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Keep calm and row on

Winter/Spring 2013 | By Grace Latz (ESC ‘11)

I spent most of my childhood outside. I was attuned to the condition of the streams and lakes as a child, boating on the Great Lakes by summer and walking the marsh that flooded each fall. 

I didn’t want to lose those types of interactions when I transitioned to college. I chose to row so I could be out on the lakes every day despite living in an urban area. 

Environmental studies alum Grace Latz
Grace Latz, a former member of
the Wisconsin women's rowing team,
has always enjoyed the water.

I was a walk-on athlete to the rowing team, as most are at Wisconsin, and I luckily found other athletes who felt the same way about the environment. 

I learned how our sport of rowing is affected by water quality, wind and weather conditions around University Bay, Picnic Point and Maple Bluff. I became aware of how coaches’ motor boats could disturb waterways with their wakes during training trips in Florida. 

I thought of how we avoid transporting invasive species between the lakes and channels we compete on. I was always looking for the recycling or compost bin at our competitive events.

The more semesters that passed, the more I realized how the world of sports and athletes – recreational or competitive – are intricately tied to the environment in which they train, practice and perform.

Teammates Maggie Galloway and Annie D’Amato were two of the most avid eco-athletes, encouraging me in my sophomore year to join their group of students that would later become REthink Wisconsin. 

Comprised of a handful of student athletes, members of the Greek community and green-minded students, all from Professor Jack Kloppenberg’s introductory environmental studies class, we wanted to implement the changes that students talked about during the course discussion sessions. 

By the end of my senior year, we’d established the athletic department’s first game-day recycling program, assessed our university’s waste stream, started collection sites for recyclables for UW Housing move-outs, promoted the use of reusable beverage containers among the campus community, and sent donated bicycles around the world. 

I also assisted in fostering the relationships and planning necessary to create the GreenHouse Learning Community that now stands along Lakeshore Path. 

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My first two years of college I lived in a residential learning community and loved the experience, but thought there should be a similar community around environmental issues. The University of Wisconsin is such a historical leader in environmental stewardship, why didn’t we yet have an avenue for incoming students to live out those ethics? 

I started by researching any similar programs at peer institutions and then helped to recruit interested faculty, staff and students for a planning and development committee. 

It was an amazing experience contributing to such a project, and when students moved in during the fall of 2010 I was so proud to serve as a GreenHouse intern and be part of what I hope is a rewarding live-in experience at UW-Madison. 

From all of this, I’ve learned that through whatever roles or experiences you make of your life, you provide a unique perspective on how to change the world. 

Most would never think that a hodge-podge group of athletes, fraternities, sororities and activist-students would come together and implement so much change, but we did. 

Our programs are here to stay, and I hope that other students see that they can make lasting change to something as grand as the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  

Sometimes the opportunities you’re looking for aren’t there, but never fear creating them. They may not yet exist because no one had your unique perspective and your ability to see a solution. Never fear going forward with an idea and finding others who believe in your ideas. 

On Wisconsin! 

After graduating in 2011, Grace Latz relocated to Philadelphia, Pa., where she continues to train at an elite level for the Vesper Boat Club. She previously chaired REthink Wisconsin, a UW-Madison student organization focused on campus sustainability projects.  

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