Morgridge Center for Public Service Faculty Director Earlise Ward

Before Earlise Ward’s days as a psychologist, researcher, and now, Morgridge Center for Public Service Faculty Director — she grew up in a family where “public service,” was just a supermarket trip away.

At the tender age of 10, Ward would buy groceries for her family at her mother’s request. But her mother, who was very actively involved in the community, also requested the young Ward to buy groceries for their elderly neighbors who were otherwise unable to do so on their own. She’s recently been reflecting on this early introduction to public service, especially in contrast to her new position.

What seemed like a minor, routine favor would set the foundation for a lifetime commitment to community-based research, civic service and community engagement.

When it comes to public service, Ward said she doesn’t know life outside of it.

“Public service is about being actively involved and engaged in the larger community outside of, say a university or outside of even your home community,” Ward said. “It’s about finding a place where you can use your assets in service.”

As faculty director, Ward ensures the center successfully pursues its mission to promote civic engagement, strengthen community-based teaching and learning, and build and support collaborative community-university partnerships through public service, service-learning, community-based research and engaged scholarship.

She helps guide the university in how it can benefit the community in mutually beneficial initiatives. One such initiative is the UW-Madison Civic Action Plan. This plan was co-created with our community partners to identify ways to better support and encourage new forms of conducting community engagement on and off campus. The plan includes nine recommendations, the first of which is to ensure preparation of UW-Madison stakeholders for high-quality partnership work.

“We have an unfortunate history of abuse in research in some communities and there’s some real apprehension in some communities. It’s important for our students, our researchers and staff to understand that history so when they go into communities they can be culturally humble and culturally respectful in how they do their work,” Ward said.

Ward has done own fair share of community-based research. Last June, she received a Baldwin Grant for her community-based research — “Faith and Community in Action: Increasing Awareness and Management of Depression in African-American Communities.” In partnership with Pastor Anthony Wade of Second Baptist Church in Madison and a newly established Faith-based Community Advisory Board, Ward developed a faith-based depression intervention in Dane County — the first of its kind.

Pictured standing from left to right are Lisa Chambers; Kathy Cramer; Mary Rouse; and Earlise Ward.
Pictured standing from left to right are Lisa Chambers; Kathy Cramer; Mary Rouse; and Earlise Ward.

“That research was done in partnership with the African-American community such that the research is really based on what they are needing — their agenda and not my agenda,” Ward said. “I want to see more of that at our university — recognizing the agenda of the community and the needs of the community must be prioritized.”

This was one of her best projects yet. She expressed pride in the community advisory board that partnered with her to develop the faith-based intervention. Ward will now pilot test the effectiveness of the intervention to empirically validate her work.

Ward is also an associate professor in the School of Nursing. She serves on a variety committees in the School of Nursing, while also holding leadership roles in national organizations like the American Psychological Association.

Now, she’s applying that same commitment to advance the Morgridge Center mission. In the future, Ward hopes to see a strengthening of relationships with underserved communities. She also hopes that the Morgridge Center becomes a leader on campus in developing an infrastructure to support community-based researchers.

Another goal Ward has is to enhance the presence of the Morgridge Center on campus and in the community. In becoming a household name, Ward said the Morgridge Center can further engage with students and community members to create even stronger, mutually beneficial partnerships.

“I believe in the mission of the Morgridge Center because it is so closely aligned with the Wisconsin Idea, and I believe the Morgridge Center embodies and activates the Wisconsin Idea, basically putting it in action,” Ward said. “I just love being in a place where I see that commitment and passion in our team – staff and students.”

The Morgridge Center was founded in 1996 with the generous support of alumni John and Tashia Morgridge. Its mission is to connect campus and community through service, service-learning and community-based research to build a thriving democratic society.

Posted on  | By Hibah Ansari