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Stories | 11.12.19

Bringing Community Voices to the Table

From her career as a cartographer to her passion for public service, Tanya Buckingham, M.A. ’16, is always looking for how she can better serve the needs of her community.

A graduate of the Master of Arts in Industrial and Organizational Psychology program on the Online Campus, Buckingham has been a cartographer for almost 20 years. She works at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where she teaches and mentors students in the field.

Buckingham is also involved with local community organizations in Madison. In 2016, she joined a nonprofit board that oversees two community centers and the Latino Academy of Workforce Development. That is where she “fell in love with the idea of community centers being a hub of human support within neighborhoods.”

Buckingham soon found a way to combine her drive to help communities with her profession.

She began partnering with nonprofit organizations for an annual cartography design challenge, where University of Wisconsin students work with organizations to create graphic representations of their community’s needs. It is both a learning experience for the students and a beneficial exercise for the nonprofits.

“One of the things I always say is that geography is the ultimate study of empathy, and cartography is its language,” Buckingham said, explaining that “a map can be so powerful in telling a story. By looking at the visual data we can start to see patterns of where services match up with need and where they do not. A map creates a powerful visual that organizations can take to a city council meeting or to a legislator and use as a visual example to show a pattern or need.”

Running for Public Office

In addition to serving the community through her profession and volunteering, Buckingham saw an opportunity to make an impact through public office.

“I wanted to do this on a bigger level,” she said. “That’s when I started to become more aware of county government.”

In 2018, Buckingham was elected District 24 supervisor for Dane County, the second-most-populous county in Wisconsin.

She was attracted to the opportunity to “show up” for the people in her county and help connect them with the resources they need “to live their best lives.”

Buckingham is on the Health and Human Needs Committee, which oversees more than half of the $630 million county budget. She said she chose the committee because she believes in prevention and addressing the root causes of inequality and injustice.

“My role as an elected official is about supporting the initiatives and getting everyone in the room together who needs to be in the room to make things happen,” said Buckingham, who also strives to make sure there is representation from traditionally underrepresented communities.

During her term, she has worked on many initiatives, including advocating with state senators and representatives to improve child protection, supporting youth justice programs, and promoting research-backed approaches to intervention for children who have come into contact with the criminal justice system. She has also successfully worked with Latinx partners in the community to advocate for funding to assist with legal counsel for people facing deportation following Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in the community.

As a result of her success in her freshman term, Buckingham was appointed to the Wisconsin Counties Association to be an ambassador to state legislators who represent her county.

Buckingham, who is also a mother of two and still has her day job, said that although she is constantly trying to juggle everything, she strongly believes that “you only get one shot in life, so you better do it right.

Growing Her Leadership and Organizational Skills

When Buckingham discovered industrial and organizational psychology, she felt like her “whole career had been leading toward that field.”

“I always tell people that it is the psychology of how to get groups to perform well together,” said Buckingham, who often coaches her students and wanted to grow her leadership skills. “It confirmed some of the ways in which I was doing things. It also challenged me in new ways.”

Her degree has helped in her elected position because “it’s about building relationships, and coming up with a common goal and common approach,” Buckingham said. “My role on the County Board pulls together so many of my classes, as well as Adler University’s social justice approach, to make sure we are elevating everyone’s voices in our community.”

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