PLATTEVILLE — For at least decades, higher education has been criticized for too much emphasis on theory and not enough on the “real world.”
UW–Platteville’s effort to get students to serve in the “real world” is the Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement.
PACCE’s marketing director, Kathy Neumeister, describes the program as “an experiential component for students to apply what they learn in the classroom to the private sector … it can be global; it can be local.”
According to Neumeister, more than 3,800 UWP students have participated in PACCE programs during its four years. Almost 500 students are involved in PACCE projects in this fall semester.
The godfather of PACCE was former UW–Platteville Chancellor David Markee, who Neumeister said was seeking a “transformational initiative.”
“We’ve always been about hands-on learning, experiential,” she said. “This takes that a step further. It’s high-impact, and that’s what’s so exciting about being part of it. It’s very real for these students.”
PACCE projects involve students, a faculty member in one of UWP’s four colleges, and a community partner, with “a high level of engagement with all three groups,” said Neumeister.
One example of a PACCE project is the artwork at the new Rountree Commons dorm, including the fish on an outdoor retaining wall and “The Arts,” a painting by UW–Platteville graduate Katie Binning, who was killed in a car crash shortly after graduation in May.
Another local example is an opera promotion project in the Platteville School District. UWP students also worked on a parking lot lighting project at Cummins Emission Solutions in Mineral Point.
UW–Platteville students assisted the City of Platteville in creating the Safe Routes to School program. The project involved 78 UWP engineering students’ conducting walkability and bikeability audits of city streets to determine the most safe and pedestrian-friendly paths to the school district’s four schools.
“It’s really neat to see projects engineering students do,” said Neumeister. “There’s an “aha!” experience when they realize their talents and what they can do with them.”
Farther from Wisconsin, PACCE students traveled to Mississippi working on projects in four communities.
The longest-distance PACCE project took place in Ghana during a Winterim class. Students developed a way for cocoa farms to generate extra income using material from cocoa beans and pads, and presented their findings to the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana.
PACCE is funded by half of an annual $45 student fee, which combined with community partners’ contributions generates “roughly a quarter-million dollars each year” to fund projects, said Neumeister.
One highlight of each semester is Engagement Poster Day, this academic year on Dec. 5 and April 24, featuring posters and PowerPoint presentations to “share the story of what they learned,” said Neumeister.
UW–Platteville is introducing an Entrepreneurship minor this spring, which will offer a similar experiential-learning emphasis as PACCE projects do. UWP’s Meet & Eat with an Entrepreneur is being held at the Ullsvik Hall Nohr Art Gallery Monday at 5 p.m.