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Future Environmental Leaders


Ismat and Iffat Bhuiyan sisters
Ismat and Iffat Bhuiyan sisters


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


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.


Joe Foye
Joe Foye

The business of environmental advocacy


Joe Foye, an undergraduate student majoring in environmental studies at the Nelson Institute and marketing at the Wisconsin School of Business (WSB), found his passion for environmental advocacy while working to raise money for trips with his Boy Scout troop. During his childhood, Foye participated in several fundraising initiatives which allowed him to draw a connection between business and the environment, later inspiring him to pursue his current majors. Now, a junior at UW–Madison, Foye works to educate and inspire diversity in the community while exploring the outdoors.

Foye understands that his choice of majors is uncommon because there is little overlap between them, but he is hopeful that will change.

“I’ve recognized a pattern of business and the environment going in diverging directions,” Foye said. “My combination of majors is not popular, but I’d like to change that and create convergence to move business in a more sustainable direction.”

Foye acts as both the Alumni Outreach Chair and Backpacking Chair for Hoofers, a student organization on campus aimed at offering opportunities for students to participate in outdoor activities including hiking, camping, skiing, sailing, and even diving. They organize outings throughout the country to encourage students to forge a stronger connection to the environment. In particular, Foye enjoys leading student trips such as backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, and biking.

“Really anything I can do get outside and teach others,” he said.

Additionally, Foye worked as a backpacking guide in New Mexico, and a canoeing guide in the Boundary Waters in past summers. Through these experiences, he noticed a lack of diversity in those participating in outdoor activities. After this realization, Foye decided to focus his time on informing others and encouraging them to build a connection with outdoor spaces. He explained that most of the people currently advocating for the environment are those with the resources to make outdoor activities part of their leisure time, which leaves out a large portion of the population.

“I’m trying to get as many people of all different identities outdoors as possible and give them an enjoyable outdoor experience so that they can also become advocates for protecting outdoor spaces. That’s something that’s become really important to me,” Foye said.

During his time in the Boundary Waters, Foye saw his passions come to life. Through his guide work, he was able to educate many of the scout groups about threats to the Boundary Waters and what that could mean for the future. He also informed them on ways they could take action.

“With that work of education, taking people outside, and notifying them of the threats to the area, I’m able to create new advocates for the outdoors. People who then want to take their kids back to the same place,” he said.

In his academics, Foye is also working to promote environmental learning within the WSB. He noticed the topic of sustainability was rarely mentioned in his classes. As a result, he joined Social and Environmental Business Advocates (SEBA), a student organization that promotes a stronger environmental focus within the WSB. Foye noted that the organization was started in the Fall 2019 semester and is currently aimed at creating partnerships with other student organizations on campus and promoting awareness for environmental change in the WSB. Thus far, SEBA has created a petition, with over 1,000 signatures, that they plan to use in future meetings with WSB staff and faculty to showcase the need for “curriculum, programming, and a culture, that emphasize the following values: 1) Sustainability, Environment, and Climate Change; 2) Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice; and 3) Triple Bottom Line and Business Models that Serve All Stakeholders.

Foye credits the Nelson Institute with promoting student involvement in environmental action. “They recognize that relationship and partnership is really important moving forward for business and the environment,” he said.

In the future, Foye hopes to continue leading outdoor trips to educate others. He also recognizes the importance education has had on his outdoor experiences and has recently completed a wilderness first responder course offered in Madison this winter. After graduation, Foye hopes to find a job that combines his interest in environmental marketing or advertising.

Whatever the future may hold, Foye wants to encourage people to take as many opportunities as they can to have memorable experiences outdoors, whether it’s at a local park or across the world. “Wherever you want to go, find yourself by losing yourself,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Joe Foye


Jeremy Sanford
Jeremy Sanford

Nelson Institute undergrad implements change on campus and beyond


Nelson Institute undergraduate, Jeremy Sanford, is a driving force behind conservation efforts on campus. He’s used the knowledge he gained during his time at UW–Madison to become active in community outreach efforts ranging from his internship with the Office of Sustainability to his work with fraternities and underrepresented communities.

Originally an economics major, Sanford decided to pursue environmental studies and conservation biology after taking an introduction ecology class at UW–Madison.

“I was interested in how humans can impact ecological paradigms that go back long before we were a species on this planet. I was invested in it after taking that one class,” he said.

Sanford, a senior, now focuses his studies on how human activity can both positively and negatively impact our surroundings. He’s hoping to educate and inspire others to take an active part in conservation efforts.

Sanford is also an intern at the Office of Sustainability at UW–Madison, where he works to implement environmentally-friendly initiatives across campus. He is currently working with the Green Fund, a program that funds student sustainability-related projects, to place compost bins in Camp Randall. He is also connecting with Nelson Institute student-athletes to plan a sustainable softball event in the future.

In addition to conservation and sustainability, Sanford says he also feels passionate about inclusion and environmental justice. He is working to address some of these challenges with the Green Allies Coalition, an organization that discusses inclusion for historically underrepresented communities in the fields of sustainability and environmental protection.

“These are the people that feel the majority of the impact, so if they don’t have a voice, that’s definitely problematic because their interests are not being looked out for,” he said.

Sanford is also involved with the Greek Community on campus. In fact, one of his proudest accomplishments is becoming the Community Service Chair of his fraternity, which has allowed him to promote advocacy for more ecofriendly practices.

“I’ve signed us up for a lot of volunteer events that pertain to sustainability, such as donating leftover food from the farmers’ market that wouldn’t be sold otherwise and giving it to the food pantry, participating in Lakeshore Nature Preserve cleanup events, and getting a compost bin for our house this year, so that’s really exciting,” he said.

Sanford also recently accepted admission to the University of Buffalo, New York where he will obtain his Master’s degree in Urban Planning. By pursuing this degree, Sanford hopes to strengthen the public’s relationship with nature while helping to reinvigorate the economy by combining his interests for community mobilization with conservation. Sanford acknowledges that, at times, this can seem like a daunting task, but he remains hopeful that his efforts will bring attention to the importance of sustainability.

“We are part of the environment as a society, as a civilization, and I’d like to integrate that viewpoint into daily life, so we have better environmental protections,” he says.

Sanford credits the Nelson Institute for helping him gain the well-rounded education he now has. He encourages current and future students to take classes outside the major as well, to help integrate different perspectives that could implement change in terms of environmental protection and awareness.

“That’s pretty integral to make change happen,” said Sanford. “Be as well-rounded as you can, don’t just stick to the ecology classes.”


Alison Duff
Alison Duff


Nelson alumna is studying the positive connection between agriculture and conservation in her latest role with the USDA


M.S. Land Resources (now Environment & Resources) 2005, Ph.D., Environment & Resources (2014)

Along the edge of America’s farmland is a lush border of trees, grasses, and wildflowers that often mark property lines or a break between crops. These wild areas are often deemed unusable, but according to Nelson Institute alumna, Alison Duff, they may be the key to improving economic and conservation outcomes for farms as well as the greater community. In fact, studying the way in which working farms can serve as both production and conservation lands has been at the heart of Duff’s research since her early days as a graduate student at the Nelson Institute.

Duff began the Land Resources (now Environment & Resources) master’s program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Nelson Institute in 2003 after completing an undergraduate degree in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at the University of Minnesota. Duff was looking for a graduate program that would allow her to explore her passion for restoration ecology, or the practice of renewing damaged ecosystems, while also allowing her to make a larger impact on the community. After learning about the interdisciplinary curriculum at the Nelson Institute, Duff decided to apply and she began work with her advisor, Nelson Institute Associate Director, Paul Zedler. While exploring her interest in community engagement and restoration ecology, Duff learned from Nelson alumni Curt Meine and Amanda Fuller about restoration plans at the nearby Badger Army Ammunition Plant.

Located near Baraboo, Wisconsin, the plant was once used to manufacture nitrocellulose-based propellants, but was declared excess in 1997 after living in stand-by status since 1977. With the support of then-U.S. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, the Sauk County Board of Supervisors established the Badger Reuse Committee (BRC), which consisted of local, state, federal and tribal representatives, the latter from the Ho-Chunk Sovereign Nation. This group was tasked with determining the final use for the closed plant. After studying a number of potential outcomes, the committee detailed their final consensus-based vision in the Badger Reuse Plan.

The Badger Reuse Plan describes a list of values for collaborative management of the more than 7,000-acre property, with compatible uses including ecological restoration, historical preservation, education, research, low-impact recreation, and agricultural production. Duff’s thesis research included a resurvey of sites with rare plant species identified by the Nature Conservancy in 1993, and study of the property’s potential for ecological restoration. She also became interested in community-based conservation, engaging with conservation groups, farmers, and those who were utilizing the land.

“We’ve had some really dynamic conversations,” said Duff, of her interactions with the community. “I appreciated the fact that people took the time to share their knowledge and energy to benefit the community and the state.”

Duff said she gained a lot from this experience and was also thankful for the support she received from her advisors and the staff at Nelson Institute.

“Being able to work on a wide range of courses that included case studies and networking opportunities was so important to my understanding,” Duff said. “The format of the degree allowed me to explore a wide variety of topics and select a curriculum that related to my interests. Nelson allowed me to be creative while meeting my professional needs.”

In fact, Duff enjoyed the Nelson Institute learning experience so much, she returned for a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. Continuing her passion of bridging conservation and agriculture, Duff teamed up with her previous advisor, Paul Zedler, and ecologist, Jeb Barzen, to study sustainability and the use of an eco-label among potato growers in Wisconsin as a part of her Ph.D. work.

“Alison has the mix of qualities that allow her to work with diverse audiences,” said Zedler. “She is personable, an effective communicator, and has a great grasp on science. This combination makes her an exemplar of what a Nelson graduate should be.”

Today, Duff continues to bridge agriculture and sustainability through her role as an ecologist with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), studying how working farms can serve as both production and conservation lands. In fact, things have come full circle, as her research space at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in Prairie du Sac is on land that was once a part of the Badger Army Ammunition Plant acreage she studied as a graduate student at the Nelson Institute.

“Those relationships that I cultivated while at Nelson have been important to my work,” said Duff. “That early work also helped me to understand how important relationships are in creating effective conservation programs.”

Duff is currently applying those lessons as she works alongside scientists, community members and farmers on her latest project, FarmLab. The vision for the project, which started in 2016, is a living laboratory that is modeled after a working dairy farm. From measuring and monitoring carbon pools to understanding the agroecosystem benefits of uncropped land, Duff is using FarmLab to study the ecological and economic trade-offs associated with whole-farm management. In the end, her hope is that this project provides useful information to farmers about dairy sustainability.

“Farms are full of biodiversity, and active stewardship of farm natural resources benefits the whole system, but, it’s difficult to be a producer right now,” said Duff. “There are a lot of year to year decisions that need to be made that impact the land as well as farm profitability. We want to provide research backed evidence and support tools that will make those decisions easier and benefit everyone.”

Duff is proud to work with farmers, who she says are eager to share their knowledge, learn, and partner on initiatives like FarmLab, which help to bridge agriculture and conservation.

“Farmers can be active stewards of the farm landscape,” said Duff. “It’s about expanding that stewardship from cropland to other land and showing the benefits of doing so.”

In addition to the farmers and community members, Duff is also proud to continue to connect with the Nelson Institute and UW-Madison, collaborating with Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences professor, Ankur Desai, who is working on eddy covariance research, Agronomy assistant professor Valentin Picasso, who is working on forage and grazing systems, and Agronomy professor Randy Jackson and Entomology professor Claudio Gratton, both of whom have served as advisors to the FarmLab project.

“UW-Madison has top-tier faculty and the Nelson Institute does a great job of applying the resources of the university to solve real-world challenges,” said Duff. “This approach benefits both Wisconsin communities and Nelson graduates.”


April Sansom
April Sansom

Nelson Institute alumna expands community conservation efforts around the globe


Master’s Degree in Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development, PhD in Environment and Resources from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

From the lush rainforests of Napo Province, Ecuador to the golden shores of Coron Island in the Philippines, Nelson Institute alumna, April Sansom has traveled the world to work with communities on land rights and conservation initiatives. A long-time believer in the power of community-based conservation, Sansom focuses much of her work on small scale conservation projects that empower local groups to independently manage land use and conservation projects. Although her first experience with this work occurred during her time with the United States Peace Corps, she became deeply involved in community-based conservation during her time as a graduate student at UW-Madison, forming relationships that she continues to foster in her new role as Director of Community Conservation.

For Sansom, the Nelson Institute provided the interdisciplinary graduate environment she was seeking and offered her an opportunity to work on a UW-Madison project that involved small scale dairy farmers living in buffer zones near important protected areas in Latin America. A collaboration between the UW-Madison Dairy Science department, the Dairy Forage Research Station, and the Nelson Institute, Sansom had the opportunity to interact with dairy farmers in Bolivia and learn more about their land use needs and conservation ideas.

“It was a really wonderful interdisciplinary project in the truest sense of the word,” Sansom said. “My particular role was to work with women who were dairy farmers and learn from them about their roles in natural resource management activities in rural Bolivia. It was such a wonderful project and opportunity and I loved being a graduate student.”

In fact, Sansom loved it so much, she decided to pursue her PhD at the Nelson Institute and continue her community-based conservation work in Latin America. For her PhD project, Sansom focused on the conservation activities in Ecuador, where many dairy farmers are nestled in the heart of three major protected areas near the Amazon Rainforest.

“This was a tremendously rewarding experience, because the farmers were so inspiring in their efforts to manage their farms in a more sustainable way while providing for their families,” said Sansom. “One of the things they were needing to do to provide enough food for the cows was to push into the protected areas, but they were working really hard to avoid that. So, my job was to essentially analyze the activities in Ecuador, look at the outcomes, and research what outcomes were successful and what worked from the perspective of the farmers. For that research, I had a wonderful committee that allowed me to do academic research that was actively helping people, which was a wonderful experience to have as a graduate student.”

During this time, Sansom had been thinking about her future career aspirations and her desire to work in community-based conservation with a focus on small scale projects in small communities. So, when she met then, Community Conservation director Robert H. Horwich during one of his lectures at the Nelson Institute and learned that his organization focused on small scale community conservation, she was excited to join his team. At first she joined the organization as a board member, but was named director after Horwich’s untimely death.

“I was excited to work on small scale projects in small communities as I believe that’s where we will find solutions and scale them up,” Sansom said. “Community Conservation is a great grassroots organization that has a good track record of successful conservation projects around the world.” Founded in Gays Mills, Wisconsin, in 1989 by conservation expert and scientist Robert H. Horwich, Community Conservation “empowers local people to manage and conserve natural resources within the social, cultural, and economic context of their communities.”

“I’m incredibly proud and excited to be the director and doing the programming as well as the administration,” Sansom said. “We have a really neat story. We were founded by a behavioral ecologist who started it in his living room in Gays Mills, Wis., which is as grassroots as it can get. He was a visionary in his time in terms of community focused conservation that focused on local conditions and local people. He worked directly with the communities to find solutions to conservation challenges and he was very good with that. Now, we have the opportunity to build on his legacy.”

Sansom says she is honored to carry on that legacy, but she is equally excited to have the opportunity to continue the projects she started while she was a student at the Nelson Institute.

“I just returned from Ecuador where I had an opportunity to reconnect with the farmers I worked with as a graduate student,” Sansom said. “I was able to see how the solutions are still benefitting them and explore the possibility of collaborating with them on a new project with Community Conservation. We would really be building on the work I did as a graduate student and thinking about how we can move that work forward.”

Sansom says she is excited about the possibilities and the positive connections Community Conservation and the Nelson Institute have introduced into her life.

“Things are very exciting and interesting and I really enjoy it. I like working on building our board, and collaborating with the entire impressive team. We have another employee [Communications and Outreach Coordinator Shelly Torkelson] who is a Nelson Institute alumna and it’s very fun to work with her since she is a graduate of the evolved and developed program that I went through,” Sansom said. “I also really enjoy reaching out to our supporters and having conversations with people who are inspired by our story and want to have an impact on our mission. I have these wonderful experiences connecting with and talking with people. I feel really lucky that my job is also my passion.”


August Schultz
August Schultz

Nelson alumni working to create a bright future for solar power


August Schultz: Chemistry and M.S. Environmental Observation and Informatics (EOI) 2019

Jessica Price: M.S. Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development (now Environmental Conservation), 2010 and PhD Environment and Resources, 2016

As cities and states move to increase renewable energy usage, two Nelson Institute alumni will be leading the way on Long Island. August Schultz, Environmental Observation and Informatics (EOI) alumnus and Jessica Price, Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development (now Environmental Conservation) and Environment and Resources alumna, are a part of The Nature Conservancy’s Long Island Solar Roadmap Project, which is working to locate low-impact sites for solar energy installations on Long Island. The locations, which will be identified using a variety of data, will aid New York in meeting its goal of receiving 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

“Long Island is the sunniest part of New York, so it has a vital role to play in any state-wide solar development planning,” said Price, who is currently working as the New York Renewable Energy Strategy Lead at The Nature Conservancy. “We want to minimize the impacts of renewable energy development on the environment, so we are searching for low-impact areas for solar development on Long Island, like parking lots, rooftops, and other previously developed areas.”

Creating an accurate map of the available rooftops and parking lots on Long Island requires a thorough knowledge of observation and informatics and the ability to turn satellite data and algorithms into real-time representations, so Price connected with Nelson Institute EOI coordinator, Sarah Graves, to see if a student would be available to help with this project.

The EOI professional master's option, which integrates Earth observation and informatics technologies and big data analytics in one unique, 15-month platform, helps students gain technical expertise and leadership skills. As a part of the EOI curriculum, the program connects each student with an organization that allows them to integrate their technical skills with a real-time, on-the-ground project. In this case, Graves and Price felt that The Nature Conservancy project was a great fit for a student, so Graves introduced the idea to August Schultz.

For Schultz, the opportunity to participate in this project was a meaningful next step in his professional journey. A recent graduate in chemistry, Schultz had decided to apply to the EOI program and seek out a career in observations and informatics after considering multiple avenues for graduate school.

“As a junior in college, I was on track to apply for a chemistry PhD program. I thought I was finding my niche there, but I was always more interested in the intersection of different fields, and I was trying to find a spot that straddled the boundary between chemistry and biology,” Schultz said. “As a part of my chemistry degree, I took a GIS course and really enjoyed it, so I decided to take another course that was more conservation GIS oriented. Then, I started thinking back to when I was little. I was really into reading the road atlas in the car, and I realized this is what I should be doing. So, when I got an email from the EOI program, I thought it was the perfect next step.”

Soon after, Schultz spoke with Graves, applied to the program, and ultimately began his coursework in June 2018. By November 2018, Schultz had connected with The Nature Conservancy and was working remotely on the initial plan for the solar project.

“Starting in mid-November, I was talking with the folks at The Nature Conservancy and jumping on leadership team calls to determine ways I could be involved even before going to New York in the summer,” Schultz said. “One of the things they needed done was determining a way to systematically digitize all of the parking lots on Long Island. I started that right away, since we knew that would take a very long time. I was also trying to learn about the background of the project as much as possible. For example, who was governing the direction of the project, the structure of the project, and what was our involvement with other team members such as Defenders of Wildlife and researchers from Michigan Technological University. My work only covered one of the three facets of solar development that was being studied as a part of this project, so I felt obligated to learn how the spatial analysis fit in with the social and economic research that was also being carried out.”

By the summer of 2019, Schultz had temporarily relocated to Long Island to spend a few months working on the project at The Nature Conservancy office. This gave Schultz a chance to get to know the community on Long Island, learn more about their feelings towards solar power, and gain a new perspective on sustainable development.

“On Long Island, they are necessarily quite conservative when it comes to big technological and on-the-ground change,” Schultz said. “They’ve been burned before by development that has gone too quickly. This is a place that has vanishingly small areas of agriculture and wild areas, and they are very motivated to protect that space. In an effort to avoid controversy around solar development, advocates for solar have discussed where solar could be sited to minimize negative impacts and potentially provide additional side benefits beyond generating electricity. In many of these discussions, a natural conclusion was to put solar on every rooftop and parking lot. That’s easier said than done, however, since no one had yet done the work to figure out where those spaces are and how much solar could be installed. It’s hard to make policy recommendations without this information. We do have datasets of where buildings are if we just wanted to quantify the solar power generation capacity of rooftops, but we had to build the datasets of parking lots and areas suitable for ground-mounted solar arrays from scratch.”

In order to locate these spaces, Schultz and the team at The Nature Conservancy and Defenders of Wildlife worked together to develop a model that would allow the team to correctly interpret the satellite data. Schultz said one of the challenges was defining a classification process that would correctly identifying suitable grassy and barren sites for ground-mounted solar arrays.

“Through this experience, I’ve learned a lot of time needs to be spent defining things that seem obvious,” said Schultz. “For example, where do you draw the boundary between grassland and forest? Both forests and grasslands can contain elements of the other, and the cutoffs mostly depend on perspective and technical constraints. Determining that boundary for our project was therefore an iterative process of refining our model to more representatively separate forests and grasslands.”

Once the model was perfected, the team at The Nature Conservancy began analysis to identify potential locations for solar on parking lots, rooftops, and underutilized sites for ground-mounted solar, ultimately conducting a pilot study for one of the towns on Long Island.

“To help create the model for how the entire island will be analyzed was great,” Schultz said. “It was beneficial to have the support of The Nature Conservancy. There were people there to help me optimize my analysis.”

Likewise, Price and The Nature Conservancy were glad to have Schultz’s help.

“It was really important to us that we integrated August into the plan, not just an intern, but a full-fledged team member,” Price said. “We knew it was a heavy lift, but we were excited to have a student who was jazzed about this topic. August brought a good diversity of skills to the team, and he provided us with assistance that was on-par with a fulltime employee. I would absolutely work with the EOI program again.”

For Schultz, the EOI experience and internship were the perfect next step and he is looking forward to applying what he’s learned in his career.

“When I think about my dream job, I think about what I did at the Nature Conservancy, and I just know that I want to keep doing that kind of work,” Schultz said. “I would definitely love to be in a field that is doing similar ambitious work in sustainable development, and I think I’m at a point where I want to be patient and find something that I know will be enjoyable and is a good fit.”

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