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Dreams and Ambitions Come to Life at UEC

Written by Beth Heller
    Thursday, 22 August 2019
Dreams and Ambitions Come to Life at UEC

As Milwaukee’s urban ecosystem fills with the energy brought by more sunlight, blossoming plants and wildlife, the Urban Ecology Center overflows with people looking to enjoy the outdoors. How do we handle this great opportunity? With outstanding summer interns!

This year 28 interns spent 12 weeks exploring their dreams and ambitions while they worked to connect people to nature and each other.

They helped teach our Summer Camps, weighed mammals with our community scientists, created welcoming spaces for visitors, removed invasive plants, and captured all of this on film for our marketing team. It has been a pleasure getting to know each of them.

For a little insight into this group of talented summer interns, here are three of their stories:

saraiSarai VanLeer

Sarai first came to UEC as a young child attending summer camp, and based on that experience returned many times with her family. She attributes her desire to come back to Matt Flower, Environmental Educator and Early Childhood Specialist. Years after her first summer camp experience, she says “I still remember that [UEC] tracked snakes in the city of Milwaukee and that I could cook invasive species… Cool activities that seemed like they belong in a forest or jungle were right here in my own city.”

Anyone who visited our Washington Park branch last school year may have seen Sarai volunteering as a receptionist. Sarai is interested in public health, in particular women’s health issues. Her aim in joining our visitor services team this summer was to build on her understanding of how nonprofits run. We are delighted to announce that she was recently hired into a year-round position with the visitor services team! Congratulations Sarai! Sarai anticipates graduating from Mount Mary College with a degree in International Studies and Spanish in Spring of 2022.

eric2Eric Karwoski

“I learned that natural restoration is an area of practice that creates an impact that is visible by everyone who enjoys nature,” says Eric Karowski, an intern on the land stewardship team. Eric’s dream job(s) are wildlife ecologist, park ranger and nature writer.

As he approaches his senior year at UW-Milwaukee in the school of conservation and environmental science, he reflects, “The Urban Ecology Center’s work brings people of all ages and walks of life together to experience the power of nature; and they see that we are all capable of creating beautiful areas to be enjoyed by everyone”.

And, while he is lighthearted when he is engaging with visitors, his goals are heartfelt. He aims to “develop a deeper connection to our natural areas; especially, urban environments,” he says, “because it can be hard initially to appreciate nature when there is so much noise, so many buildings, in the city.” He has enjoyed this summer in part because “first-hand experience in the field is a powerful learning opportunity” that brings meaning to the concepts covered in the classroom. Upon graduation, he is interested in pursuing a graduate degree in wildlife ecology.

Karaline Black

Karaline, biology and environmental sciences major at Marquette, aspires to be an environmental scientist or engineer. Her exuberance shows as she describes a moment of her internship: “Just yesterday, I worked with the Young Scientists at Menomonee Valley. While we were getting the van all packed up for our field trip, some girls popped up over the fence and asked Jose what the plan was for the day.  Once we told them about the solar ovens we were going to make they ran out from behind the fence, yelled bye to their mom, and jumped in the van.  Jose turned to us and said, “Well the community near the UEC is definitely involved, and that’s the whole point!” Her work to connect children to science concepts this summer has been a “perfect bridge” between her commitment to youth engagement and passion for environmental science.

Our philosophy

UEC is committed to providing internship experiences, not just because of learning and career exploration that happens for the interns, but because the interns bring their aspirations to life at all of our branches when they engage with visitors of all ages.

Year-round staff were asked to reflect on their experiences with interns this summer, and Madeline Karian, Community Programs Educator, captured the thoughts of many staff when she said: “I so enjoyed watching another group of young adults develop and build their relationships with the environment, the Milwaukee community and the kids in it. I hope they all know that they really do make a difference in the world around us by their work this summer. Even if for just one person, it makes Milwaukee and even better place to live!”

We are grateful to have worked with so many interns this past Summer and wish them well in their future endeavors.

We are deeply appreciative of the community of supporters who make these internships possible. Special thanks in particular to Johnson Controls for their sponsorship of the summer intern program. Thank you for a fantastic, high-energy summer!


This article was co-written by Clarissa Rolefson.

Beth Heller

Beth Heller

Senior Director of Education and Strategic Planning, Beth received her Masters in Business Administration from UW-Milwaukee in 2005, where she received the Outstanding Business Plan award for a plan to launch a branch of the Urban Ecology Center in Washington Park. She graduated from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI in 1994 with a B.A. degree in Biology and Education. Beth began working at the Urban Ecology Center in 2000 to combine her love of the city with her appreciation of nature. Beth loves to sail, bike, sing and hike.

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