Becoming a Change Agent: Elise's Story

Written by Urban Ecology Center
    Tuesday, 24 December 2013
Becoming a Change Agent: Elise's Story

Elise Wirkus is one determined young lady! “I want to make progressive environmental change more approachable to people. I want to be the person people think of when they decide to recycle or to compost, or even something as big as choosing a more complicated, but more environmentally sound business plan.” Now a junior at UW-Madison, Elise is double majoring in Environmental Studies and Legal Studies, with the intention of going to law school someday, and eventually working on behalf of the environmental issues and causes that have become sincere passions of hers.

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Thanks to the many opportunities the Urban Ecology Center offers youth through its career pipeline, Elise was able to dive into a world she knew very little about, to explore it fully, and build from it. At the young age of 14, Elise was introduced to the Center through some family friends. Very astutely, she decided to become a volunteer to learn more and broaden her experiences. “I remember volunteering with the Summer Camps at Washington Park. A monarch butterfly landed on a camper’s nose; his eyes lit up, and I just knew he was going to go home and tell his friends, family, and teachers all about it!” It was moments like this that Elise learned along with the campers that “nature did not require a state park sticker or for your parents to fund a trek out West,” as she describes. “It was in my area code, and the Urban Ecology Center demonstrated that everyone has a right to experience it in the same way.”

Elise was encouraged by her involvement with the Center and wanted to continue in some way. So, while attending high school, Elise became an Outdoor Leader. In her words, “it was life-changing,” motivating her to think about a different career path and choose her college majors accordingly. Last summer, Elise returned from college to participate in the Summer Intern program as an Education Intern. Through her various volunteer experiences, work tasks, and internship responsibilities, Elise explained that, “the Urban Ecology Center forced me to think about my community in a way I didn’t think about it before, and think about the issues and the people. It has provided me with the most practical, approachable outlook for environmental good. “

Elise says, if it weren’t for the Urban Ecology Center, “I would be stuck in an area of study that I do not have a strong passion for. The Urban Ecology Center has inspired me to go out and do good, and has really pushed me to look closer at my community, my actions, my intentionality and my goals. The Center will always be that check-in location in my mind: What good am I doing? What message am I promoting? Who benefits from my work? And most importantly, if I do not like what is happening (environmentally, socially, culturally), what can I do to change the discourse around me?

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