UW–Madison Teams Top National Competition to Help Middle Class

By Rebecca Jourdan Schwei

Two teams from the University of Wisconsin–Madison won a combined $1.5 million in provisional funding in a national competition to help boost the middle class.

The two teams, Connect Rx Wisconsin and Opportunity Calculator, competed in the final round of the Alliance for the American Dream Challenge on Sept. 10 against teams from three other universities. The alliance, sponsored by Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt, awarded Connect Rx Wisconsin $1 million and Opportunity Calculator $500,000 for their innovative ideas to help raise the net income of 10,000 Dane County families by 10 percent. The awards are provisional based on the successful completion of grant agreements and other requirements.

“I am grateful to all who worked so hard on these groundbreaking proposals and congratulate them on their success. This work strengthens valuable partnerships between the university and the community,” says Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “I also thank Eric and Wendy Schmidt for recognizing the innovativeness of these proposals to reduce economic inequality. We appreciate their investment in Dane County.”

Connect Rx Wisconsin plans to revolutionize the way families get the economic support they need to reduce financial stress and achieve better health outcomes. The team proposes a fully integrated network of health care and social service systems across Dane County that builds on existing electronic health record technology and trusted community and medical providers. Partnering organizations include the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, United Way of Dane County, UW Health, Access Community Health Centers, Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin, SSM St. Mary’s, UnityPoint Health – Meriter, Public Health Madison and Dane County, and Madison Metropolitan School District, all of which are members of the Dane County Health Council, as well as technology partner Epic.

“This is an incredible and necessary moment for health equity and economic prosperity in Wisconsin, for Black mothers, families and all Wisconsinites,” said Lisa Peyton-Caire, CEO and president of The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, one of the project’s key partners. “Our state leads the nation with the worst racial health, wealth and birth disparities in the country, and Connect Rx Wisconsin offers a powerful solution to change that. With $1 million from Schmidt Futures, Epic as a partner, and the commitment of our broad multi-sector coalition, we are in our strongest position ever to make real and lasting change in achieving health equity for all in Dane county and beyond.”

“Connect Rx Wisconsin is a first-of-its-kind technology solution that will revolutionize the way thousands of families in Dane County access resources to boost their incomes and support their health,” says Robin Lankton, director of population health at UW Health. “Now is the exact right time to implement systems change in our community. We remain committed to advancing the Connect Rx Wisconsin vision of a more equitable Wisconsin.”

Opportunity Calculator plans to develop a mobile platform to give workers fast, accurate information about how career and training opportunities could affect their net income, helping them achieve career goals and make positive financial choices. The platform makes it easier for employers and community partners to learn about benefits packages and employment opportunities and to address barriers to growing the workforce. Partners include the Employment and Training Network members: City of Madison, Workforce Development Board of South Central Wisconsin, United Way of Dane County, Latino Academy of Workforce Development, Employment and Training Association, and the Urban League of Greater Madison “More than ever, job seekers are facing a challenging environment. We are grateful to be part of a community-wide team to develop the Opportunity Calculator and walk side by side with Dane County families working to advance into the middle class,” says Renee Moe, president and CEO of United Way of Dane County.

“We are thrilled to be a part of the team that will make Opportunity Calculator a reality,” says Seth Lentz, CEO of the Workforce Development Board of South Central Wisconsin. “This innovative tool will leverage technology and data to help identify and address barriers to worker advancement, giving workers information they need to advance into middle class careers, and providing employers critical insights to help equitably grow our regional workforce.”

DreamUp WI, housed at the Institute for Research on Poverty at UW–Madison, worked closely with the teams throughout the competitive process. DreamUp is a partnership between UW–Madison and the community that aims to bring forward collaborations that meet the Alliance for the American Dream challenge to increase shared prosperity and stabilize and expand the middle class. The alliance includes Arizona State University, the Ohio State University and the University of Utah. UW–Madison was the only university that advanced multiple teams to the final round, and the only university with a team that was awarded $1 million.

“It is inspiring to see our community generate these great ideas to increase shared prosperity. That UW–Madison had two teams move to the final round of the competition two years in a row is exceptional; that our teams were awarded the $1 million grand prize in each of those years is a true testament to the strength and ingenuity of our university and community, and further evidence that the Wisconsin Idea is thriving,” says Lonnie Berger, associate vice chancellor for research in social science and the project director for DreamUp. “Most importantly, we now have four large-scale initiatives with the potential to have a meaningful positive impact in Dane County being implemented with Schmidt Futures’ support, and several others that have attracted other sources of support to launch on a smaller scale.”

More information on DreamUp Wisconsin
More information on the Alliance for the American Dream
More information on Schmidt Futures