Nelson Institute alumna Jackie Millonzi’s passion for sustainability began as a freshman in high school, when she took a humanities course that opened her eyes to major environmental issues such as pollution and climate change. The course encouraged Millonzi to explore her own environmental interests which led her to do a project on recycling and composting. It was this experience, Millonzi said, that inspired her to pursue an education focused on protecting the planet.
“Composting was just something that interested me so much,” said Millonzi. “It was the starting point in my mind – when I knew that I definitely wanted to do something related to conservation of natural resources.”
Now, Millonzi is a recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she spent her college career learning about environmental issues, engaging in sustainability programming, and teaching others about the importance of conservation. In reflecting on these experiences, Millonzi said that her double majors in environmental studies and geography allowed her to focus on the social aspects of environmental issues.
Millonzi participated in several Nelson Institute programs throughout her time at UW–Madison, all of which she said expanded her environmental knowledge while also providing her opportunities to connect with faculty, students, and community members in meaningful ways.
Most notably, Millonzi said she found immense value in the Community and Environmental Scholars Program, a Nelson Institute scholarship program that gives undergraduates the opportunity to work with community organizations within the greater Madison area.
Through CESP, Millonzi volunteered at an afterschool program, where she worked with local elementary school students. By engaging in work outside of the UW campus, Millonzi said she developed a new sense of connection to the Madison community, which is something she “definitely recommends” to all UW–Madison students.
Likewise, Millonzi said that CESP also helped her gain a sense of community within the UW–Madison campus, as she worked closely with a diversity of students, faculty, and staff within the program. While CESP participants all have declared majors or certificates in environmental studies, Millonzi said most students come from a variety of other academic disciplines such as chemistry, English, or political science, providing the opportunity to engage with various perspectives.
“It was definitely cool to see how Nelson encompasses people of different backgrounds,” said Millonzi.
In addition to her three semesters in CESP, Millonzi also served as a Nelson ambassador, giving her the opportunity to plan Nelson events and connect with both current and prospective Nelson students. Millonzi also studied sustainability for a semester abroad in Denmark, engaged in a 10-day cultural immersion program in Nicaragua, and explored the outdoors while backpacking through the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in Montana, an opportunity that was facilitated by the Wild Rockies Field Institute.
Along with Nelson Institute programming, Millonzi has worked as an intern at the Office of Sustainability for the past two years. Throughout this time, Millonzi furthered her environmental education by learning about local waste processing systems, implementing new green initiatives on campus, and giving presentations on the department’s projects both locally and nationally.
Millonzi first learned about the Office of Sustainability from Cathy Middlecamp, a UW–Madison, Nelson Institute professor of environmental studies and the previous instructor of ES 126: Principles of Environmental Science. Millonzi enrolled in the course the spring semester of her freshman year and would frequently go to Middlecamp’s office hours “to talk about life.” It was during one of these talks that Middlecamp suggested Millonzi apply for a student internship position at the Office of Sustainability.
Since being accepted into the program in 2018, Millonzi said the internship has allowed her to engage in sustainability work through many different approaches, leading to both personal and professional growth.
The Office of Sustainability encourages any undergraduate at UW-Madison who is passionate about sustainability to apply for the internship program. As an intern, Millonzi had the opportunity to work side-by-side with students, event planners, management staff, and other members from departments and auxiliaries both on and off campus. She worked on several student teams, including the Green Events program, the Green Allies Coalition, and the Green Athletics program, among others. Through these programs, Millonzi engaged in local outreach, developed sustainability initiatives, and even traveled to Spokane, Washington to give a presentation on composting.
In reflecting on these experiences, Millonzi said she feels fortunate she was able to address the social and technical aspects of sustainability while at the same time developing her professional skills.
“I’m very grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had [at the Office of Sustainability],” said Millonzi. “It’s helped empower me to use some of the knowledge I’ve learned from my environmental studies [program] and even other classes on campus to try to work towards the betterment of our campus community… I feel really lucky that I got to work in that field for the past two years, and it’s also helped me grow a lot as a person.”
Through all of these experiences, Millonzi has developed a deep passion for environmental education. Looking to the future, she plans to follow this passion by working as an outdoor educator and is currently seeking jobs at different outdoor schools and community centers across the country.
By passing on her own environmental knowledge, Millonzi said she hopes she can spark young people’s interest in the natural world and inspire future generations to make the world a more sustainable and equitable place.
“I want children to see that they have a role in how the world, and especially nature and the environment, is impacted,” said Millonzi. “[It’s about] engaging students’ interest in the natural world. I hope that I can incorporate some of the knowledge and experience that I have from being at the Nelson Institute [to do this].”