For 20 years, UW–Madison’s Wisconsin International Scholars (WISc) Program has been generating global scholars ready to lead across numerous fields, from accounting to zoology. The program has fostered shared experiences that position its students to develop a mind for leading, interacting and building careers with a global dimension.
Since its founding in 2003, more than 300 students have participated in the program. WISc spans throughout a student’s entire time at the university and develops skills in language and culture, while also offering international field experiences. This foundation has enabled WIScholars to build exciting careers with organizations such as NASA, the NFL, and the music industry.
The Vision for the Program
WISc was developed by the International Division as an honors program with an international focus that would create “a foundation for international engagement and understanding that will serve students not only during their time in Madison but throughout their lives and careers.”
Applicants, many of whom noted they discovered the program through the Wisconsin Scholarship Hub, apply as prospective first-year students. Once accepted into the program, they take part in program-required coursework such as the WISc seminar, a global comparative studies course, and four semesters of foreign language study.
Students don’t just focus on academics through the program. Participants attend regular events and meetings outside of their curriculars to connect with other WIScholars and program alumni to discuss their courses, international issues and spend more time together as a cohort.
“WISc brought me so many friends and a community that I don’t believe I would have had the chance to have without the program,” said Karen Wong ’18. “The conversations and discussions that I had with advisors and other students during my time in WISc were eye opening and truly great learning opportunities. I always enjoyed attending dinners and the yearly retreat to see everyone and connect with more folks than just those in my cohort.”
Given the international focus of the program, it only makes sense that students have the opportunity to study abroad while participating. Thanks to the support of International Academic Programs, students can apply for study abroad grants to continue their journeys to becoming global citizens.
“Attending all sorts of internationally-focused WISc events over my four years as a Badger was an incredible supplement to my classroom studies,” said Claire James ’22. “I am also so thankful to the WISc program’s support in studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France – and my favorite semester of college.”
The program and its participants aim to expand the idea of “global competency” by pursuing majors in all different fields.
“Our students are path breakers, choosing to study abroad all over the world, studying a variety of languages, each on their own path, but connected through their common commitments to being engaged local and global citizens,” said Melody Niwot, International Studies instructor, and associate director of the WISc Program.
To celebrate the future and current “path breakers,” Niwot and Jolanda Vanderwal Taylor, professor in Dutch and German and faculty director of WISc, and their colleagues, planned and hosted numerous events in honor of the 20th anniversary. Alumni traveled in from all around to welcome the 2023 cohort for their inauguration. International Division Vice Provost and Dean Fran Vavrus also joined the inaugural celebration.
Current scholars sat down to lunch and enjoyed tea with those who were once in their very shoes and got to learn more about how being a WIScholar positively impacted so many futures.
“I’m honored to work with such committed and engaged students. The alums of the program are making their marks as global citizens in the U.S. and abroad,” said Vanderwal Taylor. “You’ll find them making substantial contributions in a surprising range of fields: in the public sector, in private industry, in all levels of education, in research and development, in journalism, the law, government, the foreign service, medicine, and more.”
The 20th anniversary celebration will have several more events throughout the year. Niwot and the WISc team are relying on alumni to help shape the future of the program.
“In the next 20 years I hope we can continue to provide meaningful opportunities that prepare our students for the important challenges in our collective future,” said Niwot.
WIScholar graduates are encouraged to stay in communication through the newly developed LinkedIn Alumni group. Interested in sharing your WISc experience? Join the alumni directory & fill out the interest form.