The President's Challenge


(Note: For information on the challenge, please visit the President's and Chancellor's Challenge.)

A grant program, developed in partnership with Johnson Controls, and American Family Insurance that provides funding for innovative, interdisciplinary, collaborative work that addresses critical issues and opportunities facing the City of Milwaukee. This round of the President’s Challenge will focus on the urgent issue of elevating and advancing racial justice and equity across the various communities that comprise our city.

2022 President's Challenge Winners 

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Changing the Story: The Story Fellow Program

  • Project description: A cross-campus team based in the humanities will create a sustainable, yearlong, asset-based program to engage students to facilitate storying in partnership with community groups affected by poverty across Milwaukee. In a city of festivals, we do not celebrate or honor the stories of the larger community in a sustainable way that builds the skills of both students and community members. Stories that emerge from Milwaukee neighborhoods that experience poverty tend to focus on crime, not resilience or tales of everyday life. The Story Fellow program will build reciprocal partnerships with organizations engaging people affected by poverty across Milwaukee to mentor students as story facilitators to expand the range of stories the public hears about their lives.
  • Team members:
    • From Marquette: Dr. Sarah Wadsworth, professor of English and director of Marquette University Press, and Dr. Andrew Kim, associate professor of theology and director of the Center for the Advancement of the Humanities
    • From UWM: Dr. Anne Basting, professor of English and the director of the Center for 21st Century Studies, and Dr. Ben Trager, lecturer in educational policy and community studies and interim director of the Center for Community-Based Learning, Leadership, and Research
    • Community Organizations: The Gathering, Milwaukee Turners, Story MKE, East Side Senior Services, Milwaukee Academy of Sciences, Islands of Brilliance, Beckum Little League/Park, Milwaukee Parks Foundation, Jewish Family Services

Expanding access to telemental health services for young adults living in poverty in Milwaukee through listening and learning from our community

  • Project description: Milwaukee County’s 2021 Community Health Needs Assessment reported the top five health issues are mental health, violence, drug use/overdose, alcohol and health care access. More specifically, when asked the top three issues in their community, 51% of respondents identified mental health. The CHNA also identified the top community needs as access to affordable health care and access to mental health services. This pilot project is addressing mental health and access to healthcare for the most socially vulnerable populations in Milwaukee within the larger context of the social determinants of health and the socioecological mental health and well-being model. This project will have three focus areas including: coordinated community engagement, telehealth and working with the young adult population.
  • Team members:
    • From Marquette: Dr. Lee Za Ong, assistant professor of counselor education and counseling psychology; Dr. Stacee Lerret, clinical professor in the College of Nursing; and Dr. Julie Bonner, staff physician in the Marquette University Medical Clinic
    • From UWM: Dr. Hobart Davies, chair and professor of psychology.
    • Community Organizations: Milwaukee Health Department, City on a Hill, and Wisconsin Association of Free and Charitable Clinics.

Healing Adversity and Trauma through Conversation and Hope (HATCH)

  • Project description: HATCH is a Milwaukee-based initiative that integrates three models of social support or mental health care into W2 (Wisconsin Works) and prison reentry services. These three distinct yet self-reinforcing intervention models include Community Building Workshops; Peer Led Circles of Support; and Trauma Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment. Together they supplement services for economically vulnerable adults with the intention of helping to reduce social isolation and strengthen social connection, facilitate trauma healing and improve mental health, and promote life satisfaction and support economic self-sufficiency. Implementing trauma-informed and culturally responsive services through HATCH is meant to enhance Milwaukee-area W2 programs and help raise some area families out of poverty and into economic self-sufficiency by facilitating successful community integration among area residents at-risk for long-term unemployment by marring basic need services (employment, housing) with services that address higher order needs (social connection, mental health services).
  • Team members:
    • From Marquette: Dr. Ed de St. Aubin, associate professor of psychology
    • From UWM: Dr. Dimitri Topitzes, associate professor in the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare and clinical director of the Institute for Child and Family Well-Being, and Najee Ahmad, graduate student in the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare.
    • Community Organizations: Community Advocates Public Policy Institute, Wisconsin Community Services, America Works, Progressive Community Health Centers, Mann Behavioral Services.

2021 President's Challenge Winners

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Restorative Justice in Movement: Trauma-Informed Athletic Practice Partnership

Principal investigator: Dr. Noelle Brigden, associate professor of political science.

Restorative Justice in Movement is a collaboration with the Milwaukee Turners at Turner Hall to promote embodied empowerment for women from communities disproportionately impacted by incarceration. The trauma of mass incarceration and forced absence is a gendered violence, experienced differently by men and women, but widely shared in the Milwaukee Black community. Thus, the program’s first cohort of participants will be an intergenerational group of women who identify as friends and family members of incarcerated people. They will participate in movement workshops focused on several different athletic modalities: powerlifting, yoga, self-defense and rock climbing. Participants will build their cohort community through support of their shared athletic pursuits. They will also have the opportunity to engage researchers in an oral history project and be invited to co-create the research and programming for future iterations of the program.

Additional Marquette faculty team members: Dr. Alison Efford, associate professor of history; Dr. Kristof Kipp, associate professor of exercise science; Dr. Heather Hlavka, associate professor of social and cultural sciences; Dr. Abir Bekhet, associate professor of nursing; Dr. Jennifer Ohlendorf, assistant professor of nursing; and Dr. Julia Paulk, associate professor of languages, literatures and cultures.

Determine health and well-being of African American community in Milwaukee’s North side via assessment of telehealth and health monitoring intervention

Principal investigator: Dr. Nilanjan Lodh, assistant professor of medical laboratory science

This project will determine how telehealth interventions—the shift of in-person monitoring to remote monitoring due to the pandemic—has affected the health disparities among the African American population in Milwaukee, as well as support existing community-led intervention efforts related to telehealth and remote health monitoring for African American communities. The overall project goals are to evaluate new telehealth interventions in African American community in Milwaukee related to remote monitoring of chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and asthma, which have rapidly emerged as major factors of comorbidity and premature mortality in African American population. It will also build and/or strengthen relationships with community partners in health care and other agencies working to reduce disparities.

Additional Marquette faculty team members: Dr. Aleksandra Snowden, assistant professor of social and cultural sciences, and Dr. Praveen Madiraju, associate professor of computer science.



The program supported proposals up to $50K for one year and applicants were encouraged to address one or more aspects within the following focus areas:

  • Social and Cultural
    • Includes, but not limited to: utilization of the arts; immigration; data ethics, including bias in coding; carceral reform; economic development; institutional, or industry policies and procedures; housing and/or food insecurity.
  • Health Services
    • Includes, but not limited to: disproportionate impacts of COVID-19; emotional and mental health; healthcare analytics, healthcare delivery, population health, health communications, and public health.
  • Education
    • Includes, but not limited to: cradle-to-career pipeline; early education; talent development; virtual curriculum; innovative models for delivery; inequities in digital access; inequities in STEAM education; representation in staff and curriculum.

Partnerships with community organizations are highly recommended from the ideation phase through the development of the proposal.

Criteria for project funding included:

  • Description of intended outcomes, methods to evaluate project impact, including clearly articulated metrics, ability to sustain outcomes
  • Engagement with a community organization
  • Ability to complete meaningful work in the one-year timeframe
  • Experience and composition of the team
  • Level of student involvement

Questions for considerations in proposal stage:

Will you be conducting research that involves human subjects? Learn more here. 

  • Yes
  • No

Do you anticipate any intellectual property/disclosures coming out of this work? Learn more here. 

  • Yes
  • No

Budgets for the projects are to be developed for use within a one-year framework 


For information on the 2022 challenge, please visit our page on the President's and Chancellor's Challenge.

Please email questions to