Public service has long been one of UW-Madison’s premier traditions and missions, and continues today, with the guiding principle of the Wisconsin Idea. The Wisconsin Idea inspires members of the campus community to improve people’s lives through research, teaching, outreach, and pubic service. Most would call the Morgridge Center for Public Service the home on campus for resources and connections for students and staff to develop and engage with service and learning throughout the state. Megan Miller, Assistant Director of Civic Engagement & Communications at the Morgridge Center, contributes to this mission of service, managing co-curricular programs and supporting communications.
Congratulations on securing a 2018 Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment Seed Project Grant! Tell us a little bit about the project and what inspired it? Here at the Morgridge Center for Public Service we know a lot about the community-based programs we coordinate such as Badger Volunteers. We also know that many students do community engagement through their registered student organizations and not through the Morgridge Center. Historically we’ve had very little interaction with these student organizations and their leaders. The Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment Seed Project Grant will help us connect better with those student organizations. Recent findings by UW-Madison’s Civic Action Planning Committee suggest the university needs to help better prepare students to do community engagement. Our hope is to provide students with the resources they need to do meaningful and respectful community engagement through their Registered Student Organizations (RSOs). As a result, we hope to help facilitate the creation of strong, sustainable and mutually beneficial partnerships between RSOs and community partner organizations looking to connect with them.
How does the Wisconsin Idea animate your work? The Wisconsin Idea is so central to my work it’s hard to separate the two most days. Whether I am supporting voter engagement efforts as part of the Big Ten Voting Challenge, leading a training on responsible community engagement, supporting the work of the Community Partnerships & Outreach Staff Network or working with students to plan the All Campus Day of Service, the Wisconsin Idea is driving my work. I consider myself very fortunate to work in a position where I get to break down barriers to accessing the University’s many resources and help develop students to be their best civic selves. To me, that’s what the Wisconsin Idea is all about.
You participated in the 2012 Wisconsin Idea Seminar. What has stuck with you from that experience? I am a lifelong Wisconsinite, and still gained so much from that trip. In addition to learning the many and varied ways that our university is working with folks all across the state, I loved learning more about the people and the history of Wisconsin. Memorable experiences include visiting a sauerkraut plant, seeing Aldo Leopold’s shack, learning about public education in Milwaukee, and visiting a wind turbine farm. Perhaps my favorite visit was to the College of Menominee Nation and learning about the guaranteed transfer program partnership with UW-Madison.
How does the Morgridge Center help UW-Madison students understand the role public service and civic engagement can play in their lives? We place an emphasis on giving students pathways to public service and helping them understand that public service is more than direct service volunteering. For some students, engagement through philanthropy or policy or advocacy or corporate social responsibility resonates with them more than volunteering. We want students to know that no matter where their interests or career aspirations lie, there are ways for them to contribute to making their communities happy, healthy and equitable places to live.
How do you get involved in your local community? A lot of my community-based work is connected to my work at the Morgridge Center for Public Service. I’ve also had the opportunity to serve on the boards of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network and We Are Many United Against Hate in my personal time.
What drew you to the University of Wisconsin-Madison? Simply put, I came here as an undergraduate student because I believed UW-Madison to be the best education I could receive for the best value. I stayed because of my love for the true meaning of the Wisconsin Idea.
What are three books that have influenced you? Another awesome part of my job is getting to serve on the Go Big Read Selection Committee. Three books that have influenced me just so happen to also be three of our semi-recent Go Big Read books. First is Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. This book and his work continues to inform the way I see the world and understand social justice. He has challenged me to get proximate to the people and issues I care about, change the narrative around the history of justice and be hopeful about the future. I also was very moved by Matthew Desmond’s book, Evicted. This book disrupted many of my own assumptions about housing insecurity. It also elevated my understanding of the importance of policy, which helped me decide to pursue a Master’s in Public Administration. Lastly, I loved Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala. This book is an important reminder of the power and resilience of women, especially young women and women of color.
Megan Miller earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Community and Nonprofit Leadership from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is currently pursuing an Executive Master of Public Administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs from Syracuse University.
Hello, Wisconsin! Stories of the Wisconsin Idea is a profile series that highlights the remarkable ways Wisconsin Idea Seminar alumni, collaborators, and others are animated by the Wisconsin Idea on and off campus.