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UW-Madison Students Take Leadership Role in Raising Awareness about Homelessness

by Staff Wednesday, December 17, 2014

WSB management class develops leadership skills through applied learning

On a bitterly cold December evening, undergraduate students from Loren Kuzuhara’s Management and Human Resources class MHR 365 hosted an event in the Social Science building to raise awareness about homelessness. The event included speakers from the YWCA, Porchlight, and UW-Madison Campus Police, as well as a role-playing homelessness simulation.

uw-madison wisconsin school of business homelessness simulation

“The experience of doing all of this requires students to develop a formal vision statement around the need, and to develop and execute an action plan for realizing their vision,” says Kuzuhara, a senior lecturer in the Management and Human Resources Department at the UW-Madison Wisconsin School of Business. “The benefit of this event for the community is that participants increased their awareness of and understanding of issues and challenges related to the homeless.”

Tricia Meinholz, lower campus community officer with the UW-Madison Police Department, kicked off the event, which was designed to help bring both more awareness and more understanding to the plight of the more than 6,000 homeless people in Madison.

uw-madison wisconsin school of business homelessness simulation

“I think the biggest thing is how they’re doing [the simulation],” says Meinholz. “It puts it in the back of your head that it could happen to anybody. They’re throwing the person into a situation where you just lost your job, or you’re behind on your house payments and your house was taken away, now what do you do?” 

After her introductory remarks, attendees were given a piece of paper describing how they became homeless. Groups split into different classrooms to participate in the simulation, where participants heard from an individual who “survived” homelessness as well as representatives from Porchlight and the YWCA about the specific services that they offer to help get people back on their feet.

“People who find themselves homeless are humans first,” says kinesiology major Jade Koenigs, one of the student organizers enrolled in the MHR course. “We’re trying to inspire people to be leaders in the community around this issue.  Having different professionals come in and give their perspective helps us realize how real the issue is.”

Open to all UW-Madison undergraduate students, Kuzuhara’s MHR 365 class is a unique applied learning opportunity focused on leadership development. The homelessness simulation was created for a key component of the course, a "Vision Actualization Project" (VAP), which tasks students with identifying a critical need in the community and then working together with a mentor to develop and implement a project that “makes a positive impact” on a real-world problem.

“Planning an event is not easy, but to start from nothing and to then be able to have what I considered to be a successful event is really gratifying,” say Darío Placencio Hidalgo, a visiting international student from Universidad de La Serena, Chile. “Being a good leader requires a lot of work and the ability to think outside of the box, which is why we tried to approach the issue from another perspective. I'm really happy with the results, and even more proud of every one of my teammates.”