Sisters in Stewardship

Nelson Institute CESP graduates and sisters, Iffat and Ismat Bhuiyan, share how their educational experience shaped their futures

June 12, 2019

Iffat Bhuiyan, B.S. in Community Environmental Sociology and Environmental Studies with a Leadership Certificate, University of Wisconsin-Madison (2018)

Ismat Bhuiyan, B.S. in Biology with a certificate in Environmental Studies and Global Health (2015), University of Wisconsin-Madison, M.P.H. in Environmental Health Science, Indiana University (2017)

 As children, sisters Ismat and Iffat Bhuiyan dreamed of attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For Ismat, who was a few years older than Iffat, that dream became a reality in 2011, when she began her first semester as a biology major at UW-Madison. For Iffat, that dream came to fruition a few years later when she began her freshman year in the UW-Madison College of Engineering. While both were thrilled to be a Badger, they were looking for a way to connect their interest in environmental conservation with their career goals. That’s when Ismat happened upon the Nelson Institute Environmental Studies Certificate and the Nelson Institute Community Environmental Scholars Program (CESP), a discovery that ultimately shaped the career trajectory for both sisters.

For Ismat, it all came together late in her freshman year, after she shared her goals with her career counselor. During their discussion, Ismat’s counselor suggested that Ismat explore the Nelson Institute Environmental Studies Certificate. A 15-credit program, this certificate offers undergraduate students the opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary course work related to the environment, while majoring in another subject of their choice.  Ismat felt that this program would fit well with her biology major, so she reached out to Nelson Institute Professors Cathy Middlecamp and Rob Beattie to learn more.

Ismat Bhuiyan

Ismat learned about the Nelson Institute Community Environmental Scholars Program (CESP), which is a scholarship program designed for students who want to link their passion for the environment with a commitment to the community. Middlecamp and Beattie, serve as co-directors for the program, and share the benefits of CESP, which include financial assistance though scholarships, social activities with a small cohort, and the opportunity to participate in service learning projects.  Ismat ultimately applied to the program during her sophomore year and she says CESP quickly became one of her favorite activities.

“I had my cohort meetings on Thursdays and I quickly found myself looking forward to it,” said Ismat. “It was wonderful to talk to people who were likeminded and the structure of CESP allowed us to learn from a wide range of peers who were at different points in the program.”

For Ismat, there were several benefits to the program, but she was particularly excited to participate in the community service projects, which she says allowed her to utilize the skills she was learning in the classroom. Throughout her time with CESP, Ismat participated in a number of community service projects including the restoration of the UW-Madison Arboretum boardwalk.

“My favorite part of the program was working on the projects,” said Ismat. “Working on the boardwalk was really meaningful. When I graduated I took my entire family to the boardwalk and took my graduation pictures there. It was just such a great opportunity to be a part of something like that.”

 In addition to the hands-on projects, Ismat also appreciated the fact that CESP helped her to prepare for her career goals, which included working in the public health sector.  In fact, after graduating from UW-Madison in 2015, Ismat attended Indiana University where she received her Master’s in Public Health with a concentration in Environmental Health Science.

“I was always interested in science, but CESP really helped to shape my passion for the environment,” said Ismat. “The program was a perfect blend between science and literature and it really helped me to learn to explain the science and the role the environment plays in health.”

Today, Ismat works with the Harris County Public Health Department in Houston Texas, on mosquito and vector control. Much of her job includes educating the public about mosquito, kissing bug, and tick-borne diseases.

“I’m so thankful for the things I learned at Nelson and the experience I gained in environmental education,” said Ismat. “It has helped me with my current role, but it also provided important connections. I still keep in touch with many of the people from my cohort, and I know my sister does the same.”

Iffat Bhuiyan

For her sister, Iffat, the CESP program was just as influential. Although, Iffat discovered CESP through her older sister, Iffat had a very different set of career goals and a different path through CESP.

“When I began my first year in engineering at UW-Madison, I knew it was a big deal to be in a well-known program at a good school, but the environment was close to my heart,” said Iffat. “While engineering was my main focus, I knew my sister had been a part of CESP, and I thought CESP would offer a new lens through which to see the connections between engineering and the environment.”   

Iffat applied to CESP and joined a cohort during her sophomore year. She began working on service learning projects that included planning an ocean clean-up at Biscayne National Park in Florida and planning of an urban garden in Memphis, Tennessee. She also learned a bit about graphic design, communication, and outreach during the various projects.

“CESP helped me to understand communication on a deeper level,” said Iffat. “The instructors were so supportive and great at connecting us to resources and encouraging our passions.”

In fact, Iffat soon realized that she wanted to expand her career goals, so she changed from electrical engineering to community environmental sociology. Throughout the transition, Iffat appreciated the support of her instructors and her peers. She says the cohort structure and the connections that were made with her fellow CESP members played a large role in her enjoyment of the program.  

“Being a part of CESP gave me a group of people to talk to about issues that were of interest to me,” said Iffat. “It was truly a group of people who wanted to find legitimate solutions to our global challenges. I really gained some great friends out of the program and it provided me with a network for future support and future jobs.”

Iffat graduated from UW-Madison in 2018 and has been working as the Interim Executive Assistant to the Wisconsin Union Director and as an Office Operations Associate for the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Office. This summer, she will be moving to Texas to attend the College of Education, pursuing a Master’s of Higher Education at the University of Houston.

“CESP really taught me how to collaborate and how to work with others,” said Iffat. “In the way that the program did that for me, I want to become an educator that allows students to explore community service and the environment while reaching their career goals. I hope to teach about the environment in a position similar to Cathy Middlecamp’s.”

While they are still early in their careers, for both Ismat and Iffat, the CESP program served as a catalyst for their current work and is continuing to serve as inspiration for their future career goals.

 Ismat said, “Honestly, the experience at Nelson Institute has played a huge role in shaping me and my career today."

Photos courtesy of Ismat and Iffat Bhuiyan

The scholarships awarded to CESP students are in part funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, NSF DUE #1643946.

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