From the Big Apple to Small-Town Wisconsin

UW–Madison graduate found community in Stoughton through sustainability internship.

Stoughton City Hall. Photo courtesy of Abigail Becker
Stoughton City Hall. Photo courtesy of Abigail Becker

As an out-of-state student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Aly Scanlon looked for opportunities to feel more at home in the place she was attending school. Her work as a community sustainability intern in the city of Stoughton did just that.

“Going to school so far from home, volunteering and community outreach work has really helped me throughout the years feel more connected to Madison and Wisconsin as a whole,” said Scanlon, who is from New York and graduated in December 2022. “This really felt like an extension of that: getting to work more within the community and getting to work in a new community that I really hadn’t experienced yet.”

In her role, Scanlon supported public input activities related to Stoughton’s future sustainability plan. The position resulted from a collaboration between UW–Madison Extension Dane County, the City of Stoughton, UniverCity Alliance (UCA), and the UW–Madison Office of Sustainability. 

“The needs in the community, along with our office’s need for assistance, aligned with the Office of Sustainability and their mission of giving students opportunities in communities,” Sharon Lezberg, the community development educator for Extension Dane County, said. 

“This was a new level of collaboration for the university, to bring multiple internal partners together to serve our Wisconsin communities, and [Scanlon] brought so much to the table,” added Missy Nergard, UW–Madison’s director of sustainability. 

The Stoughton Sustainability Committee wanted to be sure to include the public in developing sustainability goals, so committee chairs reached out to Lezberg and Michelle Probst, the natural resources educator for Extension Dane County, for assistance in developing a community engagement plan. Lezberg, a Nelson Institute graduate, then connected with UCA managing director Gavin Luter for help connecting with a qualified student interested in a community-based internship. She said she appreciates how UCA can help “open the gates to the university” by creating bridges to partners on campus.

“We really appreciate UniverCity for being conscious of the fact that Extension is here in the community, and that we work better together,” Lezberg said. “We want university people to know that we have community partners who can really benefit from a connection with the university, and that UCA can help negotiate those connections.”

Aly Scanlon
Aly Scanlon

‘New Perspective’

With degrees in economics and environmental studies, Scanlon originally thought her background in and passion for sustainability were what she brought to the role — but she found that her technical skills in marketing also proved to be assets. During the Fall 2022 semester, Scanlon attended Stoughton’s Sustainability Committee meetings to learn about a community-wide sustainability survey developed by UW–Madison Division of Extension. She then created promotional materials, such as flyers, postcards, and social media posts, to advertise the survey and organized events around it. 

Scanlon’s efforts will be critical to promoting the survey. Donelle Scaffidi, vice chair of the Stoughton Sustainability Committee, emphasized the importance of making sure Stoughton residents know about the opportunity to share their opinions. “Anytime we’re doing something like this where we’re going to be writing a plan for the city, it’s really important that the public has a voice in that because it’s going to impact their lives,” Scaffidi said. 

Probst worked with Scanlon and appreciated her ability to think outside of the typical ways of sharing information in communities. “She was able to really look at promotion with a new perspective and bring that in, which was super helpful to us,” said Probst. 

Additionally, Lezberg said Scanlon played a valuable role by attending the Sustainability Committee’s meetings and providing feedback. Observing these meetings and working to meet the community’s sustainability needs were new experiences for Scanlon. “It’s really not anything I thought I’d be doing,” Scanlon said. “Getting to see how these meetings are run and how they are structured, and the little, tiny rules that were in the background has been super interesting.”

These meetings also provided a consistent forum for feedback, which Scanlon found rewarding. “Having that line of communication was really valuable throughout the internship,” Scanlon said. “I was creating something physical, and I was hearing about it from the people that would be seeing and using it.”

From Scanlon’s feedback, a public input display is being developed to use in the Stoughton Library, which will include a digital component through a scannable-QR code and a compilation of links through a tool called Linktree.

While Scanlon attended these meetings and worked on projects remotely, she couldn’t return to New York without visiting the community she had grown so committed to throughout the internship. “On my drive back home to New York when I moved out of my college apartment, I made it a stop,” Scanlon said. “I just have to see it before I leave Wisconsin. Momentarily, I need to be in the city for a little bit.”