Program Info

“This is more than a program. The First Wave is a family, a community, a movement.” – Willie Ney, First Wave Executive Director

Program Overview

With the support of affiliated faculty, staff, and artists, First Wave students:

  • develop their craft as part of a high-level artistic community alongside faculty, staff, and nationally renowned spoken word and hip hop artists
  • pursue their academic and career goals by studying fields that merge their artistic interests with professional development
  • engage the community in creative service-learning projects that combine multicultural arts and activism
  • showcase their talents around the campus, city, country and globe as part of the First Wave Hip Hop Theater Ensemble

First Wave Freshman Summer - First Wave students get a head start on their UW-Madison careers by taking part in the Summer College Experience (SCE), a summer bridge program designed to help incoming students make a successful transition to college. Participants attend three classes during the summer session, meet a diverse group of fellow incoming students, get adjusted to the college academic and social environment, and enjoy fun trips and cultural activities, including an opening First Wave Welcome Block Party (past Block Party celebrities include DJ Kool Herc, James Brown’s Funky Drummer Clyde Stubblefield, NYC’s Queen GodIs, among many others). In addition, First Wave students receive professionalized training from OMAI’s Artistic Director Chris Walker and Assistant Creative Director Danez Smith throughout the SCE Experience. The cost of tuition, books, and room and board in a residence hall is covered for all participants.


First Wave Freshman Fall Program - Once on campus in the fall, First Wave students are supported by affiliated faculty and advisors to take courses that stimulate their creativity to the highest potential. Students choose their own major to match their personal interests and life goals, while also having the opportunity to take classes exclusively geared for First Wave. Students live in a campus residence hall, establishing a distinctive and supportive community. This environment benefits students academically, socially, and artistically, with study sessions and open mic’s taking place right in the dorms. First Wave students bring their diverse experiences and talents to the table, learning from each other and creating artistic works that cross disciplines. They are also enrolled in a special First Wave FIG (Freshman Interest Group) which is a cluster of three courses taken together that allows for an intimate educational experience and direct and substantive contact with UW faculty members.


First Wave Freshman Spring Program - During the second semester of their Freshmen year, First Wave students take Artistic Director Chris Walker’s First Wave Integrated Arts Workshop and enroll in a service-learning course taught by Professor Michael Thornton.

“In my First Wave workshop, we pull all the students’ artistic elements together to create a production of hip-hop theater. It is a process of joy, struggle, and sweat.”- Professor Chris Walker

First Wave Sophomore Summer Internships - Prior to beginning their sophomore years, First Wave students will have the opportunity to participate in special internships specifically designed for them. Although currently in development, internship possibilities include working with the New York Knicks, the Hip Hop Theater Festival, Contact Theater (in Manchester, England), 2020 Advertising (Miami), Imaijination Studios (LA), HBO (NYC), among other options.


First Wave Sophomore Year - The First Wave sophomore year provides for more flexibility and requires that the students develop projects which showcase their academic and artistic development. Also, sophomores have the opportunity to participate in more local, regional, national and international traveling as part of the First Wave Hip Hop Theater Ensemble.


First Wave Junior Year – Students are encouraged to study abroad, which provides the students with an international experience and deep immersion into language fluency. Our students maintain blogs about their experiences and stay in close touch with their fellow First Wave students studying in Madison. Those traveling abroad in 2010-2011 included Michael in Australia (From Tomorrows), Leslie in Portugal and Brazil (Thus Far In Life), and Camea in Ghana (Camea Osborn).


First Wave Senior Year – is characterized by a capstone seminar and senior arts project as well as in depth career advising and portfolio development that will provide the the First Wave students with the tools to be successful in their professional endeavors upon graduation.

“Having a small community within a big school like UW really helps me stay focused on my studies. And since we’re all artists, we vibe with each other really naturally.” - Kelsey Van Ert, First Wave student from St. Paul, MN.


During their tenure at the UW-Madison, First Wave students are strongly encouraged to take service-learning courses that are tied to community-outreach initiatives. The inaugural cohort of First Wave have been involved in service learning and outreach projects related to K-12 schools, community centers, and correctional facilities. By their senior year, students will have the opportunity to secure an internship with local and national arts organizations, media companies, and cultural centers.


“The First Wave is about living out the Wisconsin Idea, the UW-Madison tradition that the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state, and now the globe,” - Professor Michael Thornton of the Afro-American Studies Department and Director of the Morgridge Center for Public Service. “This is a program committed to social justice and connecting what you are learning in class to issues in the community.”

First Wave students have many opportunities to share their talents with large crowds on campus, in the city, around the country and now, with study abroad options abounding, around the world. These events create an exciting platform for cross-cultural dialogue and a positive social environment for all ages. Annual highlights include:

  • Passing the Mic Spoken Word Showcase, featuring nationally-renowned artists (past artists include Jessica Care-Moore, Linton Kwase Johnson, Willie Perdomo, Roger Bonair-Agard, Mayda del Valle, among others)
  • Wisconsin Poetry Slam, an event that involves top youth spoken word artists and nationally renowned features
  • Line Breaks, one of the most important outreach events that takes place annually which involves First Wave as performers and participants and involves some of the most renowned spoken word, hip hop theater and musical artists in the world today (past visitors have included Stew and Heidi Rodewald, Chuck D, Colman Domingo, Lemon, Popmaster Fabel, Rockafella and Kwikstep, Rennie Harris, Alix Olson, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, among many others)

“We’re showing people what real hip hop is all about: peace, love, unity, and having fun.” – Sofia Snow, First Wave student from Boston, MA

Participants receive training and guidance from visiting artists affiliated with First Wave. Past guest artists have included:

  • DJ Kool Herc, the founding father of hip-hop (New York, NY)
  • Marc Bamuthi Joseph, internationally acclaimed hip-hop theater artist and UW-Madison Artist in Residence 2007 (San Francisco, CA) Hip Hop Theater Stars Will Power (Obie Award Winner) and Baba Israel (Director, Contact Theater)
  • Jeff Chang, Author of Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop-American Book Award-Winner 2005
  • Mayda del Valle, actress, b-girl, National Poetry Slam champion and recent featured artist at the White House (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Award-winning poet and artist Chicagoland Poet Kevin Coval
  • …And more!

“The First Wave is the next evolution of the culture. This program is the real deal.” – DJ Kool Herc, the father of hip-hop and a First Wave affiliated artist


All First Wave students receive a financial aid package to help meet the costs of college, with the possibility of a four-year, full-tuition scholarship. Students are also able to receive federal, state, and university aid. To be eligible for aid, students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).


Any applicant to the UW-Madison, namely incoming freshmen and transfer students (only sophomore transfer students are accepted), may apply to join the First Wave. Students must first be guaranteed admission to UW-Madison before they will be considered for the First Wave. The First Wave admissions committee reviews each application individually and is looking for students who demonstrate strong artistic and academic abilities, as well as leadership, community service, creativity, talent, and enthusiasm. We also consider personal characteristics that will contribute to the strength and diversity of the learning community. The incoming class of First Wave average high school GPA was a 3.6 and the average ACT score was 26.


Application Deadline: October 1, 2015.

To learn more about the First Wave application click here.


More Information

For more information and help with the application process, please contact:

Sofía Snow
Education Coordinator
(Outreach & Recruitment)

Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives
239 Red Gym
716 Langdon St. Madison, WI 53706
(608) 890-1006


Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 12.44.23 PM