Current CESP Students

Views expressed here are those of the students and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Nelson Institute or UW-Madison.

photo of Gregorio Abrajan

Gregorio Abrajan

What are your majors? Zoology, certificate in Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? As a kid I looked forward to Saturday mornings for three reasons: no school, sugary cereal and the Jeff Corwin Experience. For anyone not familiar with this show, it follows the host, Biologist Jeff Corwin as he explores the world and exposes and explains aspects of the diverse animal kingdom to his audience. His show was the start of my fascination with animals, especially exotic endangered animals. Of course to explore and research these rare and captivating animals one must understand their environment and how to protect it. Therefore, my joining of a program that is centered on the importance of the environment like CESP was inevitable.

What would you say (or do you say) to other students about CESP and the Nelson Institute? CESP is a great program to meet, interact, and connect with other students and staff that are passionate about the environment. It is a gateway to great opportunities, on-campus and off-campus, locally and nationally, throughout undergrad or beyond it. Furthermore, the people that form this program—students and staff—makes the program very amicable and fun!

Something few people know about you: I haven’t had soda since I was in 6th grade. Literally not a drop.


photo of Angela Baldocchi

Angela Baldocchi

What are your majors? Environmental Studies and Geography

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? As a child of the 80s, I remember the songs of the environmental movement namely, “This Land is Your Land”. I have always felt close to nature thanks to the efforts of my mother. She regularly took me and my sister to breath-taking landscapes to visit family in the mountains of Oregon, the farms of Arkansas, the coasts of Florida, and the urban areas of New York and Chicago.

What would you say (or do you say) to other students about CESP and the Nelson Institute? I consider the Community Environmental Scholars Program and the Nelson Institute a major turning point in my journey. If you are looking for direction, the Nelson Institute and the CESP community are a wonderful place to practice and observe while working toward our common environmental goals.

Something else about you? Favorite quote: “In nature nothing exists alone” - Rachel Carson, Silent Spring


photo of Patrick Bass

Patrick Bass

What are your majors? Zoology, certificate in Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: December 2017

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? What inspires my interest in the environment is the animals and the part they play within their own ecosystems. I think that the preservation of other ecosystems can help preserve the at risk and endangered animals and their natural environments to stop the high extinction rates from continuing to increase.

Something else about you? I am an only child and I think that it plays a big part of who I am and how I interact with others.


photo of Paige Becht

Paige Becht

What are your majors? Conservation Biology and Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? Having grown up in the Kettle Moraine, my heart naturally fell in love with the environment. Being surrounded by nature and having the opportunity to work with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources at campgrounds in the Kettle Moraine State Forest-Northern Unit has shaped who I am as a person. This influenced me to double major in Conservation Biology and Environmental Studies. These majors allow me to channel my passions towards conserving ecosystems and their wildlife. I firmly believe that the loss of biodiversity is something that needs to be prevented and I want to be on the front line combating this issue. Whether it be as a Warden, Natural Resources Educator, or any of the hundreds of other ways to be involved. I am ready to dedicate my time and abilities to helping better the earth under our feet. Being a part of the Community Environmental Scholars Program will help me find my place in the community and the world. Our discussions will expand my knowledge on current environmental issues and encourage me to believe that I can make a difference. “Believe in yourself and there will come a day when others will have no choice but to believe with you.” ~Cynthia Kersey


photo of Angel Beltran

Angel Beltran

What are your majors? Environmental Studies and Economics

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? As a kid growing up, I really hated going outside and soil especially. The only time I really did enjoy being outside was when I would go play soccer or football with my friends. That would usually be the only time I would get dirty. I was like this up until junior year of high school when I took an IB Environmental Studies class. This was the class that really got me hooked on learning more about the environment and its great importance! I learned a lot in that class that I see repeated over and over again in my current Environmental Studies classes. That was also the first time I ever went out to what is considered the “natural world” and explored different aspects of the environment and got dirty on purpose for the first time in my life. From that class on, I have committed to learn different aspects of the environment and the impact humans have on the environment. Currently our world is becoming very fragile and in my opinion the biggest thing that is currently stopping us from protecting the environment is economics. So I hope with the knowledge I will garner from my economic and environmental studies classes, I would be able to make a positive impact on the environment without affecting the economy, thus making everyone happy!


photo of Iffat Bhuiyan

Iffat Bhuiyan

What are your majors? Community and Environmental Sociology, and Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? My childhood was filled with fresh air and sunshine; I was constantly interacting with the environment whether I knew it or not. Growing up, I became more aware of man-made disasters and climate shifts. In high school, courses that explored the human impact on the environment were offered to me and I was fascinated with the results. I wanted to pause human development and just let nature take its course. However, I knew that was impossible but I wanted to take the right steps to restore our surroundings and prevent further damage to the environment. So I have continued to study how humans interact with the environment, extinct/near extinct species and I am taking more steps to decrease my own ecological footprint on the environment.

What would you say (or do you say) to other students about CESP and the Nelson Institute? I would tell other students that if they are the slightest bit interested in learning more about our environment or our future, to get connected with the Nelson Institute right away. There are a large range of classes the Institute offers, many guest speakers are brought in from all over the world to speak to students and it allows you to begin to start thinking critically about your own role as an individual in the spaces you occupy.


photo of Darian Bjugstad

Darian Bjugstad

What are your majors? Zoology and Conservation Biology, certificate in Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? I’ve always had a deep passion for the outdoors and all of the animals that are populated within it. Taking the class “Extinction of Species” on campus opened my eyes to the diminishing environments and increasing endangerments in the animals I so deeply care for. Since that moment, I’ve become an advocate for wildlife and the environment in my day-to day life. I plan to use the knowledge I gain while in school and in the CESP program to help with my future profession working in wildlife conservation.

What would you say (or do you say) to other students about CESP and the Nelson Institute? Being in CESP is a great opportunity that allows you to share your ideas with a group of people that are passionate about the same things as you. If you’re interested in the intersection between the environment and the community, I highly suggest it!

Something else about you? This past summer I interned at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center where I had the opportunity to work directly with wolves and educate the public on the importance of their presence in the ecosystem. The internship taught me how important it is to promote positive interactions between humans and wildlife, by doing so I had the ability to lessen the many misconceptions that are out there about wolf behavior. (Pictured with a timber wolf named Kekoa).


photo of Brittany Cobb

Brittany Cobb

What are your majors? Biology and Environmental Studies, certificate in Global Health

Expected graduation: December 2017

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? Many experiences have inspired my interest in the environment. Growing up I was always outside and developed an interest at a young age. After high school I joined the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves and one of our crucial roles is protecting the marine environment. From the Coast Guard I have been exposed to the importance of our natural resources and the strong relationship we have with our environment. I continued my interest in college where my global health classes and volunteering in the community sparked my interest in sustainability and living green in order to have a happier and healthier community.

What would you say (or do you say) to other students about CESP and the Nelson Institute? I would say that CESP is a great program to connect with other students, the community and amazing faculty members. While I have always been heavily involved in my community, CESP has inspired me to seek a wide variety of volunteer opportunities and internships that are environmentally focused.


photo of Rachel Dietzman

Rachel Dietzman

What are your majors? Community & Nonprofit Leadership and Environmental Studies, certificate in Integrated Liberal Studies

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? Growing up in the city of Milwaukee I had little exposure to what most consider the “natural environment” due to my urban neighborhood and “Community” because of the heavy segregation lines within the city. However, once I came to UW my interest was sparked by a FIG or First-Year Interest group called Music Movies and the 1960’s, which highlighted social justice issues documented through popular 1960’s artists and compared them to the social injustices Americans face today. That FIG sparked my interest in community relations as a civil society. I later went on an alternative break through UW which involved helping out at environmentally conscious nonprofits throughout the US. It wasn’t until I was wielding a machete in the bayou’s of Louisiana last December to help knock out invasive species, that I realized the intersectionality our communities and the environment share. During my time volunteering in New Orleans I learned that every 15 minutes a football field of natural wetlands disappears, sinking underwater. These surrounding wetlands of Louisiana act as a barrier which take the initial impact from any hurricane or tropical storm. I then looked around the Lower 9th Ward, a community still recovering from the social, economic and environmental impacts of hurricane Katrina since 2005, and knew that the relationship between our communities and the environment was something I wanted to further explore because I believe we cannot fully have one without the other, and that’s when I found CESP. Photo credit: Cameron Smith


photo of Aida Farrokh Ebrahimi

Aida Farrokh Ebrahimi

What are your majors? Environmental Sciences, certificate in Digital Studies and Computer Science

Expected graduation: December 2017

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? My passion for the environment was sparked by many things in my life. I grew up in Iran and lived in Tehran where air pollution obstructs one’s view, basic recycling does not exist, and land and animal conservations are not respected. Seeing the negligence of people towards the environment and the surrounding spaces stirred me to learn more about different ways of connecting the community to the environment and to promote for a better health of the earth. Lastly, learning more about social environmental injustices prevalent in communities made me aware of underlying issues in environmental movements.


photo of Isabel Gunderson

Isabel Gunderson

What are your majors? Civil Engineering, certificate in Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? I have had an interest in the environment since I was young. I grew up in Milwaukee right next to the Milwaukee River, and it was in the woods behind my house where I learned to love the outdoors. My parents encouraged my love for nature and animals and led my sister’s and I in our efforts to be involved; from rescuing injured birds to helping remove invasive plants along the river path. My passion for the environment is what made me decide to get a certificate in Environmental Studies in the hopes that I will be able to use all the knowledge I learn in whatever I end up doing.

What would you say (or do you say) to other students about CESP and the Nelson Institute? CESP has introduced me to some of the best people I have ever met. Everyone is very passionate and open-minded and I would strongly recommend getting to know them all.

Something few people know about you: During my childhood I had just about every pet imaginable at one point or another.

Something else about you? I love camping and hiking and most other outdoor activities.


photo of Eric Hammerer

Eric Hammerer

What are your majors? Wildlife Ecology, certificate in Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: December 2017

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? I have always been inspired by the natural world. I used to watch Zaboomafoo, The Crocodile Hunter, and David Attenborough (still watch) as a kid. I was fascinated with the diversity and majesty of the other creatures we share this planet with.

Something else about you? I would love to someday conduct my own research into species of concern and influence policy decision making regarding their conservation and management.


photo of April Hommerding

April Hommerding

What are your majors? Conservation Biology and Legal Studies with a certificate in Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: May 2019

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? First thing first, there is one thing I know to be true: you will not come across someone who doesn’t find some sort of beauty, enjoyment, or appreciation of being outdoors or within nature. I believe that something that can bring the entire population some form of happiness is something worth fighting for. That is the overall inspiration for my passion for the environment. More personally, I am thankful to have been a part of a generation that grew up spending as many hours of the day outside as possible, not with our eyes glued to iPads. My love for nature emerged from spending time at my Grandparent’s house on the lake surrounded by miles upon miles of woods. My favorite thing to do, second to walking through the trails of the woods with my Dad, was to go for pontoon boat rides on the lake with my whole family. As I grew older within more of a city scene, I spent most of my free time growing up biking the bike trails with my mom and brother, “camping” with my friends in their backyards, joining my Dad for walks on his favorite hunting and fishing grounds, and playing softball from the time the field thawed in the spring until the last of the smoldering hot summer days. It has always been heartbreaking to me to hear the news cover topics such as the BP oil spill, the loss of life in our Great Barrier Reef, the advancement of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and the numerous environmental threats due to climate change. Loving animals as much as I did nature, I grew up believing I would be a veterinarian. It was not until I took an environmental science class my senior year of high school that I became fully convinced that there was meaning behind lifelong connection with nature, and my future must be spent doing something to help solve our society’s environmental problems.


photo of Kathleen Javenkoski

Kathleen Javenkoski

What are your majors? History and Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? When I was a toddler Whole Foods was handing out free tree saplings for Earth Day. I was so excited to plant mine and to this day it grows in my childhood home’s front yard. My sapling and I grew up together and I felt a special connection to trees and the earth. When I was old enough to realize that trees around the world were being cut down in excess to make room for agriculture, etc. I knew that conservation was the path for me.

What would you say (or do you say) to other students about CESP and the Nelson Institute? The people are fabulous. I’ve really enjoyed working other students in CESP everyone has such diverse backgrounds of how they got to the Nelson Institute. If you want to expand your knowledge of the environment, meet some great people, and practice your leadership skills then this is the place to be!

Something few people know about you: Up until my senior year of High School I was planning to become a music educator. I took an AP Environmental Studies course and throughout my senior year I became incredibly invested in environmental restoration. I have never given up my dream of becoming an educator in some form and I am happy that I am working towards being an educator that integrates environmental topics across all subjects.

Something else about you? One of the main reasons I decided to attend UW-Madison was for the Nelson Institute! When I heard about CESP I was super excited to apply and I’m so happy to be a part of it.


photo of Lauren Jorgensen

Lauren Jorgensen

What are your majors? Agronomy, Community and Environmental Sociology

Expected graduation: May 2019

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? I have discovered my passion for sustainable community development across a variety of avenues, and have certainly secured it as a student here at UW - Madison. A summer position at a local hospital provided me with the opportunity to learn about the intricacies of food security in my local community. I carried the same passion that I developed during my years at my hometown hospital to my new community of Madison when I accepted a position for the Greenhouse Learning Community program assistant. My focus as the food and environmental justice centered program assistant is to develop events and seek out/provide opportunities for current freshman to uncover and reinforce knowledge and concern for environmental and food related issues. In the future, I hope to engage in an urban planning graduate program.

Something few people know about you: I dressed up as a carrot occasionally for that summertime job.


photo of Rita Kawak

Rita Kawak

What are your majors? Environmental Studies and Sociology, certificates in Gender & Women’s Studies and Global Health

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? I have always been interested in social justice issues and when I learned about the relationship between social issues and environmental issues I knew that I wanted to devote the rest of my life to making our planet a healthier and safer place for every person everywhere. I am especially interested in Environmental Health and how climate change and built environments affect disease and human health.

What would you say (or do you say) to other students about CESP and the Nelson Institute? I think CESP and the Nelson Institute provided me with the perfect home base at UW-Madison. This university is huge and it is so nice to have a small community of like-minded individuals here at the Nelson Institute, it truly is my home away from home.

Something few people know about you: Something about me that few people know is that I’m allergic to pineapple.

Something else about you? Other than CESP, I am involved the Office of Sustainability, the Environmental Studies undergraduate office, the nonprofit “Defy Inertia,” the student org “Sierra Student Coalition,” and the a cappella group “Under A-Rest.”


photo of Collin Kirk

Collin Kirk

What are your majors? Zoology and Environmental Studies, certificate in Digital Studies

Expected graduation: 2017

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? The environment directly effects every human being, even though we’ve been able to master so many parts of it. We can’t forget how much we affect it, and how much it truly means to our livelihood!

What would you say (or do you say) to other students about CESP and the Nelson Institute? Being a part of CESP is one of the greatest experiences I have had the pleasure to be a part of at UW and in my life as a whole. The community has very open arms and is beneficial to the personal and professional lives of everyone within. It’s made me realize my love for nature, sustainability and the environment more than ever before, as well as meeting peers that feel similarly.

Something few people know about you: I suppose few people know that I spent a summer surveying crops for an agronomic consultant company. I got to count bugs, measure rows of corn and drive around central-eastern Wisconsin.


photo of Lianne Komen

Lianne Komen

What are your majors? Materials Science and Engineering, certificate in Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: December 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? As a child, I was always loved to be outside in nature. I would often spend my time walking through a forest to a nearby park that was surrounded by wetlands. However, as time passed, I noticed that each year the wetlands would get smaller and smaller. As I grew up, I noticed more things changing. It made me sad to see such things like ponds drying up and the animals migrating. I think that it’s because of these reasons why I’m so fascinated about this subject and why I am so passionate in finding new ways to prevent these changes from occurring. My hope is that someday I will help find a sustainable and renewable energy source, along with creating products that are also sustainable and environmentally friendly.

What would you say (or do you say) to other students about CESP and the Nelson Institute? CESP is a class that inspires me to be something more than just a student earning a degree.

Something few people know about you: I’ve always wanted to create a short film.


photo of Thi Le

Thi Le

What are your majors? Horticulture, certificate in Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: August 2017

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? With many of our natural resources rapidly declining due to a deadly combination of over-extraction and loose protection, we currently, and are expected to continue to, face major threats to our health and well-being. It comes as no surprise that our globally collective environmental, cultural, social, and economic systems are combating within themselves and with each other. There is no single solution that can remedy all the issues we are experiencing, however, I think a large step in the right direction is re-establishing the fundamental understanding that we are gravely connected to our land, water, air, and fellow beings. The separatism we have adopted has only caused further destruction and isolation of vulnerable communities across the planet, that in turn affect everything and everyone else - whether directly or indirectly. I am interested in cultivating a bridge of understanding through advanced interdisciplinary education and basic humanistic valuation. My endeavors are a long-term objective. Many small steps forward will need to take place before I or any environmentally conscientious person can confidently feel secure in the direction of our planet’s health and future generation of children’s well-being. One of those first steps is talking about change, the next is making it. That’s why I’m in CESP.

Something else about you? I am President of the UW Horticulture Society (Hort club). I frequently work through the idea of off-grid living and guerilla environmental activism. I love food...like, LOVE food.


photo of Natalia Lucero

Natalia Lucero

What are your majors? Communication Arts – Radio, Television, Film and Environmental Studies, certificate in Digital Studies

Expected graduation: December 2017

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? My interest in Nature, as with many, began as a child. I would venture out by myself to observe as much of Nature’s wonders as I could for the time being. Ant hills became my favorite pieces of architecture, trees became my weather-indicator, and a spider’s dedication and precision in creating its web sparked for me enough admiration for Nature’s organization. With time, however, I have come to realize that the environment isn’t limited to Nature’s presence, but also its absence, and it goes beyond physical impact. The environment reflects the impacts organisms have on one another physically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually. The environment can be the animals you interact with on a daily basis or the energies people project onto you; it can be the fresh air you take in in the countryside or the smog you inhale in the city. The environment determines your development, and when we consider the historic boundaries created by governments and real estate agencies, the separation between classes and races become obvious. Environmental circumstances have become systematic and political, and with the years grow further away from Nature’s intended perfection.

What would you say (or do you say) to other students about CESP and the Nelson Institute? So far, I can be honest in saying that I have met some of the most genuine people in these two spaces out of the many spaces I participate in at UW-Madison.

Something else about you? I love insects. My favorite is the jumping spider because in Peru they signify good luck and because I find them so ugly that they’re cute. I also was fortunate enough to study abroad in Costa Rica during the Spring 2016 semester where I conducted research on the neotropical jumping spiders of the Monteverde area.


photo of Isabel Markowski

Isabel Markowski

What are your majors? Dietetics with an Environmental Studies Certificate

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? My interest in the environment and community was sparked by my grandfather. During the summers, I work on his small farm, picking corn, eating it raw in the fields, tilling long tomato plant rows and hoping I don’t accidentally till up one of the plants lest I face a grandfather’s wrath. But despite it being hard labor, I like working in the dirt, I like the warm sun beating down, and I like seeing the growth of green and colorful life rising out of the rows I invested myself in. Being able to pick fresh tomatoes, peppers, corn, and squash, walk up the thigh-burning hill to my grandparents’ house, and make fresh salsa is how I prefer to experience my food. My grandpa is also a very outgoing, large-forearmed man whose favorite hobby besides farming is talking peoples’ ears off. Although it’s pretty extensive and sometimes embarrassing, him being so open to talking to anyone at the farmer’s market where we sell produce or anywhere we go really is the kind of storytelling and conversation that first shaped my desire for community.


photo of Adam Mastalir

Adam Mastalir

What are your majors? Civil Engineering and Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? My inspiration has been continuously evolving over the years however it is all based upon my direct relationship with nature. Like most individuals, my connection to nature at a young age allowed me to appreciate its beauty and observe various changes due to both natural and human processes. Over time my concern for our dependency on technology and how this reliance has dictated our management of resources, inspired me to rethink everything from the way we design buildings, to the way we approach water resource problems. Combining the works of Aldo Leopold and Frank Lloyd Wright, I am working to not only improve the sustainability of my own environment, but extend the Wisconsin Idea beyond an imaginary line as the generations of the future have more claim to our environment and resources than those of us who will spend such a little amount of time consuming and changing what is before us today.

What would you say (or do you say) to other students about CESP and the Nelson Institute? CESP provides unique opportunities to learn through active and hands on participation that normally cannot be provided in a traditional classroom setting. Through critical thinking, professional development and active leadership, CESP allows you to learn more about your community, your environment, and how your role of working with others impacts each of these.

Something few people know about you: I tend to view things from a slightly non-traditional abstract point of view where I see beauty and symbolism not in the abstract idea itself but the polar opposite of the things before me regardless of its style or order. When I look at something like a piece by Jackson Pollock I tend to question why it is being hung on a wall when it was painted on the floor.

Something else about you? In 2014 I had a unique opportunity to develop and present a project to the Madison Community Development Authority in conjunction with Madison Area Technical College to design a Net Zero Home to be included in a redevelopment project for low-income housing. The finished design reduced traditional heating and cooling loads by 75% while maintaining a complete offset of energy consumption. The exciting part of this project for me was that it allowed people in the community to see that the cost difference between traditional and sustainable design are closer than ever.


photo of Ally McCann

Ally McCann

What are your majors? Environmental Sciences and Community & Environmental Sociology, certificate in Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? With my two majors, I often see the disconnect between science and community. I hope to help bridge the gap and make people actively think about the environment in their day-to-day life. I became interested in the environment because I feel like it is the most undervalued resource we have. I feel like my actions can have a last impact when involving the environment and community.

Something few people know about you: As a child I named all of the trees in my yard!


photo of Isabelle Mengesha

Isabelle Mengesha

What are your majors? Operations & Technology Management and Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? I have always been interesting in the interconnectivity between the environment and people. I used to be so confused why we couldn’t all just put our heads together and save the world. As I get older, I see the complexity of the problems, but I still want to be able to leave the world in a better place than when I entered it.

What would you say (or do you say) to other students about CESP and the Nelson Institute? It’s a fantastic program. Mostly because it is just a really good community of students who are as passionate as you are about making a change in the world and it’s really empowering.

Something few people know about you: My greatest fear is growing up to live a life of mediocrity by giving up on my dream to change the world.

Something else about you? I’m a very outgoing person, and I love that everyone in CESP is too!


photo of Naomi Miicke

Naomi Miicke

What are your majors? Botany and Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? Plants, plants, and plants…I love plants.

What would you say (or do you say) to other students about CESP and the Nelson Institute? The Nelson Institute and CESP encourage a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving. These are places where we can bring our sometimes wildly different passions together to see how they can work together to accomplish a common goal.

Something few people know about you: I like to lift weights

Something else about you? In the middle of the night while camping on the shores of Lake Superior my campsite was invaded by a black bear. I successfully scared the bear away by jumping out of my tent blasting a fog horn.


photo of Sanober Mirza

Sanober Mirza

What are your majors? Environmental Sciences and Geography

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? I took an Environmental Science course during my last semester of high school on a whim. I had no prior experience with the subject and just needed a class to fill up my schedule. I ended up falling in love with the subject and now still love learning about the natural environment around us. This interest has continued in college as I enjoy being involved with environmental student organizations and engaging in environmental research. I’ve become passionate about environmental issues and hope to work together with other students and faculty towards making our campus more sustainable.

Something few people know about you: I don’t like ice cream!


photo of Daniel Montez

Daniel Montez

What are your majors? Environmental Sciences, certificate in Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? I have always had an interest in the environment and sciences, starting at a young age. My mother was heavily involved in an environmental education at my elementary school while I was there. Being able to be educated about the environment made me develop a deep respect for the natural world that we live in, as well as see how everything is connected to each other. It is this respect that pushed me to work to better understand the challenges we face and the ones we will face in order to create sustainable solutions for the future.


photo of Brooke Nelson

Brooke Nelson

What are your majors? Biology and certificate in Global Health

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? Spending summers in Northern MN on Lake Superior inspired my passion for sustainability and volunteering throughout my time in high school helped me realize how much I had to learn from the beautiful people around me and the stories they have to tell.

Something few people know about you: I like to go dumpster diving!


photo of Ilhulpachakatl Neubauer

Ilhulpachakatl Neubauer

What are your majors? Conservation Biology and Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? My interest in the environment stems deeply from my culture, my community, my passion for environmental and social justice, and lived experience. For most of my life, my community and family taught me that true self determination, love, and power of the people is rooted in our collective relationship with the Mother Earth. Our relationship with food and the environment reflects our health and relationship with one another. I have meditated for six hours straight, understanding, deconstructing, and healing the mental shackles of colonial oppressions that undermine our communities. That was the beginning of my journey. I hope to extend and encourage new and returning CESPers to being Woke. No to the Dakota Access Pipeline. #NoDAPL. This is what Eco Terrorism looks like. Fight for the next seven generations. MEXICA TIAHUI.


photo of Emily Rau

Emily Rau

What are your majors? Environmental Science, Sustainability Certificate and Integrated Studies in Science, Engineering, and Society Certificate (ISSuES)

Expected graduation: May 2019

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? As a young girl I loved to be outside in nature and I was consumed by my love for animals. The enjoyment I derived from being in nature developed into an interest in wanting to learn more about the environment. In high school I took Ecology and AP Environmental Science, and through these classes I was able to learn about the fundamentals of the natural environment along with how to identify bird calls and trees. College has allowed me to pursue my interest by taking a wide variety of classes on different aspects of the environment. These classes have made me realize that I want to have a career in the environmental field, and be an agent of change in helping to protect and preserve the environment from human impacts. The environment and society make up an interconnected web in which a change in the environment can have an effect on the community, while community alterations can in turn have strong repercussions on the environment. I believe that it is important for everyone to see and understand the connection between the two because as a society we cannot completely solve environmental problems until we consider the social, economic, cultural, and political consequences that shape our world.


photo of Jordan Salinsky

Jordan Salinsky

What are your majors? Community & Environmental Sociology and Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? I grew up in the city of Milwaukee, where my experience with the environment was shaped by spending time playing in local parks, sledding in the winter, and taking field trips to nature centers in less urban areas. During my high school IB Environmental Science class, I became enamored with learning about interactions between people and their environments, particularly with natural resource use and agriculture. I came to UW-Madison intending to study Civil/ Environmental Engineering but found myself missing the community-based aspect. Now, as an Environmental Studies student, I have learned all about intersections between humans, sustainability, and social and environmental justice thanks to the Nelson Institute and CESP.

What would you say (or do you say) to other students about CESP and the Nelson Institute? CESP has been a wonderful opportunity to work with other Environmental Studies students who I may not have gotten to interact with otherwise! I enjoy the classes and events where we network directly with CESP alumni, because the speakers provide valuable insight about transitioning from a student passionate about the environment and sustainability to using those skills in the professional realm.


photo of Lucero Serna

Lucero Serna

What are your majors? Conservation Biology and Environmental Studies, certificates in Gender & Women's Studies and Chican@/Latin@ Studies

Expected graduation: May 2017

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? Growing up on Milwaukee’s South Side, I thought the environment had little to do with where I lived. It was within the last few years that I began to realize that observing and studying the environment was not the equivalent of escaping the Milwaukee city limits. The environment is in the sick Gingko growing in the backyard of my childhood home, in the occasional hawk I see landing on my neighbors’ 10th-floor balcony, in members of my community’s dream to use an empty lot down the block from our neighborhood to create a community garden. The environment is inherently a part of my community. Recognizing that the many environments that surround me have shaped each of my experiences is what inspires my interests in studying the environment.

What would you say (or do you say) to other students about CESP and the Nelson Institute? CESP offers a space to begin thinking about the connection between community and the environment outside of the traditional classroom. As we explore this concept with peers, we can begin taking action in the communities around us or our home communities and demonstrate how important and relevant making this connection is.


photo of Teal Staniforth

Teal Staniforth

What are your majors? Community and Environmental Sociology, certificate in Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: December 2017

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? I have always loved being outside. Growing up my mother and great grandfather had prosperous gardens—in which I would spend my afternoons eating and exploring the diverse beings of plants. Through my interest and exploring many places I have became engrossed in the connection and language that we use around the environment and all things that help to benefit current and future populations. We separate ourselves so much from nature that we don’t realize or understand how much we are taking advantage of and depleting it. I am drawn to how interactions between people, poverty, food and the environment can intertwine and be cohesive complications. I realize that there are some missing links and I want to help figure it out. Talking about the challenges that are to come and figuring out alternatives and ways to move forward is no easy feat, but we have to start somewhere.

What would you say (or do you say) to other students about CESP and the Nelson Institute? CESP offers a space for people of like minds to come together and talk about environmental discrepancies in our communities and beyond.

Something few people know about you: I have been in love with the cello for many years and finally this winter I decided to start taking lessons from a friend.


photo of Sara Vega

Sara Vega

What are your majors? Horticulture, certificate in Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: May 2017

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? My interest in the environment comes from my fascination with plants and animals. Crawling around on the floor, looking for bugs and other small creatures was a great passion of mine in infancy. As I became older, my fascination grew outwards towards nature as an ecosystem and as a result, I cultivated many passions involving the environment: gardening, rock collecting, insect collecting and rearing, flower collecting, cooking and eating things I grew or my grandmother grew, stories about nature etc. Nature has enchanted me so readily because my world has always been set in the city. A Non-city setting made my imagination go wild, it made everything un-urbanized feel coated in magic.

What would you say (or do you say) to other students about CESP and the Nelson Institute? I am enjoying meeting other likeminded students through CESP and interacting with people across the board. I wish that we could have more opportunities to get to know each other and form more bonds that could manifest outside of CESP. Also, CESP has provided me a platform to flex my leadership muscles when others are too shy or feeling uninvolved. Roping people into conversations happens to be one of my specialties.


photo of Miranda Winkelman

Miranda Winkelman

What are your majors? Community and Nonprofit Leadership and Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? The summer before my senior year in high school, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go backpacking in Colorado. I had never been so immersed in nature before. I thought going more than two days without showering would deter me, but the opposite happened and I fell in love with the mountains, trees, and the peace. The deeper I got in nature, the closer I got to the people around me. I didn’t know everyone coming onto the trip, but we left a community. We each played different roles to survive out in the mountains. I was able to see how being out in the wilderness changed me and everyone around me. From then on I wanted more people to have that experience in the wilderness and especially with building a community.

Something else about you? In the winter, I love being able to see nature by snowmobiling.


photo of Gabriela Zaldumbide

Gabriela Zaldumbide

What are your majors? Wildlife Ecology, with a certificate in Environmental Studies

Expected graduation: May 2018

What inspired your interest in the environment and/or community? I have loved animals and nature ever since I was a little kid. Most of my childhood was spent collecting stuffed animals in an attempt to find as many species as I could, and building forts in the woods. For a long time, the only career path that I was aware of that included animals was that of a veterinarian. However, I knew I would never feel comfortable in a vet clinic and had no interest in living out my life in a small, tiled room with a metal table. When I got to high school, I began to realize that wildlife careers existed. I owe many thanks to my favorite science teacher, Mr. Thompson, to opening my eyes to the possibility to work outdoors and with animals. Once I realized that being a wildlife manager is a thing, I gradually became more and more interested in the environment. I educated myself on the impact that humans have on the environment, what anthropogenic climate change is, renewable versus nonrenewable resources, efficient and environmentally friendly ways to live, and the list goes on. My passion was fueled by two Wild Rockies Field Institute (WRFI) courses: environmental ethics and restoration ecology. My WRFI experiences have been the most significant ones of my entire college career because not only did they show me what backpacking in the backcountry for a month is like, but because they also taught me the importance of community, teamwork, outdoor education, involved learning, and minimalism. They also made me recognize how crucial wildlife management and environmental education is today. The public must realize how critical conservation is to human well-being, and I want to spread the knowledge.

Something few people know about you: I am a powerlifter!