Merging politics and the planet

May 1, 2020

Nelson Institute alumni are continuing to make a difference near and far, including recent graduate and Madison local, Harrison Rayment who is utilizing his degree in environmental studies and political science to expand environmental legislation here in Madison. His experiences at Nelson Institute and his work as a legislative aid in the Wisconsin State Capital have further encouraged Rayment to seek out opportunities to advocate for the environment, particularly as it relates to global climate change and the controversy that surrounds it.

“I went into this field so I can talk about how important climate change is. It was incredibly helpful to study it first-hand with Nelson Institute,” he said.

In addition to his courses through the Nelson Institute, Rayment also majored in political science, which helped him to pursue environmental action at the legislative level as an aid at the Wisconsin State Capital during his senior year at UW – Madison. This is where he recognized his passion for state politics.

“I want to use whatever voice I have to influence the decisions being made,” he said.

After graduating in May 2019, Rayment began a full-time position as a legislative aid and currently assists State Representatives Melissa Sargent and Christine Sinicki. His work involves policy research, case work, and engaging with the public regarding prominent issues in the Madison area. Recently, Rayment began researching the decline of bee pollinators and how that can negatively influence agriculture and the economy in Wisconsin. He explained that a crucial aspect of his work as a legislative aid involves informing and educating the community on these topics.

“Informing people of how severe this issue is and what it’s going to mean in the future is a really important part of this decision making,” he said.

Rayment has been working on assembling a task force that combines individuals from the DNR, state legislature, and beekeepers across Wisconsin to continue advancing the pollinator population, including the promotion of pollinator friendly habitats such as gardens.

Another bill that Rayment is excited about involves youth and their connection to the environment. The bill would allow fourth grade students free entrance into Wisconsin state parks. In fourth grade, students begin learning about civics and their state government, allowing them to become more educated about how their state functions. This bill would encourage these students and their families to spend time enjoying Wisconsin State parks, instilling environmental consciousness from a young age.

“One of the things that Nelson has taught me is that there are so many different aspects of environmentalism and that there’s not just one way that’s correct on how to protect the environment. I think Nelson does a very good job promoting experiential learning and that’s probably what has prepared me most for my specific job right now,” he said.

Rayment also shared that as a student at Nelson Institute, he had to opportunity to gain hands-on experience that allowed him the ability to participate in state politics. As a student, Rayment was a part of the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council (WSBC) through an environmental studies capstone course in business sustainability. He chose to work with WSBC because it seemed to be the most challenging option and was the farthest out of his comfort zone. He assisted Nelson Institute Professor Tom Eggert with the yearly WSBC conference planning and worked to make the conference a carbon-neutral event. During this time, Rayment excelled in his work and became more confident in his abilities.

As another aspect of his experiential learning, Rayment learned about Nelson Institute’s connections to the Wild Rockies Field Institute (WFRI) through Advisor and Student Services Coordinator, Becky Ryan. Ryan encouraged him to continue his learning outside of the classroom, which led him on a three-week backpacking trip into the Montana wilderness. Rayment met with local leaders from small Montana towns, as well as the superintendent of Glacial National Park, gaining a well-rounded perspective of the environmental efforts being made in Montana.

“It was very humbling. It makes you realize that there is a crisis and it needs to be addressed in a professional manner. WRFI made me hopeful that there are people that are doing all they can to protect the environment,” he said.

Rayment has recently been accepted into the UW – Madison Law School and begins in Fall 2020. He hopes to soon be a voice for marginalized communities and systems of injustice while advancing environmental consciousness at the community, state and federal levels.

Rayment takes pride in his education through Nelson Institute and his professors for allowing him to come to these realizations and encouraging him to pursue a career in environmental law.

“There’s so many things that happen in life, so many different paths you can go down. I think law school is going to be really important for me because it will open up so many doors and there’s going to be so many different opportunities to pursue environmentalism,” he said.

Rayment encourages all students to consider an environmental studies degree at the Nelson Institute.

“I realized how important environmental studies and the Nelson Institute were because it does fundamentally change how you view the world around you,” Rayment said. “It changes how you view social relationships and systems of injustice. I think the perception that I gained through Nelson Institute is absolutely going to be crucial in furthering my professional development.