the university live up to the aspirations of the Wisconsin Idea and the principle that those at UW-Madison should help improve people’s lives beyond the classroom,” says Cramer, a professor with UW-Madison’s Department of Political Science.

The Morgridge Center advances the Wisconsin Idea by developing and promoting civic engagement and learning through service within local, national and global communities. Although the Morgridge Center for Public Service has been administratively housed within the School of Education since the fall of 2011, it has a campus-wide mission and serves as a central hub for public service, academic service-learning, community-based research and engaged scholarship.

“Kathy has been very active in engaged scholarship and her scholarship includes work on understanding the Wisconsin Idea,” says School of Education Dean Julie Underwood, who appointed Cramer to the director’s post. “We are grateful for her willingness to step up and fill this important position.”

Cramer will begin her new position June 16. The appointment is for one year, and is renewable. Current director Nancy Mathews will step down from her post in June after recently accepting the position of Dean at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources.

“I am thrilled to know that the leadership of the Morgridge Center will be in the capable hands of Kathy Cramer,” says Mathews. “Kathy brings a wealth of experience and has a deep understanding of the center's mission, vision and values. Great things are going to happen under her leadership.”

As a political scientist, Cramer studies the way people in the United States make sense of politics and their place in it. Since 2001, and with the help of the Morgridge Center, she has run a service learning class -- Political Science 425: Citizenship, Democracy and Difference. This course is designed to cause her students to reflect on what it means to be better citizens. In an effort to go beyond textbooks and gain a more contextualized understanding of these topics, students in the course conduct service work in the Madison community each week with a non-profit organization or government agency.

“Students from the university are out in the community, helping kids with homework and playing games with youth in after-school programs and community centers,” explains Cramer. “So not only are our students helping in the community, but they are getting a direct experience learning about issues such as poverty, homelessness and the achievement gap. These lessons are much more meaningful and real than if we had just sat around and talked about these issues in class.”

Starting in 2008, Cramer also spent three years working as a faculty research scholar with the Morgridge Center, which allowed her to spend time studying the effects of service learning on campus, among other topics.

Cramer also is known for her innovative approach to the study of public opinion. Between 2007 and 2012, she spent time crisscrossing the state to meet with people in informal social settings to talk with them about UW-Madison.  Her report, “The Distance from Public Institutions of Higher Education: Public Perceptions of UW-Madison,” highlighted how some people across Wisconsin weren’t recognizing the ways in which those associated with the university were dedicated to making an impact in communities.

“One of the big lessons I learned was how much people across the state love this university, while at the same time many feel disconnected from it,” says Cramer. “I see this job as an opportunity to better connect the community -– whether that be locally, across the state or globally -– to our campus.”

Cramer, who earned her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 2000, is also an affiliate member of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the La Follette School of Public Affairs, the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology and the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education.

“The Morgridge Center has been near and dear to my heart,” says Cramer. “It has allowed me to do my job in a way that incorporates public service in my teaching and research. I feel so privileged to be a steward of the Morgridge’s generosity.”

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