Fall 2023

Class Act

Rosalie Powell standing in front of foliage.
Photo by Michael P. King


Rosalie Powell BSx’24 has taken full advantage of her college experience, embracing everything that UW has to offer — from coursework and research to internships and study abroad.

“I’m interested in big-picture issues, so I’ve just been enjoying mixing and matching [my courses and activities] and getting a really interdisciplinary education,” says Powell, who is double majoring in environmental sciences and life sciences communication (LSC). “I think now is the best time to explore.”

At first glance, her approach may appear a bit scattershot, but there’s a purposeful strategy behind it all. Powell, a Madison native, aspires to a career in climate change communications. She hopes to partner with communities around the globe to help them address and adapt to climate change. Since the issue is so complex, it’s a career direction that benefits from a broad, well-rounded academic background.

At the same time, it requires practical skills to connect with strategic audiences — skills Powell is developing through her LSC classes. “LSC is not just the [communication] theory. I’m also picking up a lot of different skills, such as Photoshop, digital video production, social media,” she says. “For me, the most important thing is application — how to actually put [what I’ve learned] into play and help people.”

Powell’s first major opportunity to apply her communication skills came after her first year at UW, when she took an internship with the Farmland Preservation Program at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). The program is designed to promote practical landuse planning, keep locally important farmland in agricultural use, and encourage conservation practices.

“Rosalie relished the opportunity to engage with individuals from different backgrounds and geographies to discuss their farms, their passions, and to promote environmental advocacy,” says Katy Smith, land and resource management section manager at DATCP, who served as Powell’s supervisor. “[She learned about] the value systems of rural and agricultural communities, and then she used storytelling as a tool for community-based social marketing of conservation.”

During her sophomore year, Powell joined the lab of UW ecologist Ellen Damschen, who studies plant communities in a changing world. Through the university’s National Science Foundation–funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program, Powell designed and conducted her own field experiment to explore ways for land managers to help prairies adapt to climate change. She’s now preparing a manuscript, as first author, for publication in an academic journal.

Powell’s other college experiences include being a communication intern with the NASA Health and Air Quality Applied Sciences program, spending a summer in Brazil to learn Portuguese, and opening and operating a polling location on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic. Powell is the youngest chief election inspector in Madison history.

All these activities make Powell a notable student. She received a WALSAA Outstanding Sophomore Award in 2022. In 2023, she was named a Udall Scholarship honorable mention and a Truman Scholarship finalist — honors that recognize her leadership, public service, and other achievements.

On track to earn her diploma in spring, Powell plans to attend graduate school — but not right away. There’s still more exploring to do. She’s working on a Fulbright grant application, hoping to fund an outreach project to study the effectiveness of sustainability incentives available to Brazilian farmers.

“I’d like to work with people from other countries because climate change is such a global issue that we really need to have international cooperation,” says Powell. “We need to be gathering ideas and communicating with people from all over.”

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