What’s the Big Idea?

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Founders’ Day celebrates the Year of the Wisconsin Idea.

The Wisconsin Idea may be one of the UW’s legacies to higher education, but when alumni hear those words, their reaction is often a blank stare. To spread the word about what it means, UW–Madison declared 2011–12 to be the Year of the Wisconsin Idea. WAA is helping raise awareness by making the idea the theme of this year’s Founders’ Day celebrations.

The idea’s basic principle is credited to former UW President Charles Van Hise 1879, 1880, MS1882, PhD1892, who said in 1905, “I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the University reaches every family in the state.” The UW now defines the idea as proclaiming that the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state and beyond — that the UW’s purpose is to share knowledge and discoveries with people around the world.

Founders’ Day honors the anniversary of the UW’s first class, held February 5, 1849. Alumni chapters around the country host events to mark the occasion — for many, it’s their signature event for honoring the university, giving out awards, and raising funds for scholarships. Each event generally includes a speaker from the UW, talking about research or a vital area of interest for the university. This year’s speakers will touch on the Wisconsin Idea in some facet.

Campus held Founders’ Day on February 6, and WAA gave birthday cake to students and invited the community to hear Gwen Drury PhDx’13 deliver a talk on the history of the Wisconsin Idea titled “The Wisconsin Spirit: What Makes the UW Special.”

Published in the Spring 2012 issue

Tags: Alumni, Campus history, Wisconsin Idea

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