Growing the Community

February 18, 2019

Elisse Pavletich, B.S. Community & Environmental Sociology, Environmental Studies (2017)

When UW-Madison alumna Elisse Pavletich began college, she knew she wanted a career that would make a positive impact on the world, but she didn’t have any definitive plans. That all changed when she met Nelson Institute advisor Becky Ryan who helped Pavletich to discover the Nelson Institute curriculum and the world of environmental studies. With Ryan’s support, Pavletich began to explore environmental education, community outreach, and the various career opportunities associated with this field of study.  Through exploration and Nelson Institute’s individualized curriculum, Pavletich discovered her passion for environmental sociology and a career path that has brought her a lot of joy. 

“I didn’t have a super solid plan going into college. I considered engineering since math had always been easy for me, but I didn’t feel connected to it,” said Pavletich. “It wasn’t until I took Introduction to Environmental Studies: Social Perspective that things changed. It was interesting and I cared. I thought this is what college is supposed to be like when you find something you like and something you’re passionate about.”

Once Pavletich determined that she wanted to major in community and environmental sociology through the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as well as environmental studies through the Nelson Institute, she began exploring networking opportunities and ways to make a positive impact within her learning community and the greater Madison area.  

“I was looking for more togetherness and wanted to be involved,” said Pavletich.

Through talking with Ryan, Pavletich discovered the Nelson ambassador program, which gives students an opportunity to plan events, lectures, and other activities that will promote a sense of community among all Nelson Institute students. Pavletich applied and was selected as an ambassador.

“It was fun because I was able to help plan events such as the Haunted House tour while becoming more involved with the program and the major,” said Pavletich.  “I’m not a one-track mind kind of person, so it was great to have experiences in school that allowed me to learn more about what I like and what I want to do.”

In addition to the annual Fright Night tour held at the century-old Science Hall where Nelson Institute is housed, student ambassadors also plan welcome events, end of semester study brunches, an Earth Day trivia night, and so much more.

“The ambassador program is a win for everyone involved,” said Ryan, who leads the program. “It gives students an opportunity to gain new skills and experiences that seem to positively impact their lives and make them strong, supportive alumni in the future.”

In fact, Ryan is passionate about working with students and ensuring that they have a positive connection to the Nelson Institute, both when they are here and later in life as alumni.

“I really want every student to have a positive experience and feel connected to Nelson,” said Ryan, who has won multiple awards for advising. “I want to be accessible, friendly, and honest. I really put my heart into advising, so it great to see someone like Elisse succeed. I love her story and it was fun to watch her path unfold in a really wonderful way.”

Pavletich echoed that sentiment saying, “Becky was my advisor and I loved her. She was so personable and I felt she would do whatever she could to help me succeed. I’m so thankful for the classes I took and everything that I did. I’m thankful for the teachers, the advisors, and the influence of speaking with people who were knowledgeable and made me feel like I had a sense of direction. I do miss college and the friends I made in Madison. I feel lucky to have gone there and to look back with happiness on four years I spent.”

 Although Pavletich has now graduated, she remains connected to Ryan and the program, sharing updates about her career progression including her work at The Country Experience and Riverview Gardens. In fact, Pavletich spent much of 2018 working with  The Country Experience, a Montessori-based educational farm and camp in Elizabeth, Illinois. This 34-acre farm includes a sleepaway camp that allows urban and suburban students, particularly those in the Chicago area, to learn more about agriculture and connect with the food system. There is a garden and orchard on site as well as a number of farm animals including goats, pigs, sheep, cows, donkeys, chickens, and rabbits. While there, Pavletich served as the Farm Stay Coordinator, helping families to book and plan their weekend stay at the farm, while also assisting with student education initiatives during the week.  

“This was the farm life I had wanted and idealized,” said Pavletich. “I loved teaching kids all that I know about gardening and watching them learn and enjoy that wonder.”

While Pavletich enjoyed working at The Country Experience, she was excited to expand her horizons by joining Riverview Gardens in Appleton, Wisconsin as the Farm Manager and Volunteer Coordinator in 2019. Riverview Gardens is a non-profit that engages the community in efforts that address unemployment, poverty, and homelessness. By providing work experience, life skills training, and more, Riverview Garden empowers individuals while working to change the community’s perceptions of people in need. In her role as farm manager, Pavletich helps to grow vegetables mainly for the community-supported agriculture (CSA) program that runs in the summer and fall. She also works with the volunteers that assist with the urban farm throughout the year.

Pavletich says that her role has allowed her to gain a great deal of experience in community engagement, while allowing her to make a positive impact on the world, something she had been seeking since the start of her college experience.  

“I like to provide people with connections in the community and let people come together and learn that they’re not alone,” said Pavletich. “I also love growing veggies and producing something. It’s just nice to know I’m doing something that matters.”

Photos courtesy of Elisse Pavletich