Learning communities for CAE Scholars

Like many students, CAE Scholars will choose a learning community program for their first year. A learning community is a “high-impact practice”, typically consisting of one or more courses, named as such for the significant educational benefits for students who participate in them. In a learning community, you will connect more closely with your course instructors and peers over engaging course content in smaller-sized classes. This list is specifically selected by CAE as a great fit for most CAE Scholars. You will participate in at least one, and in most cases you can choose others, too!

Learn about each option by following the links provided: each program has much more information on its own website.

And your CAE academic advisors are here to help you choose your learning community. Before your SOAR summer orientation program, you will meet with an advisor to talk about learning communities, your Fall classes, and more.

Choose during the admissions process before or close to May 1. — Residential Learning Communities (in campus housing), the L&S Honors Program, and the Summer Collegiate Experience are generally have earlier application deadlines. Read the entries below, and on the programs’ websites, for exact dates for this year.

Choose during SOAR summer orientation. — First-Year Interest Groups, Undergraduate Research Scholars, Wisconsin Emerging Scholars classes, and other individual classes can be selected through the summer.

First-Year Interest Groups (FIGs)


Build community in the classroom.

figs.wisc.edu — FIGs are clusters of (usually) three Fall-semester UW–Madison classes, linked together to explore a common theme, and open to incoming freshmen who attend these classes together. There are about 60 different FIGs each fall.

At the heart of each FIG is a top-notch instructor who develops and leads a class exclusively for the students in your FIG. The FIG instructor selects two complementary UW classes, combining and expanding what you learn in these classes with the main FIG seminar.

  • All classes in the FIG are taken together. If you decide to drop one class, you need to drop all the FIG’s classes.
  • Some FIG courses have requisites (conditons that must be met before enrolling) such as placement test scores or direct admissions into a specific UW–Madison college. Read the notes for each FIG to see these listed. Such FIGs are open only to students who meet those conditions.

Enroll during SOAR, after consulting with your academic advisor during SOAR. As a CAE Scholar, you will also get an early opportunity to reserve a seat in a FIG.

Undergraduate Research Scholars (URS)


Use research and creative practices as ways to explore possible majors and build community.

urs.ls.wisc.edu — This two-semester program is for students interested in exploring the nature of research, creative practice, and discovery, and approaching this in an interdisciplinary way: from natural science, to social science, to the arts and humanities.

Students meet weekly in a 20-person seminar class to develop critical thinking and writing skills. Each student is also matched with a UW–Madison mentor’s research project, working together a few hours each week (schedule varies) for hands-on experience and skill development.

  • This is a two-semester commitment. You must be willing to engage in research for entire year.
  • The weekly seminar is on Wednesdays, 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm.
  • Most URS Scholars participate during their first year. A few spots are available to second-year students.

Apply to URS as soon as you know you are interested: before or soon after SOAR. Applications are open until August 18, 2023. The URS Program reviews applications as they come in and offer spots on a rolling basis.

Residential Learning Communities

Live and learn in a themed community.

housing.wisc.edu/residence-halls/learning-communities — University Housing offers 11 residential learning communities that bring together faculty, staff, and students around a shared focus like international cultures & languages; biology; gender & sexuality; or sustainability. The Bradley and Chadbourne RLCs are good options for students with a mix of interests.

Each residential learning community includes a seminar class for all students in the RLC, special events, faculty guests, field trips, and many ways for students to create their community on campus.

  • If you are in an RLC, and you want this to be your only first-semester learning community as a CAE Scholar, you must enroll in one of the RLC classes.

When you sign up for Housing (go.wisc.edu/my-housing), select your preferred RLC and choose “learning communities” as your priority for hall preferences.

Honors in the Liberal Arts

Build community by learning with other students while working closely with faculty in smaller group setting.

honors.ls.wisc.edu — College classes are designed for you to participate, be committed to learning, and embrace new perspectives and ideas—Honors classes have even more of this. It’s a great fit for students who enjoy active class discussions with both classmates and the teacher, and who want to dig deeper into the topics. The program also offers tailored academic advising, special events, and scholarships and grants just for Honors students. No previous secondary-school Honors experience is required.

  • Taking an “Honors Only” class in the first semester on campus meets the CAE expectations of a learning community.
  • Students accepted into the Honors Program meet with an Honors advisor for their SOAR session.

Typically, all admitted first-year students are invited to apply to the Honors Program before mid-April. In 2023 the deadline is May 19, 2023. The Honors in the Liberal Arts application is an online form with a few short essays. The L&S Honors Program determines which applications are successful, and how many students will be admitted into the Honors in the Liberal Arts Program.

Wisconsin Emerging Scholars (WES) calculus classes

Deeper dive into content for motivated students with a strong background and interest in math.

math.wisc.edu/undergraduate/wes — Discussion sections for certain calculus courses that provide you with an
opportunity to study mathematics in a challenging, friendly, multicultural environment. A WES discussion section is generally more diverse than a regular section, and students work in small groups on challenging problems designed to foster high levels of understanding and interest.

  • Your math placement test scores, AP/IB credits, or transfer credits must meet the requirements for WES–Calculus classes.
  • For Fall 2023, enroll in MATH 228: “WES Calculus Supplement” PLUS one of the following:
    MATH 221: “Calculus and Analytic Geometry 1”
    MATH 222: “Calculus and Analytic Geometry 2”
    MATH 234: “Calculus—Functions of Several Variables”

At SOAR, after consulting with your acadmic advisor, you request permission to enroll through the instructions on the Math Department WES–Calculus webpage. Once approved to enroll, you enroll in both WES classes at the same time.

Wisconsin Emerging Scholars (WES) computer science classes

Develop confidence, excitement, and belonging with students from underrepresented groups in Computer Science.

cs.wisc.edu/undergraduate/wes — WES-CS (CS 304 and CS 638) is a fun, interactive study group for students who are new to programming or the computer sciences.

  • For students taking CS 200 (Programming I) and CS 300 (Programming II). Through weekly meetings led by peers, you’ll earn one additional credit and gain greater mastery of CS 200 material. These small sections focus on learning via group activities and games, ensuring that everyone understands basic concepts, connecting Computer Science to social good and activism, and coding fun projects.

Please ask your CAE advisor for a link to enroll. Students who are authorized for the study group should add the appropriate course (CS 304 or CS 638) to their class schedule and then attend during the scheduled meeting time. When enrolling, select 1-credit option if you want to course to count for credit. Questions: advising@cs.wisc.edu.

Interdisciplinary L&S 210: “Career Development, Taking Initiative”

Start developing your career toolkit early in college.

successworks.wisc.edu/career-courses — This 1-credit class will help you explore and build on your strengths and interests for future career success.

  • Enroll in Lecture 005, which is specifically for CAE Scholars.

At SOAR, after consulting with your acadmic advisor, you can follow regular procedures to enroll in this class.

History 200: “Gandhi, King, Mandela: Nonviolence in the World”

Learning about nonviolent social justice movements in the past helps us think more clearly about social justice movements today.

This course is a historical introduction to the idea and practice of nonviolence as a viable method of political resistance and protest. We shall study the evolution of the politics of nonviolence in the twentieth century by comparing the ways in which nonviolent protests emerged in South Asia, South Africa, and the United States. We will trace this evolution through the inspired political activism of transformative leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela. From environmental crises, gender and sexuality rights, immigration, and racial injustice advocacy, this course highlights how nonviolence has remained one of the most popular, important, and effective weapons of political resistance for those who are underrepresented and oppressed.

The main objective of the course is to help students think and write critically about the discourses of nonviolent and civil disobedience practices. By the end of this course, students will demonstrate a strong basis of knowledge of the history and political practice of nonviolence in the world. Students will acquire historical research skills, including the effective use of libraries, archives, and digital databases, and develop writing skills through the production of a research paper. Ultimately, students will learn to envision themselves as active inheritors as well as creators of narratives that lead to consequential political, social, and legal changes in the world. More information about Professor Mou Banerjee’s The Nonviolence Project is available here: thenonviolenceproject.wisc.edu

  • Enroll in Lecture 010 (Mondays 3:30–5:25 pm)

Please check with your CAE advisor about the process to enroll.

Counseling Psychology 125: “Wisconsin Experience Seminar”

Build community with other CAE scholars, acclimate to academic and student life, and learn about university resources.

newstudent.wisc.edu/programs/academic-engagement — This small 1-credit seminar is designed to help students successfully transition to academic and student life at UW-Madison.

  • Enroll in Seminar 027 (Thursdays 1:00–2:15 pm), taught by SCE Assistant Director Eve Williams

To enroll in this section, email Andrea Burdick (ampalm (at) wisc.edu) with your name and campus ID number.

Summer Collegiate Experience (SCE)

Build community and get a gradual start to your first year on campus.

cae.ls.wisc.edu/summer-collegiate-experience — The Summer Collegiate Experience is a quality-learning, first-year experience for students entering the university. You take two classes for degree credit and learn about UW–Madison resources and campus culture during a six-week, on-campus program. Tuition, housing, meals, and book are covered by UW–Madison.

  • About a dozen classes are typically offered each summer, ranging from core foundation classes to more advanced study.

SCE is only for CAE Scholars and students in selected other cohort programs. Admitted students invited to become CAE Scholars can opt in to SCE before May 1 each year. In 2023, CAE Scholars who have not done so can opt by sending an email to sce@saa.ls.wisc.edu by May 15, 2023.

Students who participate in SCE will typically join another learning community in the fall.