UW Outreach Celebrates the Global Heritages of Wisconsin

On June 27, 2015 the Wisconsin International Outreach Consortium (WIOC) hosted Exploring Global Stories Locally: Migration Histories, Children’s Literature, and Wisconsin Experiences in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC) College of Education and Human Sciences. The workshop took place in Fall River, Wisconsin and included several lectures focused around the most prominent immigrant groups in western Wisconsin. The goal of the workshop was to provide educators with information about global cultures as well as with techniques and resources to help express and appreciate the Polish, Norwegian, Hmong, Mexican and Central American heritages that are common in the area.

WIOC is a support network that promotes international and global awareness throughout Wisconsin communities. Several departments within the UW-Madison International Division are affiliated with WIOC, including the Center for Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia and the Center for South Asia. The international and area studies centers that comprise WIOC build on their region-specific public outreach programming by jointly developing high-impact workshops for Wisconsin K-12 and postsecondary educators on themes that cross regional boundaries. Assistant Director of the Center for South Asia Rachel Weiss, who helped organize Exploring Global Stories Locally, explains, “The goal of this workshop was to go beyond Dane County, to connect with smaller school districts and collaborate with schools of education in those areas in order to reach both current and future teachers.”

Weiss worked with Jill Prushiek, associate dean of the UWEC College of Education and Human Sciences, to understand how WIOC could help educators in western Wisconsin. Prushiek surveyed teachers in UWEC’s network of school districts and discovered “a desire to learn more about the history and culture of many students from underrepresented populations moving into their districts.” Prushiek elaborates, “Teachers in these districts are seeing a more diversified student body and want to better serve the needs of their students.”

Photo credit: Rachel Weiss.
Photo credit: Rachel Weiss.

The day-long workshop included lectures revolving around the immigrant groups who have settled in western and northern Wisconsin. “A variety of experts brought to life the history and migration stories of Hmong, Polish, Mexicans, and Norwegians among other groups,” summarizes Prushiek.

Historic preservation consultant Susan Mikoś presented on the history of Polish immigrants to Wisconsin. Mikoś, author of Poles in Wisconsin, explained the aspects of Polish heritage that immigrants brought to Wisconsin and also read excerpts from the memoir of Maciej Wojda, who emigrated from Poland to Milwaukee in the 1860s.

The day concluded with a keynote by author Karen Lynn Williams, who led a writing workshop focused on teaching exercises and narrative practices for immigrant storytelling. “Williams’ session explored how to tell local-global stories. She provided techniques that could be applied in a range of settings, from kindergarten through high school,” Weiss summarizes. Weiss emphasizes the importance of such methods, because “there are many global stories even within these rural communities.”

In total, 47 educators participated in the workshop, including four college instructors and 43 elementary and secondary school educators. Participants represented several communities and school districts in western and central Wisconsin, including Altoona, Augusta, Eleva-Strum, Fall Creek, Gilmanton, Madison, Mondovi, and Osseo-Fairchild. UWEC offered one graduate credit at no cost to each participant who successfully completed the program. “The Wisconsin Historical Society was also incredibly generous,” Weiss notes. Through joint sponsorships and donations, participants received copies of Williams’ books and other educational resources.

Photo credit: Rachel Weiss.
Photo credit: Rachel Weiss.

In response to the workshop, one participant exclaimed, “I’m more motivated than ever to get to know my students and their family stories!”

Prushiek is also enthusiastic about UWEC’s partnership with WIOC. “I can’t say enough about the impact this workshop had on area teachers,” she enthused. “Collaborating with WIOC was incredible. All participants hope that another workshop sponsored by WIOC will be offered next summer. They were engaged, motivated and inspired!”

This workshop is part of a broader effort to partner with school districts and postsecondary institutions in rural areas throughout Wisconsin. Resources provided by WIOC are vital in such rural areas. Weiss explains, “There is a dire need to support rural schools, because rural schools are experiencing tremendous financial cuts.” Both Weiss and Prushiek emphasize that rural schools have increasingly limited resources to devote to professional development. Prushiek elaborates, “The majority of school districts outside the city of Eau Claire are rural and rely on the university for professional development support.” As such, WIOC is organizing workshops in partnership with UWEC, UW-La Crosse, Carthage College and Alverno College to provide much-needed professional development opportunities to the rural areas surrounding these institutions.

Weiss is currently organizing the next WIOC workshop for summer 2016 in partnership with the School District of La Crosse. Educators there have expressed an interest in expanding their global studies curricula, so WIOC is planning a workshop focused on specific methods and strategies for elementary and secondary school teachers to incorporate international themes into their curricula.

For further information about WIOC and updates on future workshops, visit the WIOC website.