Service to Communities

Faculty contribute to dozens of projects in partnership with communities across Wisconsin, the United States, and the world. Much of this service helps fulfill the Wisconsin Idea — the notion that the impact of the university should reach beyond the classroom and campus.

The following is an incomplete but representative list of the ways that faculty aide communities through their service and research.

Research Contributing to the Wisconsin Idea

Five people standing outside behind a podium in front of tree.
Tova Walsh, second from right, with members of the African American Breastfeeding Network, Inc. Photo by Yvonne Kemp, The Milwaukee Times.

Assistant Professor Tova Walsh is working with the Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative – a collaborative partnership among city and county agencies, businesses, faith-based, philanthropic, and other community organizations – to study how this partnership helps to connect Milwaukee men to resources to help them better meet the needs of their children and families.

Assistant Professor Lara Gerassi recently finished a project that was funded by the Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment Fund. This community-engaged study partnered with the Wisconsin Department of Human Services to understand whether and how social service providers identify and assess for sex trafficking. Findings resulted in a series of tailored trainings that reached hundreds of participants.

A group of 14 people standing in a conference room behind a sign that reads, "Madison Forward Fund."
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway (center) Katherine Magnuson (5th from right), Laura Dresser (right), and members of the community at a press conference announcing the Madison Forward Fund. Photo from Madison365.

Professor Katherine Magnuson is evaluating the impact of Madison’s Forward Fund, which provides $500 cash payments per year to 155 Madison families who have low incomes. Also, in collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, Professor Magnuson conducted a survey of low-income parents to find out more about the challenges they face in using early childhood services in our state.

Assistant Professor Jessica Pac is evaluating a Foster Care Medical Home model that provides coordinated care for Wisconsin children who have been removed from their homes due to substantiated abuse or neglect. The evaluation, commissioned by DCF and DHS, provides insight into the promise of care coordination for Wisconsin’s most vulnerable residents.

Lawrence Berger standing at a podium speaking to reporters
Lawrence Berger, past director of the UW Institute for Research on Poverty, speaks during a kickoff press conference held at the UW South Madison Partnership announcing The Alliance for the American Dream. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

Professor Lonnie Berger is engaged in a longitudinal study of the consequences of the opioid epidemic for Wisconsin mothers and children. Dr. Berger is also studying the interplay among public policies, household debt accumulation, and the health and wellbeing of Wisconsinites.

Associate Professor Lauren Bishop and colleagues are building a longitudinal cohort of adults who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder to study the mechanisms that underlie both healthy aging and early or accelerated aging in autism. Their findings will inform state and federal policies and programs that support autistic adults as they age.

In partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and other researchers, Associate Professor Marci Ybarra is evaluating equity in Unemployment Insurance receipt using administrative, survey, and qualitative methods.

Also, as part of her role on the National Academies Committee on the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and families, Dr. Ybarra is participating in a series of public events/seminars to inform decision-makers on promising policies and programs for marginalized groups in the aftermath of the pandemic.

In partnership with the UW Division of Extension, Assistant Professor Paja Charles is conducting research on the Making Reading Memories (MRM) program, a strategy of Extension’s Literacy Link Program currently implemented in 15 counties. MRM uses literacy-based strategies to help build connections between incarcerated parents in WI jails and their children.

Dr. Charles is also conducting research in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections in four state prisons to assess the effects of a parenting skills program with incarcerated parents. Their first product from this project is an implementation toolkit on best practices for corrections’ audiences who are implementing the program in their prison or jail.

Assistant Professor Alejandra Ros Pilarz is working with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families on a project to understand the factors contributing to a decline over the past 10 years in the number of children participating in the Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy Program with the aim of improving low-income families’ access to high-quality and affordable childcare.

Assistant Professor LB Klein is co-investigator on an Institute for Clinical and Translational Research-funded study that aims to understand how the forensic nurse exams across Wisconsin can be improved to reduce health disparities among Black, Indigenous, and LGBTQ2S survivors of sexual assault.

Professor Marah Curtis is analyzing data from the Wisconsin Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) from a special housing module they fielded. Due to an oversample of Native mothers, Dr. Curtis and colleagues will offer information about the housing condition of not only all mothers in the state, but also specifically for Native mothers, which is rare because sample sizes are generally too small.

Professor Stephanie Robert is fielding a survey of Wisconsin adults to understand their beliefs and attitudes about health equity, particularly around racial and socioeconomic health inequities. The study will inform approaches to improving communication with the public and policymakers about the multi-level social determinants of health and inform advocacy efforts to improve racial and socioeconomic health equity.

Affiliate Professor Judi Bartfeld coordinates a multi-investigator research initiative, in partnership with the Bureau of Child Support at the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, to help the Wisconsin child support system better serve parents and children.

In addition to what is listed here, faculty provide service to the state, nation, and world in a variety of ways:


Sample: how to work effectively with fathers in child and family services and supports for military families


Sample: consulting with a school district on birth to K5 programming

Expert testimony

Sample: pro bono testimony on the impact of separation on children and parents

Board membership

Sample: serving as a member of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Addressing the Long-term impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Children and Families


Too many to list, but many community social workers receive free CEUs from presentations given by our faculty.