Leveling Up helps students prepare for their future

November 9, 2020

For many students, there has been nothing normal about the start to the 2020 fall semester. Classes have shifted to online formats, physical distancing has transformed student life, and industry shutdowns have instigated new anxieties for students who must soon navigate a post-COVID-19 economy.

Addressing these challenges, the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies hosted a series of virtual events dedicated to preparing students for a future environmental career. The program, titled, “Leveling Up: Tips and Assists for your post-college game plan,” consisted of 12 unique sessions spanning across seven weeks from September through November, each specifically designed to help students explore their career options, enhance their networking skills, and navigate the challenges of life as a student.

By connecting students with advisors, alumni, and their fellow peers, the program provided career resources while at the same time encouraging students to build relationships with each other, as well as environmental professionals.

One such opportunity was created by Becky Ryan, Nelson Institute undergraduate program coordinator, who hosted biweekly “College to Career Group” sessions. During informal discussions, Ryan created a space for students to share their thoughts, seek advice, and present questions about moving forward.

For Eliza Kruszynski, a senior majoring in environmental science and political science, the College to Career Group has helped her prepare for life after graduation. Kruszynski is enrolled in the Nelson Institute’s environmental studies certificate program and said she decided to sign up for the College to Career Group to “pick up a few pointers.” Now, she is gaining the skills and resources to launch her career.

“As a senior graduating this December, thinking about the future can be intimidating,” said Kruszynski. “I just completed my second meeting with Becky, and I am so thankful for her guidance. She’s taught me an entirely new way to search for jobs and how to market myself after graduation. Becky’s wisdom (and humor!) are unmatched.”

Engagement with alumni was another defining feature of the Leveling Up program. In two sessions, titled “Short & Snappy: Sharpen your elevator speech through conversations with alums,” students developed their interviewing and networking skills by conversing with Nelson alumni who are now working as environmental professionals.

The Short & Snappy sessions featured a host of alumni from 22 different organizations, including universities, municipalities, government departments, and a variety of environmental industries. Through six-minute one-on-one speed conversations with alumni, students practiced giving their “elevator pitch,” or answer to the question, “Tell me a bit about yourself?” In doing so, students had the opportunity to share their passions, interests, and questions about beginning an environmental career, leading to unique interactions between former and current Nelson students.

"The Leveling Up events are a great way for our alumni to connect with students,” said Emily Reynolds, assistant director of community engagement and alumni relations at the Nelson Institute. “I'm always so impressed with what our alumni are doing, and their willingness to share their experience and advice with our students."

However, not all students are looking to jump right into an environmental career. For some, graduate school can provide an important next step in advancing their environmental career goals. To address this need, the Leveling Up series offered several informative sessions highlighting the Nelson Institute’s professional master’s programs.

The first session featured Paul Robbins, dean of the Nelson Institute, who led a brief exploration of three Master of Science degree programs offered at the Nelson Institute – Environmental Conservation, Environmental Observation & Informatics, and Water Resources Management. In the sessions that followed, students had the opportunity to explore each of these programs in-depth, learning from graduate advisors Meghan Kautzer, Sarah Graves, and Jim Miller.

Other highlights of the Leveling Up program included “Internships in the Time of COVID,” which featured information about virtual internships, and “Badgers Exploring Environmental Careers,” which featured an exploration of different careers in natural resource management, environmental advocacy, and sustainability marketing.

In each of these sessions, students took their career-prep to the next level. They showed up to learn from alumni, took the initiative to explore different career options, and built relationships with advisors and students to help guide their path forward. Despite challenges presented by COVID-19, Nelson students are showing that they are strong, determined, and letting nothing discourage them from pursuing their environmental career goals.