In the Field | Alumni Making a Difference through Environmental Sciences
The environmental sciences major at UW–Madison is a rigorous, science-based interdisciplinary major offered through both CALS and the College of Letters & Science (L&S). It promotes critical thinking and emphasizes environmental problem solving in service to society. More at envirosci.wisc.edu.
Ben Fehr BS’15
Ben Fehr works as an environmental scientist in Minneapolis for WSB, a design and consulting firm that specializes in engineering, community planning, and environmental and construction services. Fehr completes projects associated with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Voluntary Brownfield Programs, and the Minnesota Petrofund Program, which aims to prevent groundwater pollution stemming from petroleum tank leaks.
“I am primarily involved with assisting clients to redevelop Brownfield sites with petroleum impacts to soil and groundwater,” says Fehr. “I enjoy assisting local communities to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and ultimately be able to reuse contaminated properties.”
Fehr has worked on a large variety of projects. He’s traveled to Houston to assist with mold remediation efforts associated with Hurricane Harvey and has completed endangered and threatened bat surveys in Tennessee.
“CALS not only provided me with the technical skills needed to succeed as an environmental consultant but also the professional and interpersonal skills necessary for delivering clear and innovative solutions to complex environmental problems,” Fehr says.
Kellen McSweeney BS’15
“Energy efficiency was not always the field I thought I’d end up in, but it has been a fantastic area of sustainability to dive into,” says Kellen McSweeney. She was able to see many different aspects of the environmental studies field during her time at CALS, from geology to cartography to field research.
“I’ve been able to grab skills from specific classes to help me succeed in the work that I do,” McSweeney says. “I recently had the opportunity to use skills I learned from cartography and geographic information system courses to work on a new project.”
She says she has always been drawn to nonprofits that work in sustainability and energy efficiency because their employees show great passion for their work. McSweeney is now a project manager at one of these nonprofits: Slipstream, a national organization that designs energy efficiency programs. She primarily works on the utility program implementation with ComEd New Construction and a new pilot program with BIT Building, which aims to bring building energy efficiency to underserved communities.
“My favorite part of my work is that I have the opportunity to build relationships with all sorts of individuals in the energy efficiency industry,” says McSweeney. On a typical day, she could speak with an architect, a commercial building developer, a workforce development agency, and a city planner. “I love learning about the innovations occurring all across the industry,” she says.
Allison Struss BS’15
Growing up, Allison Struss showered with buckets to conserve water and picked up trash on the side of the road just for fun. Doing her part to address global warming and the human impact on the environment was important to her at an early age. She knew that simplifying sustainability was the first step in finding a solution, and that’s what steered her toward Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a green building rating system and certification of sustainability.
Struss started working on LEED projects as an intern at Madison Environmental Group during her freshman year, and she rounded out her senior year by earning her LEED Accredited Professional credential. Today, Struss continues her involvement with LEED projects as a consultant for Chicago-based tech company Goby. She works with people who run and operate commercial buildings to understand their sustainability plans — and then help make them happen.
“My favorite part about my job is seeing my clients’ sustainability progress year after year and helping them achieve their goals in the easiest, most cost-effective way,” Struss says.
She thanks an early push from CALS for her dream job. “During my freshman year, CALS required that we meet with professors to talk about our future goals and that we start looking into internships,” Struss says. “Without this . . . I would not have been so motivated to start searching for opportunities immediately.” After the first internship, opportunities came easier, and she started building her resume. “It just takes one experience to shape all the rest, and CALS instilled that in me from the start,” Struss says.
Caitlin Bergstrom BS’14
Caitlin Bergstrom’s time at CALS prepared her to engage with people from all fields. It’s a skill that proves valuable in her role as a public affairs analyst at the American Geophysical Union, an organization that promotes earth and space science for the benefit of humanity. Her job includes engaging with Congress and the public to share the value of earth and space science.
“Before I began this work, I thought you needed to have a political science degree to make a difference in policy, but I work with so many experienced scientists who want to bring their expertise to the table to help craft well-informed policy,” Bergstrom says.
She also advocates for federal science funding. “My undergraduate research was funded by the Department of Energy, so I was able to understand firsthand how impactful federally funded research can be,” Bergstrom says. She spent two years as an entomology lab assistant studying insect-ecosystem interactions. “As a researcher, I was always looking for ways to make my science accessible outside of a lab,” Bergstrom says.
It was in an environmental policy course her senior year that she realized fighting for fair environmental laws and practices was a perfect blend of her skills and passions. “The interdisciplinary education I received at CALS has been invaluable,” she says. “I work with geoscientists, oceanographers, and policymakers, and I always seek new ways to learn.”
Kevin Theimer BS’17
Kevin Theimer is an assistant environmental scientist in the water and environmental sector of WSP, an engineering company in Madison that plans, designs, and manages solutions to environmental problems. He is primarily involved with environmental due diligence work; his job is to conduct environmental site assessments (ESAs). This includes researching historical use of property to see how soil or groundwater has been affected (Phase I assessments) and collecting soil and groundwater samples to test for contamination (Phase II assessments). He is also a part of a large environmental response team that deals with spills, explosions, environmental remediation, and construction projects.
“My favorite is Phase I and II ESAs. I enjoy the opportunities to travel the country as well as the unpredictability that each site may bring,” says Theimer, who travels about 60% of the time.
For him, the world’s environmental challenges became more real as he progressed in his environmental sciences coursework. “I became eager to learn more and use my analytical skills to contribute to solutions to some of these issues,” Theimer says. “CALS provided me with the tools, framework, and fundamentals to be highly successful in many fields of work. I use knowledge directly obtained from CALS coursework on a regular basis, including courses that didn’t seem applicable at the time.”
Theimer believes that surrounding himself with individuals in CALS helped him develop strong communication and collaboration skills that are highly marketable in any workplace. “I am grateful for the many opportunities and networks I obtained through CALS, as it was actually a CALS alumnus who was recruiting for my position and helped establish the connections that allowed me to start my career with WSP,” he says.
Madalyn Lupinek BS’17
At Cardno, a company that builds new infrastructure to improve the standard of living in communities, Madalyn Lupinek works on environmental solutions that preserve natural resources and promotes sustainable economic development in developing countries. Some days Lupinek is in the office corresponding with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about permits; setting up ArcGIS web maps, which are interactive displays of geographic information; or looking at aerial imagery for project sites. Other days she’s in the field monitoring construction sites for protected species, keeping an eye on erosion control, or helping determine the exact border of wetlands to figure out what types of permits might be needed or how much wetland disturbance might occur as a result of a project.
“I really like that the work allows me to be in the office and in the field,” Lupinek says. “I also like that it’s fast-paced and requires me to talk to many different types of people.”
She found out about environmental consulting after completing an internship during her junior and senior years with the Environmental Department at American Transmission Company in Madison. “My experiences at CALS really expanded my point of view on what’s out there,” Lupinek says. “There are so many possibilities, and everyone’s path is different in some way. There’s so much to learn, and I take each day as an opportunity for learning and growth.”
The CALS graduates highlighted here represent the depth and breadth of alumni accomplishments. Selections are made by Grow staff and are intended to reflect a sample of alumni stories. It is not a ranking or a comprehensive list. For more about CALS alumni, visit cals.wisc.edu/alumni.This article was posted in Fall 2019, In the Field, Working Life and tagged Allison Struss, Alumni, Ben Fehr, Caitlin Bergstrom, environmental sciences, Kellen McSweeney, Kevin Theimer, Madalyn Lupinek.