University of Wisconsin-Madison: Morgridge Center has new director, new home

Travis Wright, a nationally recognized expert in school-based support for children and families undergoing trauma, has been named faculty director of the Morgridge Center for Public Service.

An associate professor of counseling psychology in the School of Education, Wright began his new role Feb. 1, replacing Earlise C. Ward, who returned to her full-time position at the School of Nursing after serving as director for three years.

“I’m thrilled to be joining the team at the Morgridge Center and contributing to their efforts to advance public and community service on campus and in the broader community,” Wright said.

This spring, the Morgridge Center will move from its home at the School of Education to the Division for Teaching and Learning, a move that will provide new opportunities for both the Morgridge Center and its new partners.


“It has been a pleasure to have the center in the School of Education, and I have enjoyed working with the leadership and staff,” says School of Education Dean Diana Hess. “As the Division for Teaching and Learning grows, it makes sense to have the Morgridge Center housed there because of the collaborations that can more easily occur among the various parts of the division. Plus, the mission of the Division of Teaching and Learning is to serve the entire campus — which has always been the mission of the MCPS, too.”

The Division for Teaching and Learning is home to three units that, like the Morgridge Center, work with colleagues across campus to enhance students’ UW experience and advance learning. Created in July 2021, the Center for Teaching, Learning and Mentoring provides instructional design, professional development and consulting support to help UW instructors hone their craft of teaching. The Office of Undergraduate Advising provides advising services to students still exploring their major, offers career services, and works to provide training for, and build networking among, academic advisers working in the schools and colleges. The work of WISCIENCE focuses on enriching the experience of early career STEM students, connecting them with research and community-based experiences.

“With its amazing work supporting service, community-based learning and equity and diversity, the Morgridge Center will find enthusiastic partners in all these units and will significantly enrich the mission of the entire division,” says Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning John Zumbrunnen. “These partners can provide new pathways of access to the instructional and advising communities who shape student’s experiences as well as reaching new audiences of students.”

Before coming to UW–Madison in 2012, Wright worked as a school-based mental health counselor, public school teacher, and early childhood educator in Washington D.C. and Boston public schools. He received his doctorate and master’s degree in education from Harvard University and bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee–Knoxville.

Wright, who also serves as director of the MS program in counseling, is the founder/director of the Building BASES (Building Academic, Social, and Emotional Supports) Project, a school- and community-based intervention to help children experiencing homelessness.

The goal of Building BASES is to increase school-based and other educational supports for these children in Madison and build the capacity of schools, teachers and families to better meet their needs.

At its centerpiece is a mentoring program that matches UW undergraduate and graduate students with homeless-identified children enrolled in the Madison Metropolitan School District. More than 350 UW students have provided more than 7,000 hours of direct support to more than 300 children since the project launched in 2014 with a grant from the UW Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment.

“Service has the power not only to strengthen and support communities but to build them as well,” Wright says. “At this time when the world is so deeply polarized, I can think of no work more exciting than creating opportunities for people to serve together.”

The Morgridge Center for Public Service, founded in 1996 with the generous support of alumni John and Tashia Morgridge, connects UW–Madison students, staff and faculty to local and global communities to build partnerships and solve critical issues through service and learning.

One of Ward’s biggest accomplishments during her time as director was bringing the Civic Action Plan to life. At the directive of Chancellor Rebecca Blank, the Morgridge Center was tasked with developing and implementing nine recommendations to strengthen civic and community engagement on campus. Ward was instrumental in changing the tenure and promotion process to institutionalize support for community-engaged scholarship and research — a major step forward in the Civic Action Plan.

She reviewed community engagement curriculum developed by professional staff members to better educate students, staff and faculty on how to equitably work with community partners and ensure mutually beneficial outcomes. Ward played another key role by growing the Morgridge Center’s board of advisors.

“The opportunity to work with a great team and advance the mission of the center during the pandemic was tremendous. And it was really empowering to connect with campus leaders and former Morgridge Center directors,” Ward says. “It’s an experience that I will always consider a blessing.”

With a grant review pending at the National Institutes of Health, Ward plans to conduct a community-based participatory research project to develop a faith-based depression intervention program for African Americans.

Wright has dedicated his career to national and community service. He is looking forward to continuing his commitment of helping others as faculty director.

“I am wildly excited about the ongoing promise of the Morgridge Center for Public Service,” Wright says. “My aim is to ensure that we are constantly translating the Wisconsin Idea into Wisconsin Impact.”

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