University News

Warhawk thrives through community-based learning

March 20, 2024

Written by Chris Lindeke | Video by Kyle Winter | Photos by Craig Schreiner, submitted

As the daily announcements crackled over the public address system on a February morning at Washington Elementary School in Whitewater, Wisconsin, Kolden Severson prepared his third-grade classroom for the arrival of his 16 students.

Severson, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 2023 with a BSE in elementary education and a minor in Spanish, projected the writing lesson for the day on the classroom smartboard.

He also prepared, as he does each day, to address students in both English and Spanish. Two of Severson’s students are native Spanish speakers — a reflection of the city’s robust Hispanic/Latino population.

“I knew I wanted to use my Spanish-speaking abilities to support students in some way,” Severson said. “Washington has such a high need for that, and I knew it was the right place for me, because those students don’t have the same ability to connect with other teachers and other students at the school as every other kid.”



As an undergrad at UW-Whitewater, Severson made a great first impression at Washington through the university’s Community-Based Learning program.

Community-Based Learning, or CBL, places Warhawks on campus and in the local community for support in service learning, research, a learning fellows program, and community engagement assessment. During the 2021-22 academic year, a total of 686 students enrolled in 32 CBL courses, delivering more than 10,500 hours of service.

Severson enrolled in a Spanish for Educators course in the spring of 2022. The course included a CBL requirement, so he was assigned to work with third graders at Washington Elementary on math and science. He ended up working 35 hours — more than the required 20 necessary to complete the course — to support multilingual learner teachers in the school.

Through the CBL program, Severson found a safe, inclusive place to practice his Spanish-speaking skills and to develop as a professional teacher.

“CBL really helped me feel like part of the Whitewater community rather than just a UWW student,” Severson said. “Before then, I really didn’t have any knowledge of what schools were in Whitewater, what they looked like, or who the population was. It was never really a thought to me.”

Kolden, wearing a shirt and tie, smiles at the camera with his hands in his pockets.

After graduating from UW-Whitewater, Severson had the opportunity to replace his CBL cooperating teacher. He was hired before graduation as a full-time teacher in the same classroom, and now collaborates with the university’s current CBL students from the same Spanish for Educators course.

“It is really cool getting to see the students connect with the UWW students,” Severson said. “Every day when they come in, they say hi, and welcome them into the classroom. Every time they leave, they all stop what they’re doing and say good-bye in their own quirky, third-grade ways.”

Severson traces his passion for education back to his days as a middle school student. He hopes to replicate his positive experience for his students.

“I had done Boy Scouts throughout my entire childhood, and I think I had realized that I really liked teaching other kids skills, and I really liked being in that mentor role where it was my responsibility to help someone else learn a new skill,” he said.

As a senior at Janesville Craig High School, Severson knew he wanted to stay close to home for college and was aware of UW-Whitewater’s reputation as a top school for education — the university currently licenses more teachers than any other institution in Wisconsin.

Severson chose UW-Whitewater and was highly engaged the moment he stepped onto campus. He was part of a Learning Community as a freshman and joined the Warhawk forensics team, remaining an active member of the team for four years.

He was also a Resident Assistant (RA) on campus for five semesters starting in the spring of 2021.

“Whenever we got together in big groups, like with the RAs — whether that was our end-of-the-year banquet or just big events — I always felt really welcomed and really appreciated there,” Severson said. “I knew lots of people and they were so kind and appreciative to me.”


The gym is filled with students wearing graduation gowns, including Kolden whos is hugging another person.

Kolden Severson hugs a fellow graduate at the bottom center of the frame at commencement on Saturday, May 13, 2023, at Kachel Fieldhouse. (UW-Whitewater photo/Craig Schreiner)


As an educator, Severson fills an important role in the local community and addresses a workforce need in Wisconsin.

His ability to speak Spanish and connect with students from all backgrounds will impact his students well beyond the days they spend in the classroom with him.

“I know every time I see those kids in the hallway, I’ve built a lasting connection with them, and to me that’s priceless,” Severson said.

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