Written by Ryan Mulrooney
I’d like to believe Mr. Charles Van Hise and I have something in common — we both have an idea.
This idea has been championed and developed over comforting Midwestern meat and potatoes with our families, feeding calves at dawn and dusk, and quiet evenings on a terrace, hallmarked by the colors of sunset orange, golden yellow, and pasture green. All of these experiences are steadfast in tradition and remembrance, and the way to appreciate them is through education. Specifically, a communal education filled with meaningful discussions, challenging truths, and pursuing ideas to guide our citizens in their future endeavors. These educational values are what Van Hise and I share, and we both believe the entire Wisconsin community has the ability to add to this legacy.
The bedrock for this idea was laid before Van Hise and before I had any influence. Founded in 1848, Wisconsin’s flagship university was highly focused on educating those from all across this state, providing students the opportunity to become farmers, politicians, business owners, and much more. Early students and educational leaders perhaps didn’t have as many cozy corners on State Street or the student unions to convene in like today, but they could still share a hearty meal and combine their talents to make Wisconsin a better place to live and learn for everyone. A sense of community nuanced our campus as we appreciated different academic disciplines, governmental practices, and cultural demonstrations. Eventually, these legislative and educational ideas were ground-breaking and applauded, but a succinct way to envelop all of these efforts was missing. It took one man to realize that by extending the university’s reach, the education UW-Madison provides could influence every household across this fine state.
Although considered infeasible to some, Van Hise believed that the University of Wisconsin could cast its shadow upon the entirety of the state. To promote education across our state, he created a concept which would provide advanced education to every citizen, foster and encourage the discovery of ideas to serve the state’s greater good, and ensure success of its students so they can reap the benefits. This concept was officially described in 1912 as the Wisconsin Idea. One hundred years after its formal transcription, murmurs of the Wisconsin Idea are alive and well. The concept grew in scope to cover not just the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but UW System schools across the state and various extension programs, thanks to outreach and service efforts. Various industries have also teamed up with the Wisconsin Idea so students can access its opportunities. Disciplines of study have changed to reflect new needs and demands, and highly trained staff outside of education, such as as bureaucrats or business owners, have joined the state’s higher education counsel. This great educational mantra has transformed over the years, but it continues to provide agency and opportunity to citizens all across Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Idea has become more than a buzzword. For students, alumni, and citizens across the world who once frequented our neck of the woods, the Wisconsin Idea has taken on its own meaning as they all find their inner Van Hise. What can I do with my education to make the world a better place? How can I instill the qualities the University of Wisconsin has taught me in others? These questions and more allow us to add to this infamous legacy and make our educational system truly one of a kind. Embodying the Wisconsin Idea is more than a belief in tradition. It’s allowing tradition to light the way with knowledge and understanding so we don’t have to stumble through the dark. Then, forever forward you can go.
Van Hise and I believe in you.