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Career profile: George Reistad ('11), Michael Fields Agricultural Institute

May 15, 2015

In an effort to give our current students a look at the opportunities that await them after graduation, we reached out to a few graduates to check in on the many ways the Nelson Institute helped shape them into the employees, alumni and leaders they are today. View the full series of career profiles here

George Reistad graduated in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in economics and environmental studies. 

Nelson Institute: Please provide an overview of your current position.

Reistad: I currently work as the assistant policy director at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in Madison, Wis. Our organization, a registered 501(c)(3) is headquartered in East Troy, Wis. We focus on sustainable agriculture through three program areas: education, public policy and research.

My position focuses on everything from local foods policy issues like the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection's Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin Program, which provides competitive grants to develop local food producers and markets in Wisconsin, to federal conservation programs like the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Conservation Stewardship Program, which establishes contract payments with landowners to implement conservation on their working lands.

How do you feel attending UW as a student in the Nelson Institute prepared you for this work?

I would say that the Nelson Institute definitely prepared me for this position. It exposed me to a broad range of topics – conservation to environmental history to environmental surveying – that allowed me to have a proficient grasp of many of the foundational issues within the sustainable agriculture field.

"You can be the smartest
person in the room but if you
don't know how to convey your
ideas cogently it won't matter
much, especially in a team-
oriented work environment."

Equally as important, and maybe more so, the Nelson Institute allowed me to develop connections with important figures in the environmental sphere, both in Wisconsin and nationally. To this day, I continue to use and expand on connections made as an undergrad in the Nelson Institute in a professional capacity.

How do you apply this knowledge to growing as an employee and as a leader in the workplace?

I think my education and experiences within the Nelson Institute, especially the group activities and subsequent presentations and events we collaborated on, helped me to become confident in expressing my ideas and knowledge to larger groups of people. You can be the smartest person in the room but if you don't know how to convey your ideas cogently it won't matter much, especially in a team-oriented work environment.

What advice do you have for current Nelson students?

Talk to people wherever you are – network! I know that word elicits the proverbial cringe of terror from a lot of students, and to be honest, it did for me as well for a time. However, I can say that networking and talking to people will single-handedly get you farther than almost anything else. You never know who you are going to meet that shares your interests or who has the energy, knowledge, or resources to assist you in a project or initiative.

I'm not embellishing at all when I say the position I have now is a direct result of networking and building connections during my time as an undergrad intern. Don't sleep on the value of just making conversation with someone sitting next to you – on a plane, at a conference, etc.

This interview is part of a series conducted by Johanna Wirth, a life sciences communication and environmental studies double major graduating in May 2015.