UWM students’ research projects serve nonprofits and communities

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Center for Urban Initiatives and Research intern Kenicia McKinney works with a woman in the Adult Day Center program to assess how art projects can be designed to meet the needs of the center's clients. (Photo by Armando de la Torre, Adult Day Center staff)

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee students and senior citizens at the United Community Center recently collaborated to produce a mural representing family, culture, music, nature and love. This project and others like it are not only forms of expression, but research.

The Center for Urban Initiatives and Research (CUIR) program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee allows students to experience community fieldwork and research each year while still in school, according to Patricia Torres Najera, assistant director of the CUIR Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program at UWM.

“The program is essential for UWM because it gives us an opportunity to be relevant in the community, work with real-world issues and allows students and community members to acquire information to make the best decisions,” Torres Najera said.

Adrea Widule, a Community Engagement and Education major, is one of the 15 students in this year’s program. She was one of two students assigned to Layton Boulevard West Neighbors (LBWN) and is researching what kinds of out-of-school programs residents would like for area youth.

Windule said she spent a lot of time studying previous research done about the area’s schools and their programs so she could create meaningful surveys for school leaders, parents and students. She is in the process of collecting the completed surveys and said she is looking forward to analyzing the data and sharing the results with the community.

“[The CUIR program] provided many resources during the year to enhance our understanding of research and what we will need for future careers and furthering our education,” Windule said. “In a way, I feel like I’ve gotten to meet more of Milwaukee and learn what is in my own backyard.”

CUIR interns and senior citizens at the United Community Center recently collaborated on the art piece “Mural de Recuerdos – The Memory Mural. (Photo by Armando de la Torre, Adult Day Center staff)

Daniel Adams, neighborhood plan coordinator at LBWN, said the experience with the CUIR program was great and he hopes to participate again.

“Having students dedicated to these tasks with the support of CUIR and the UWM community behind them really helps us, helps the students gain valuable experience, and helps UWM strengthen their relationships in the community,” Adams said.

Kym Richardson, a student in the Peck School of the Arts, also was accepted into this year’s CUIR program. She worked at the United Community Center to observe and reflect on how different art activities affect senior citizens physically and mentally.

Richardson was one of three students in the program who worked with seniors in UCC’s Adult Day Center to create a ceramic mural titled “Mural de Recuerdos – The Memory Mural.” The seniors are experiencing early signs of dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease.

Nelva Olin, Adult Day Center program coordinator at UCC, said art projects such as the mural and other activities like painting and drawing allow the student researchers and seniors to bridge communication barriers and connect on a higher level.

“The seniors enjoy when the students are here and the students enjoy seeing the seniors express themselves through art,” Olin said. “This is one of my favorite projects because of how connected all the people are.”

The paid internship through the CUIR program at UWM is highly competitive, averaging 150 applicants each year. However, the program can only accept 15 students due to funding constraints, according to Torres Najera.

“All the students have meaningful work and contribute to the overall mission of the agency,” she said. “Some students are anxious about their placements…but many realize how much they learn from the community members and end up volunteering at agencies.“

Organizations such as the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Clarke Square Neighborhood Initiative, American GI Forum of Wisconsin and the Center for Urban Population Health also have participated in the program.

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