Kathleen Callen ’98 makes it a point to wear something red every year on Founders’ Day, the commemoration of UW-Madison’s first classes back in 1849. But this year, she rolled out of bed and put on her Wisconsin gear in a brand new place, halfway around the world in Sudan.
Here, she stands with Alex, a security guard who Callen calls a “great ambassador for Southern Sudan.”
Callen, a native of Long Beach, Calif., first visited UW-Madison with her father while in grade school “and I fell in love with the campus,” she says. “So it was no surprise to anyone that I picked UW when it came time for college.” (Her mother, Bonnie MS’99, PhD’02, is also a Badger alumna.) Her passion for Wisconsin stayed true even while she was deep in Volunteers territory, working as a fundraiser for the University of Tennessee Alumni Office. “I always got some eyerolling and glares for wearing anything but orange!” Callen recalls.
She spent several years working with non-profits and volunteering in places like Guatemala, Applachia and New Orleans. Then, while volunteering on a Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina last fall, a mission group asked Callen to join them on a trip to Yei, Sudan, to help local teachers educate about new farming methods, after decades of civil war destroyed the area’s agricultural economy.
Callen says being in Sudan in early 2011 during a time of political upheaval is something she will never forget. “It was an historic time,” she says. “The night of the announcement from Khartoum [when the people of Southern Sudan voted for independence], everybody was out dancing, singing, beating drums, and firing weapons until early in the morning. I never dreamed I would witness the birth of a new country.”
See how Badgers celebrated on campus this year, and learn more about the history of Founders' Day and how you can connect with your local chapters to find a celebration in your area at uwalumni.com/150!