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The History of the
Brittingham Viking Scholarships

The Original Viking Scholarships

The Brittingham Viking Scholarships are a collection of scholarship programs between the University of Wisconsin-Madison and schools in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. The first scholarship was created in 1952 by Thomas E. Brittingham, Jr. when he brought a young Danish student to study abroad at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The student was the son of a family friend who wished to study in the United States. Tom was so impressed by the young man that he decided to expand his vision for the program.


Because of his connection to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his considerable wealth, it was within his means to create a scholarship program that would bring young students from Scandinavia to Madison annually for the next ten years.


Under this program, a group of students from Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark were offered scholarships to study abroad at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Tom Brittingham’s idea was that the scholarships would produce “ripples on the water” and that the young individuals that were chosen would have a positive effect on their local communities through the knowledge and ideals they gained during their time abroad.


Many of the original classes of scholars known as “Tom’s Vikings” went on to become successful in various industries, academic fields, and politics. In appreciation for the opportunity and experience that they had received, Tom’s Vikings created the “Reverse Viking” scholarship, which brought two University of Wisconsin students to study and travel in Scandinavia each summer. In addition to attending summer school, the Reverse Vikings were hosted in the homes of Tom’s Vikings. From lively conversations around the dinner table to visit at host families’ businesses, Reverse Vikings were provided educational experiences beyond what could be offered in the classroom.


Tom Brittingham, Jr. died unexpectedly of a heart attack while driving his car in Maryland in 1960. When news reached the former Viking scholars, they commissioned a 250 pound Swedish runestone, a traditional way to commemorate a lost leader; the translation of the runic inscription is: “To a good friend the way is not long, though he be far away.” The stone rests on Muir Knoll on the UW-Madison campus. After the untimely death of Mr. Brittingham in 1960, the program was carried to completion for the originally planned 10-year period by his widow, Peg, and son, Thomas E. Brittingham III. While the original program ended over 50 years ago, the Ripples created by Tom's Vikings have continued to build on the original idea.

The Ripples: Continuing the tradition

When the Reverse Viking scholarship ended in 1975, Reverse Viking alumni created the Kubly-Bunn Scholarship. This scholarship, named after two of the driving forces behind the Viking Organization at the University of Wisconsin, brought students from Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark to study at UW for the summer. 


The Kubly-Bunn scholarship ended in 1987. Past recipients of this scholarship created the Madison Viking Scholarship to once again reverse the flow and provide the opportunity for UW students to have a summer of study and travel in Scandinavia.


In addition to the programs created by past scholars, descendants of Thomas and Margaret Brittingham continued to provide support for scholarships, bringing students from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark to UW-Madison annually. Traditionally, two students attended the University each year on the Brittingham Memorial Scholarship.


Furthermore, the Louise & Göran Ehrnrooth family foundation of Finland has been a longtime supporter by dedicating funds to specifically send a Finnish scholar to accompany those on the Brittingham Memorial Scholarship. The Ehrnrooth family also started providing funds in 2002 for two UW-students to study abroad in Helsinki, Finland during the Spring semester.


The year 2002 also saw the addition of a scholarship that sends two UW students to Denmark to attend the Copenhagen Business School Summer Program. The scholarship later became known as the Middelboe-Kellner Scholarship after its biggest contributors, original Viking Lars Middelboe and Reverse Viking Ted Kellner.


Additional scholarships over the years include many namesake scholarships through the Wisconsin Alumni Association for summer study at UW, as well as a long list of namesake scholarships for various programs to and from UW-Madison. These include:


Apeland Scholarship - Summer at UW-Madison (NO)

Dr. Paul and Renate Madsen  - Summer at UW-Madison (DK)

Anders Wall Scholarship - Summer at UW-Madison (SE)

St. Erik Viking Scholarships - Summer at UW-Madison (SE)

St. Erik Viking Scholarships - Academic Year at UW-Madison (SE)

Ulf Jansson - Summer at UW-Madison (FI)

Madison Horelli - Semester in Helsinki, Finland (US)

The Brittingham Viking Scholarships Today

The flagship Brittingham Memorial Scholarship Program expired in 2011 and was replaced with the Scott & Ella Brittingham Viking Scholarship program, funded generously by the Scott and Ella Brittingham family. This Scholarship Program is the current flagship scholarship for Scandinavians to study abroad at UW-Madison and supports sending one student from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark for a full academic year of studies annually.   


An echo of the Reverse Viking program continues today by sending three UW-Madison students to Scandinavia every Spring and Summer. A group of three students spends the spring semester spread out at Universities in Helsinki, Uppsala, and Copenhagen and then comes  together to study at the International Summer School in Oslo, Norway.


Alumni of all of the scholarships automatically become members of the Brittingham Viking Organization. We have around 500 living members that stay in touch and support each other as well as the new scholars. Each year, the BVO hosts a Convention to make decisions about the future of our scholarship programs and to socialize with friends in the alumni organization. The Convention site rotates between Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Helsinki, and Madison and usually has over 150 members in attendance.


Brittingham Viking Organization members refer to themselves as the “Viking Family.” This "family" constitutes the social infrastructure necessary to provide the non-classroom component of the Viking scholarships. The expanded professional network of our Viking Alumni also provides new scholars with incredible support and inspiration for their own career aspirations.

American author Mark Twain once said, “I never let my schooling get in the way of my education.” Before and after school sessions, as well as on weekends and during free time, our scholars have the opportunity to travel to different places in Scandinavia and in the U.S. They are taken care of and shown around by families and friends of the Viking Organization.


The scholarships are primarily funded by private donations from companies, individuals, and organizations that believe in Tom's original idea. The hope is that the scholars will, from these experiences, contribute to the ties between Scandinavia and the U.S, continue Tom’s Ripples, and take an active role in the organization administration following the completion of their time abroad. 


These are the Ripples of Tom's Vikings, the Brittingham Viking Scholarships, and this is their history and impact on those that have been lucky enough to receive them.

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