Chamong Xiong Brings a Fresh Lens of Gratitude and Curiosity to Milwaukee and the UEC

Written by Urban Ecology Center
    Thursday, 21 October 2021
Chamong Xiong Brings a Fresh Lens of Gratitude and Curiosity to Milwaukee and the UEC

The path that led Chamong Xiong to the Urban Ecology Center this summer has been a winding one. His story of being called back to the land is an inspiration for all of us to do the same and cultivate a meaningful connection with the outside world. Even if it means taking risks and leaping into the unknown to find it.

It was decision time. 11:55 p.m. to be precise. Chamong was working as a security guard at a private security company in California. Their contract with the IRS was up, and a new company was coming in. Chamong’s supervisor called him on the phone, asking if he would be joining the new team for the months-long training program. Chamong had been working in security for most of his adult life. It was a good job, but he felt called to something else.

Chamong had to choose between the security of his job and the unknown. He went with his gut. “I gotta go,” he told his supervisor and signed up for classes at Fresno City College soon after.

This was Chamong’s second go-around at college, and this time was different. He was committed but still didn’t know exactly what to study.

Always interested in wildlife, Chamong had been scared to take what he perceived would be challenging classes in the sciences. After countless trips to his counselor’s office, he let go of those fears, followed his interests, and found his way to biology.

In his biology classwork, Chamong connected with a pair of professors, Rodney Olsen and Hawkin Dowis, who mentored him and encouraged him along his path. Field biology fascinated Chamong, and he dove into his rediscovered passion. As he did, he became increasingly aware of the wonders of nature.

In Chamong’s words, “I just appreciate life more now...we're in such a big world.”

Along his journey, Chamong found photography and has used his newfound skill as a tool for capturing and sharing moments of wonder with others.

Chamong indigo bunting

Chamong says, “I'm learning so much stuff, right? But I just can't keep it in for myself.” 

Chamong’s camera work has turned into a full-fledged passion, adding another layer to his interactions with the world around him, allowing him to pay attention to the little creatures that often go unnoticed.

After obtaining his associate’s degree in Fresno, Chamong enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2020. Before this summer’s internship, Chamong didn’t know the Urban Ecology Center existed.

Now, after a summer working as the Research and Community Science intern, he’s enamored with the UEC, and even more committed to his path of protecting wildlife.

Coming from California, Chamong brought a fresh awareness and curiosity towards this place we call Milwaukee.

Through long summer days of surveying important species around the UEC branches, the tedious work of cataloging wildlife cameras frame by frame, and taking pictures of his own around the parks, Chamong consistently brought an infectious enthusiasm to work.

Learning the land and creatures of a new place has humbled Chamong; when he started this summer at the UEC, he felt like a beginner all over again. That humility allowed Chamong to learn from everyone: UEC staff, volunteers, and the plant and animal life in the city. Starting over in a new place like Milwaukee with new animals, new birds, and new surroundings can be a challenge, but Chamong embraced the opportunity and is now starting to feel at home here, especially at the UEC.

chamong green heron

Chamong is now entering his second year at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he is studying conservation and environmental science, and he will carry this summer’s experience at the UEC close to his heart moving forward.

Learn more about Chamong in this audio story:

Blog and audio story was written by Ben Binversie, 2021 Science Communication intern.



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