UEC’s Outdoor Leaders are giving the tools to become Leaders of the Outdoors

Written by Michelle Milford
    Wednesday, 30 November 2022
UEC’s Outdoor Leaders are giving the tools to become Leaders of the Outdoors

What do you want to be when you grow up? In high school this question quickly becomes a daunting task to figure out. Luckily for Milwaukee students, the Urban Ecology Center is on a mission to keep this question full of hope and wonder. 

The Urban Ecology Center High School Outdoor Leadership program is a unique paid internship that helps teens build a wide range of skills including leadership, studies of ecology, environmental justice, and job-readiness. After completing an 8-week summer internship, high school students have the opportunity to apply for an academic year position (September-April). 

I had the pleasure of interviewing two of our Outdoor Leaders, Zoe and Jasmine, who are returning for the academic year. 

A truncated version of our interview was featured in the most recent News from the Naturehood publication (read it here!). Not wanting their beautiful words of wisdom and gratitude to go to waste, I’ve decided to include the full interview here for you to enjoy!  

After reading, I hope you are as impressed with these two young women as I was. I have no doubt that they will both accomplish amazing things in the years to come. I know they will become their own versions of “outdoors leaders” teaching and connecting people to the wonders of nature. Perhaps, they might even return to the UEC as staff members after their own outdoor adventures! 

In your own words, what is the Outdoor Leader program at the UEC? 

Zoe: People are shocked when I refer to it as a job.  It’s very hands-on.  We are learning all the time.  We also get job experience while getting paid. 

Jasmine: It’s learning about other people’s green careers.  It is really professional development. Gaining skills and experiences that can be applied in our current and future roles. Like working with volunteers who come into the building and learning how to talk to people. Learning about people’s careers and how to get to that point. Gaining skills to help us professionally and personally.  

How have you benefited from the program? 

Zoe: The confidence I gained is a big thing for me. I was not very confident speaking with anyone I didn’t really know.  With practice and training,  I learned a lot about communicating with others.  I’ve also learned so much about the environment and possible careers too.

Jasmine: I think I have changed a lot. I am more social and more confident in speaking to people and expressing myself and  talking in front of groups.  I have gained those skills here through the professional development days - and actually doing those things in real life. 

What are your career goals?  Have those goals changed since starting as an Outdoor Leader? 

Zoe: I’ve always known I have a very math and science oriented brain so I knew I wanted to do something STEM related.  When I started working at the UEC, I felt a pull to a more environmental job.  Right now I am applying to colleges with environmental engineering in mind.  The UEC definitely helped me get there and encouraged me to find something I am passionate about. 

Jasmine: Definitely something in the environmental field.  In college, I think I am going to major in environmental science. The UEC really helped me come to that point - I had no idea what I wanted to do.  I just want to keep learning more. 

Is there anything you would like to say to Milwaukee youth with an interest in nature? 

Zoe: For younger people who are interested in the environment and enjoy spending time outside, that’s always been me. But I never considered pursuing that passion outside of a hobby because I didn’t realize there were ways you could support yourself and your family while doing that. So I would say, if you have a hobby, you should for it and try to pursue something bigger with it.  Because it can be a lot bigger.  

Jasmine: Try new things and get out of your comfort zone.  I think the outdoors can be really scary sometimes - going on hikes and everything involved in that - trying those things.  We’ve done a lot of things that pushed our limits and it was so cool to feel that sense of accomplishment at the end. You see all these that climb up mountains and stuff and that can actually be you if you put your mind to it. 

Zoe: Yeah - don’t shy away from things that make you nervous.  Nervousness is not a fun feeling but it’s good.  It can help you learn more about yourself. 

What is something that everyone at the UEC has in common? 

Jasmine: Everyone is very eager to help people learn and give them positive experiences. Everyone is just so pepped about what we do here. 

Zoe: The type of people that are here are all passionate about helping people and helping the environment.

Is there anything you would like to say to the UEC supporters and donors who make programs like OL possible? 

Jasmine: Thank you for giving people the opportunity.  I am a high schooler who has the opportunity to have a paid internship.  I feel like this job doesn’t really feel like a job. When I talked to my friends, they have jobs they don’t really like. I love my job. 

Zoe: Thank you! I am so grateful that I enjoy going to work and it doesn’t feel like a chore for me.  I’ve been able to have so many opportunities and make so many connections. And just learned so much that would not be possible without their help. 


Michelle Milford

Michelle Milford

Michelle is UEC's Donor Communications and Events Manager. With a degree in Zoology and Environmental Studies, she began her career as a zookeeper. An American badger remains her favorite animal - having raised one from a cub. After making some difficult professional decisions, Michelle ended up in the nonprofit sector where she’s happily stayed for 8+ years.  Having started in January 2022, she still feels incredibly lucky to be part of the UEC team - a team who, like her, cares deeply about the environment and those, both human and not, that depend on it. When she’s not at the UEC, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband, two young children and their deaf English setter. 


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