The Odyssey Project, a free college starter course, is in the running for a national award.
The group offers a class to those who might not normally be able to afford it, covering literature, philosophy, art, music, theater and writing. Professor Emily Auerbach is a finalist for a $10,000 Lady GODIVA Inspirational Woman Award, followed by a film crew this week.
"We have people who've gone from being homeless to being in graduate school," said Auerbach. "Why not open the doors of the University to people who are motivated and gifted and want to learn and just lack the income and lack the confidence that they can do it."
Among their current students is Michelle Whitman, a mother who postponed her pursuit of a law degree when she started a family.
"When I was younger I was going for law and I dropped out cause my kids were so young and I didn't have help," said Whitman. "What I ended up doing was saying 'One day I'm going back to school,' but that one day became a month and then years."
Another student, James Morgan, spent nearly half his life in prison. He says the class is helping him decide where to head next.
"I'll soon be 54 years old," said Morgan. When I'm talking to young people and I'm advising them 'Go to school, get an education, it's going to be important,' it's more important to them to see that I'm doing the same thing I'm encouraging them to do.
The Odyssey course is free for its participants and includes textbooks, child care, and a meal during sessions. It is funded by the UW, grants, and hundreds of donors.