In the Field: Alumni Making a Difference through Parks

Tom Blackwood MS’77 

Tom Blackwood enjoys parks so much he decided to live in one. As the superintendent of Door County’s Peninsula State Park, Blackwood resided in the park’s “state house,” with his wife, Joan, and their two children, Sarah and Matt  — fortunate to call Wisconsin’s most popular camping destination their backyard for 23 years. Blackwood was drawn to a career in parks by his inherent curiosity in the unexplored. “I was always enamored with ‘what was out there,’ the roadless patches on the state map — all those beautiful, natural areas,” Blackwood says. His time spent at UW–Madison began as an undergraduate majoring in psychology but took a quick and meaningful turn after graduation. Involvement with the Department of Forestry and the Department of Wildlife Ecology (now merged as the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology) led him to pursue a master’s degree in recreational resources management. Post graduation, Blackwood built his resume through seasonal positions at Effigy Mounds National Monument, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, and Wyalusing State Park, after which he was accepted into the Park Manager Trainee Program with the Wisconsin State Park System. “The rest is history,” he says. Blackwood retired from Peninsula State Park in 2010 after celebrating its 100th anniversary. Though officially retired, he still spends much of his time hiking, biking, and skiing the trails of Door County and serving on the board of directors of the Door County Land Trust. During the summer months, he shares his extensive knowledge of the area’s land, water, wildlife, and history giving group boat tours on the bay and its islands.

Claire Campbell MS’15  

Originally from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Claire Campbell describes herself as an energetic and outdoorsy child. “I was always the kid that was out playing in the woods,” she says. “From bugs and plants to my first summer job flipping rocks in streams and chasing salamanders for a species inventory in East Tennessee, I was fascinated by the big picture — how and why do our natural systems end up the way that they are?” Her love for the outdoors led her to complete her undergraduate degree in earth and environmental sciences at Furman University. In addition to her studies, Campbell interned on a local farm where she studied soil carbon management and volunteered for Grand Canyon National Park. “I came to love the complexities of how soil forms, how we manage it, and what options exist to protect soil systems,” Campbell says. She then came to UW–Madison to reinforce her passion with a graduate degree in soil science. She explored the role of nutrient management and agricultural efficiencies in healthy soil, which was integral in helping her realize her desire to work in the public sector. Campbell set her eyes on a job with the U.S. Forest Service and received an offer from Montana’s Lolo National Forest the same day she defended her master’s thesis. Since moving to Montana, Campbell has enjoyed checking off adventures in her 600-page book of hikes and backpacking trips near Missoula. Her favorite thus far is a bike ride up Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

Ethan Lee BS’14  

Is your tree in need of a checkup? Certified tree doctor and UW–Madison graduate Ethan Lee may be able to help. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Lee attended UW–Rock County, where he spent three years studying mechanical engineering before transferring to UW–Madison and ultimately majoring in forestry. Upon graduating, Lee chose to give back to his childhood community by using his skills to enhance Janesville parks. He accepted a job as the parks and forestry coordinator for the City of Janesville Parks Division. He is also an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certified arborist. Lee’s day-to-day work schedule is anything but consistent, with tasks ranging from individual tree assessment and forest health to installing new playgrounds and engaging in community outreach. “I feel extremely lucky and honored to go to work every day with a smile on my face and look forward to all the new challenges,” Lee says. “I love my job and my community, and for that, I am very grateful.”

Jill Peters BS’14  

Communications may not be the first field that comes to mind when you think of careers in Rocky Mountain National Park, but it’s reality for Jill Peters. She grew up on Sand Island, a part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, where she was immersed in the outdoors from a young age and gained a deep appreciation for the natural world. When it came time to choose a degree, Peters was stuck between pursuing her knack for writing, photography, and outreach and her passion for science and the outdoors. Thankfully, she found the perfect marriage of her interests through the life sciences communication major at UW– Madison. After graduating, Peters headed straight to Fire Island National Seashore along the coast of Long Island, New York, where she explored both research and communications positions. In May 2017, she applied and was accepted as the new biological science technician at Rocky Mountain National Park. Here, Peters has been able to continue her multifaceted career by participating in and communicating the latest scientific research in one of the planet’s most picturesque places. “Getting to be in the mountains, participating in all sorts of science research, and then playing a role in making the complexities of that science accessible to the public is a challenging and rewarding experience,” Peters says. “It’s truly the best of both of my passions.”

David Powell MS’75  

Recognizing his interests in nature and recreation, David Powell created his own undergraduate degree program at Carleton College to prepare him to pursue further education in outdoor design. Upon graduation, Powell headed to UW– Madison to obtain his master’s degree in landscape architecture and kick-start his career. With this education to guide his craft, he returned to Canada, settling in Saskatchewan to work as the chief landscape architect for the province’s Parks Service and eventually opening his own landscape architecture firm. Powell has worked in private practice for more than 25 years and shows no sign of slowing. The reward of creating living landscapes and watching them grow and change over time keeps Powell energized and inspired. In the midst of his success, he recognizes his time in Madison as his design awakening. “UW–Madison exposed me to ways of understanding and appreciating natural systems, which have forever framed the way I look at the world,” Powell says.

Pamela Schuler BS’80  

As the Ice Age National Scenic Trail manager for the National Park Service, Pamela Schuler works with public and private partners to oversee and carry out federal requirements to plan, acquire land for, develop, and interpret the 1,200-mile Wisconsin trail. Schuler became involved with the Ice Age Trail as a horticulture major working as an intern through the Department of Landscape Architecture. Upon graduation, she gained recognition for developing the trail through various positions with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which led to her current position. Though she began as a landscape architect, Schuler stresses how much collaboration and community involvement are required to build and maintain the trail. Her life’s work continues to pay off in a beautiful and visible way. “The Ice Age Trail reaches into communities to bring urban residents and children out into nature, provides an outstanding hiking experience that educates the public about our glacial past, and restores ecosystems along its footpath while connecting public lands across the state,” she says.

Jon Adams-Kollitz BS’89  

Jon Adams-Kollitz’s interest in urban parks has taken him around the world. While pursuing his undergraduate degree in landscape architecture at UW– Madison, he took advantage of every possibility he could. “I was floored by the sheer amount of options and possibilities UW offered,” Adams-Kollitz says. He focused his studies on architectural history and cultural geography and later became involved with Madison’s sustainability organization, Sustain Dane. Upon graduating with his BSLA, Adams-Kollitz spent the summer in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Washington, D.C., inventorying and documenting historic landscapes for a survey. After launching Formecology, an ecological/ artistic design build firm in Madison, he continued his education at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, where he focused on sustainable urban design. In 2007, Adams- Kollitz settled in Burlington, Vermont, where he works as the parks project coordinator for the Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront Department. He is now focused on designing and implementing an ecofriendly and universally accessible playground and on rehabilitating Burlington’s iconic eight-mile waterfront bike path, efforts that earned him the first ever Mayor’s Award for Innovation in 2016.

Give: Cultivating Student Success at Allen Centennial Garden

Allen Centennial Garden may be one of the most beautiful places on the UW–Madison campus, but it’s also becoming one of its most comprehensive classrooms.

Dedicated in 1989, Allen Garden (as it’s known informally) replaced the former instructional gardens attached to the Plant Sciences Building, which were removed in 1979 to make room for a facility expansion. Located just one block to the north, Allen Garden has served as a living laboratory ever since its debut. But recently, students have become more involved in its operation through a growing internship program initiated by director Benjamin Futa.

Futa became director of Allen Centennial Garden in 2015 and quickly developed a strategic plan to strengthen engagement between the garden and campus life. He focused on developing a dynamic internship program based on co-ownership, initiative, and responsibility.

“We give our interns the title of student directors to represent how instrumental they are to the garden’s success,” Futa says. “They’re deeply involved with everything we do here.”

Will Olson’s duties as an intern at Allen Centennial Garden include beekeeping. (Photo by Nik Hawkins)

Just two years later, his vision has come to life. Allen Garden now employs six interns and a growing professional staff. Students’ majors range from landscape architecture and horticulture to sociology and art, and how they apply their academics to the garden is limited only by their imaginations.

“If any student approaches me with an interest or idea that is even in the realm of possibility, we try to make it happen,” Futa says.

This inclusive mentality has led to the implementation of art installations, beehives, and public events, including the “Best. Friday. Ever.” events in summer 2017. It also assures student directors will graduate with a well-rounded skill set. Peter Hauser, a current student director of horticulture, envisions a career in plant research and appreciates the doors that the garden has opened for him in the last two years.

“It has given me the proper prerequisites to explore vast opportunities not only in horticulture, but also in botany, agriculture, and agronomy,” Hauser says.

Regardless of their titles, all students maintain a portion of the garden and take part in incredible field trips that focus on hands-on learning, networking, and professional development.

These internship experiences would be impossible without the generosity of others, Futa notes. “Beyond day-to-day work in the garden and the salary support it requires, private gifts allow us to support students’ pursuit of their own interests through independent projects and field trips. These experiences are curated to provide meaningful, authentic, and empowering learning experiences for our students.”

Would you like to help provide internship opportunities for students? You can make a gift to the Allen Centennial Garden Community Fund.

Into the Woods with FWE

Regal hemlocks tower overhead, fragile ferns blanket the forest floors and ribbons of sunlight break through the canopy. That may sound like paradise, but for CALS forest and wildlife ecology students, it’s a school day—with the forest as a classroom.

Every summer the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology offers students a weeks-long opportunity to learn among the trees at the CALS-based Kemp Natural Resource Station in Woodruff. In odd-numbered years, a field camp focuses on wildlife ecology. And in even years students can participate in a Forest Resources Practicum, affectionately known as “Forestry Camp.” The three-week course allows young foresters to see what a career in forestry entails while learning essential skills from forestry professionals.

Last summer’s Forestry Camp followed the established tradition. The class is divided into teams of four, and each is assigned a “compartment,” a 200-acre tract of rich woodland in the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest. Throughout the course, teams learn all about their plot—essentially, forest ecosystem structure, function, processes and services—by surveying the vegetation, soil, animals and, of course, the trees.

Along the way students develop the knowledge to conduct a comprehensive forest resource assessment. Subject areas include basic field skills, plant identification, GPS & GIS, timber cruising, forest soils, wildlife identification and survey methods and forest habitat classification.

Instructors guide students as they work, visiting individual teams in the woods.

“Field visits often take an hour or two because they become deeper conversations about the history of the forests and the various components of the ecosystem,” says professor Volker Radeloff. “Camp days end up being long days!”

All of that work pays off with invaluable experience and a slew of lifelong memories. Student John Joutras recalls the day he and his team got stuck in the middle of the forest during a rainstorm.

“One of my teammates said, ‘You know you’re a real forester when you’re bushwhacking through the woods in the pouring rain.’ Sure, that might sound kind of miserable, but it was actually really fun,” says Joutras.

Hiking from dawn to dusk would feel like a full day to most, but students refused to stop there. After dinner, activities continued with canoeing, campfires and even more hiking.

During the final week, students summarized their results and conducted a final project based on their own and other teams’ data. But the true value of the course can’t be quantified through a final project or grade, students say. Rather, forestry camp motivates students and fuels their passion for the outdoors while they build lasting relationships with instructors and, of course, each other.

“The real challenge isn’t any individual part but finding a way to tackle it all as a team,” says Joutras. “I found that invaluable.”

-Gilliane Davison

Interested in supporting this program? You can make a gift to the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology Field Camps and Experiences Fund.

Caitlyn Busche

BS’14 • Caitlyn Busche was drawn to dietetics because of its “relatable nature,” she says; she enjoys working in a rare branch of health care where patients can see, feel and understand both the processes and results of treatment plans. At Chicago’s Northwestern Medicine, she is able to do just that. There Busche works with oncology patients to improve chemotherapy and radiation-related side effects through dietary modifications. As an undergraduate at CALS, Busche worked as a lab research assistant, which taught her how fascinating and exciting nutrition research could be. These early experiences gave her the foundation in research that has been instrumental in providing evidence-based medical nutrition therapy to her patients in the ever-changing field of oncology nutrition.

Bridget Reineking

BS’04 • As the global associate director for training and development at BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc., a California-based biotech company specializing in drugs treating genetically based diseases, Bridget Reineking is responsible for educating the company’s global medical affairs team. In this position she ensures that employees are trained as experts in BioMarin’s many projects and are able to accurately communicate the company’s scientific advancements to the public. During her time at CALS, Reineking gravitated toward positions involving education and development. “It is a beautiful thing to travel down the path of knowledge with an individual,” says Reineking. In the midst of a successful career, Reineking looks back and attributes her strong communication and organizational foundation to her time spent at CALS.

Samantha Schmaelzle

BS’10 MS’13 • After spending seven years completing both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dietetics and human nutrition at CALS, Samantha Schmaelzle couldn’t imagine starting her career anywhere else. Numerous internships and research opportunities, including fieldwork in Zambia, opened up countless job opportunities for Schmaelzle after graduation, and ultimately landed her a job with UW Health. As an outpatient clinical dietitian with UW Health’s Surgical Weight Management Clinic, Schmaelzle works to educate morbidly obese patients on nutritional needs and lifestyle changes in preparation for bariatric surgery. The long-term, personal work with patients makes their progress and recovery very rewarding, says Schmaelzle. “My patients are my favorite part of my job,” she says. “Their motivation, energy, successes and positive changes keep me going every day.”

Patrick Solverson

BS’09 MS’12 • Could blackberries help cure obesity? Patrick Solverson is on the path to find out. As a researcher with the USDA’s Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Maryland, Solverson studies various diets and their effects on human health. Currently his focus is on anthocyanins, compounds found in blue and purple fruits and vegetables, and their potential to curb the effects of high-fat diets. Solverson’s passion for dietetics stems from his own struggle with weight as a child. He learned the benefits of nutrition and exercise early on, which changed his life and sparked his interest in this field. “Nutrition is the staple of life every single one of us must address multiple times a day,” notes Solverson. “It’s unavoidable, powerful, and if harnessed correctly, can be so rewarding.” In his free time Solverson enjoys staying fit through sports and weight lifting, and staying current in research by reading science articles with his cat, Allister.

Bridget Stroup

BS’11 • Bridget Stroup chose a career in dietetics because of her passion for learning and improving lives. Stroup currently is a registered dietitian earning her Ph.D. in nutritional sciences at CALS while working in the lab of professor Denise Ney. There Stroup’s research concerns phenylketonuria, or PKU, a disease that restricts processing of the common amino acid phenylalanine, which is found in protein-rich foods such as meat, dairy and grains. Individuals with PKU have limited food choices and must receive key nutrients from unpleasant-tasting amino acid medical foods that often come with equally unpleasant side effects. Stroup is working to develop and promote an alternative, known as glycomacropeptide (GMP) medical foods. GMP medical foods, made from whey protein, offer a low- phenylalanine, whole protein medical food option that is effective and more palatable. Stroup loves the collaboration and constant educational journey that her research at CALS provides.

Amy Giffin

BS’09 • Coming from a family of cheesemakers, it was no surprise that Amy Giffin began her college career in food science. She planned to follow in her family’s footsteps, but after a guest dietitian spoke at her freshman-year nutrition class, she had a change of heart. “I realized that I also wanted to apply the science of food and nutrition to help others,” says Giffin. Now she manages the menus of students in the Sheboygan Area School District as the school nutrition supervisor. There she has the opportunity to work with students to develop meals that are nutritious and tasty. In her free time Giffin is on a quest to make cooking “fun and fearless” through her nutritional food blog, Eat Right Cook Tonight (eatrightcooktonight. com). Giffin is thankful for the inspiration and education she received at CALS and for the lifelong Badger community that comes with any UW–Madison degree, she says.

Ellya Hillebrand

BS’10 • Elya Hillebrand’s path through dietetics led her to a successful career in the military. After earning a bachelor’s degree in dietetics from CALS, Elya Hillebrand joined the U.S. Army. During her six years of service, she earned a master’s degree in dietetics from Baylor University and held many nutrition-related positions, including, most recently, director of food and nutritional services. In that position Hillebrand discovered her knack for management, and she recently decided to leave the military to pursue a career in food service management.

Catch up with … Molly Sloan BS’06 Dairy Science/Life Sciences Communication

As a child, Molly Sloan dreamed of one day stepping onto the colorful shavings that cover the floor of the Dane County Coliseum in order to judge dairy cattle at the World Dairy Expo. Her inspiration came from growing up on a small dairy farm in northern Illinois, taking in everything about the business and the animals. From the farm, Sloan took the steps necessary to reach the Expo and make her dreams come true.

After coming to UW–Madison, Sloan quickly got involved in dairy on campus, establishing a network of dairy professionals at CALS. While completing degrees in dairy science and life sciences communication, she was active in such organizations as the Association of Women in Agriculture and the National AgriMarketing Association. Through dairy judging with her team in the Badger Dairy Club, Sloan refined her judging skills and sharpened her eye for prize cattle.

Sloan’s experiences and determination spurred success in both dairy genetics and cattle judging. Judging Ayrshires at the 2016 World Dairy Expo was her second time on the colored shavings she dreamed about as a kid—and it’s not likely to be her last.

How did your time and experiences at CALS help you get to where you are now?

I grew up in northern Illinois, and I knew all along that I wanted to study dairy science. I realized quickly that there was really no other option than CALS, which is world renowned for its dairy science program. I added a second major with agricultural journalism early on and was very involved in extracurricular activities as well as internships with different dairy genetics and reproductive AI [artificial insemination] companies. Through that involvement I was able to meet the industry contacts that I needed to get internships and, ultimately, job opportunities. When I finished college I started with Alta Genetics, and now, as Alta’s global training program manager, I travel the world pretty extensively.

What’s it like to judge cattle at the World Dairy Expo?

This has always been a dream of mine. When I came to the University of Wisconsin I knew right away that I wanted to be involved in the dairy judging team. Through intense workouts and practices I was fortunate enough to be part of a very competitive team with exceptional coaching from Dr. Dave Dickson and Ted Halbach. After that, I knew that I wanted to continue this experience if the opportunity arose.

The World Dairy Expo is considered a bit of a pinnacle for cattle judging. Where do you go from here?

I think you said it best; it really is the pinnacle in this field. I want to keep doing it as long as it’s fun. For me, every new show is a great opportunity and experience. I would love to have the opportunity to come back and do another show here on the colored shavings.

Molly Sloan, BS’06 Dairy Science/Life Sciences Communication, serves as an Arshire judge at the 2016 World Dairy Expo. 
Photo credit: Sevie Kenyon BS’80 MS’06

Mascha Davis

BS’06 • Born in Ukraine, Mascha Davis fled with her family to the United States as a political refugee in 1990. Her family settled in Madison, Wisconsin, in search of their own American dream. She attended CALS, majoring in nutritional science, and she later earned a master’s degree in public health at the University of California, Los Angeles. As a refugee, Davis has always been drawn toward helping impoverished nations, an interest that led her to pursue a career abroad. She worked in Geneva, Switzerland, and in five different African countries, where she focused on programs preventing malnutrition. Today Davis is putting her years of education and experience to great use through her own private dietitian practice, Nomadista Nutrition. There she educates clients on such topics as healthy eating and weight loss. She also is working on a book, Food Myths, that will be released at the end of 2017. Davis works part-time as a dietitian for Satellite Healthcare in Los Angeles, and she is a featured health writer for the Huffington Post.