Madison-area grads win McDowell Alumni Achievement Awards
Each semester, the University of Wisconsin-Madison sends new classes of Badgers off to improve the world. And that includes those who stay near and improve their alma mater’s hometown. Last month, two Madison grads — Kaleem Caire ’00 and Fabiola Hamdan ’96, MS’97 — received McDowell Alumni Achievement Awards in recognition of the work they’re doing to help Wisconsin’s capital city to address issues of poverty and educational inequality.
The McDowell Alumni Achievement Award, presented by the UW’s Multicultural Student Center, recognizes Badger graduates who identify as persons of color, embody the Wisconsin Idea, and enhance the Wisconsin Experience. Both Caire and Hamdan are currently working to embody the Wisconsin Idea by applying their UW educations to problems within Dane County.
Education is the Key
Caire, the president of the Urban League of Greater Madison, is a longtime advocate for educational reform. In 2008, he and his wife, Lisa, received one of WAA’s inaugural Forward under 40 Awards for their work in the Washington, D.C. area, where Kaleem launched the Next Generation Educational Foundation and served as a consultant to the federal government on such initiatives as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. He also guided efforts that secured congressional investment of more than $600 million in public, private and charter school initiatives in the nation's capital. In 2010, he returned to his native Madison to lead the Urban League, and since then, he’s worked to call attention to the city’s rising poverty and to push for practical solutions.
“The numbers are daunting against us,” Caire says. “People see poverty persist, and they think it’s normal. Leaders don’t feel an incentive to change. It’s our role to make sure that they see that problems can be solved.”
During recent years, the Urban League has increased its job training programs and educational outreach, and Caire led a bruising fight to try to establish a charter school focused on serving students of color. Though the Madison school board ultimately refused to approve the creation of Madison Preparatory Academy, the long-running debate did focus the conversation on the achievement gap between students of color and their white classmates.
“I think we’ve put the city on a better footing,” says Caire.
Hamdan, a native of Bolivia, is a social worker with Joining Forces for Families, an initiative of the Dane County Department of Human Services. She came to Madison in the late 1980s, when her mother was being treated for a brain tumor at the UW Hospital and Clinics. Helping her mother through surgery and recovery gave Hamdan a first-hand view of the problems many Madisonians face — problems that have only become more common in recent years.
“The needs of the population are huge and on multiple levels,” she says. “It’s very difficult to find housing, and there’s an increasing amount of people who are unemployed.”
Both Hamdan and Caire believe that education is the key to overcoming poverty. Hamdan shares the benefits of her Badger education by acting as a mentor with high school students and welcoming interns from the UW School of Social Work.
“My goal is to go back to school and teach,” she says. “I’d like to take my experience and apply that with students.”
The McDowell Alumni Achievement Award is named for the inaugural recipients, Chuck ’77 and Candace Stone ’73 McDowell. Chuck is a former Wisconsin Alumni Association board chair, and Candace was the founding director of the UW’s Multicultural Student Center.