A place to belong: CALS student organizations offer personal growth, professional development and community

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

They sell holiday roasts and turkeys, fix lawn mowers and snowblowers for the public, grow and give away fruits and vegetables and volunteer in school classrooms. They present posters, hold fun runs and bike rides, give talks at national conferences and help manage wildlife around the state. They conduct community service and research projects around the world, doing their part to keep the Wisconsin Idea global.

And for the most part they do it themselves, with minimal assistance from faculty and staff.

These are just a few examples of activities conducted by members of student organizations, the hands-on social and preprofessional groups— nearly 1,000 of them are registered on the UW–Madison campus— that allow students to cultivate significant life skills while also creating community.

And they’re a vital part of student life at CALS. Sarah Pfatteicher, CALS associate dean for academic affairs, sees student orgs—along with such activities as internships, independent research and study abroad—as a crucial component for students to take their learning “beyond the classroom,” to make their time at CALS an experience they have tailored by pursuing their unique blend of interests.

They’re also a great way to make a big campus feel more like home, Pfatteicher notes. “We tell students, ‘You wouldn’t move to a city of 60,000 people and expect to suddenly know everything about the city,’” she says. “You pick a neighborhood within that city, and you get to know your neighbors, you get to know the restaurant on the corner.”

Of all the enriching activities available to students, Pfatteicher notes, the key advantage of student organizations is embedded in the name. “Student orgs are student-organized, right? They allow students themselves to identify interests, develop their own bylaws, set their own membership requirements—to come together and really be in charge of what they’re doing. That helps develop student autonomy and maturity in ways that other experiences maybe can’t.”

And let’s not forget they’re a lot of fun. Here’s what a half dozen student orgs at CALS are up to.

TWS group

UW–Madison members of The Wildlife Society worked with the DNR to help build and move large pens as part of an elk restoration effort in northern Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Laine Stowell/WI DNR (Banner photo: courtesy of Laine Stowell/WI DNR)

Helping Wild Wisconsin 

Once upon a time, elk roamed plentifully throughout the land that would become Wisconsin. By the late 1800s they had vanished from the landscape, victims of overhunting and loss of habitat. Efforts to reintroduce elk in northern Wisconsin have expanded in recent years—and the UW–Madison chapter of The Wildlife Society (TWS), the nation’s premier society for wildlife professionals, has been part of the effort.

Over the past three years, students have worked with elk herds alongside wildlife managers and volunteers. They put their muscles and passion into building fencing for large pens— one of them 1,600 feet long and eight feet high, encompassing four acres— used to contain elk being moved from Clam Lake to vacant elk habitat southeast of Winter. Recently students helped take down that fence and move materials to the Flambeau River State Forest, where a seven-acre pen will be built to quarantine elk brought in from Kentucky.

Laine Stowell, an elk biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, is grateful for the students’ assistance. “Their participation provides an abundance of enthusiasm and youthful strength,” notes Stowell. “We get a lot of work done in a short period of time, and all it costs us is food and lodging. We share our experience and time, they share their efficient effort, and we all accomplish excellent things for Wisconsin elk!”

Recent chapter president Lucas Olson BS’16 counts working on elk reintroduction among his most cherished TWS memories. As icing on the cake, he received a scholarship from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in part for his student leadership in that effort.

Like many TWS members at UW, Olson is proud of the group’s special legacy in Wisconsin. “Wildlife management’s roots can be attributed to one of UW–Madison’s own—Aldo Leopold,” he notes. “Leopold’s tie to our department gives me a huge sense of pride. Leopold’s connection to TWS is one of great importance as well, as he was one of the first presidents as the society was taking off in the late 1930s. My involvement with TWS has been richer because of this, and has made my experience at UW– Madison extremely significant.”

In addition to hands-on wildlife management help, UW TWS activities include birding, helping with prairie burning and research projects, participating in regional and national conferences (including an annual quiz bowl at the national meeting), and holding an annual game dinner and fundraiser.

“I am in my major—wildlife ecology—because of the club,” says senior Daniel Erickson. “Through all the classes and field trips, I have made such a great group of long-lasting friends and connections with professors. TWS allowed me to realize that I have always had a passion for animals, nature and the great outdoors.”

DNC at work

Dietetics and Nutrition Club member Carley Bosshard (second from left) helped out at a REAP local veggie tasting event at Samuel Gompers Elementary School in Madison. Photo courtesy of Emily Latham

Good Food for All 

Students who study nutrition understand the importance of healthy food. And, as members of the Dietetics and Nutrition Club (DNC), they are committed to sharing their knowledge and excitement about healthy food with people of all ages, from all walks of life.

Hanna Hindt participates in a club program with Porchlight, a Madison nonprofit offering emergency shelter and other support services for the homeless. “We get to talk with members of the community and answer questions about their own diet and food choices and those of their friends and family,” she says. “It’s a great way to apply what we’ve been learning in our nutrition classes.”

And, since Hindt hopes to have a career working with people for whom buying food is a constant challenge, the experience offers good professional training as well. “I’m able to get a feel for what a typical diet is for the low-income population—the daily challenges they face, and common health problems within this group,” Hindt says. “This background will help me approach and personalize nutrition counseling and offer reasonable and manageable options and advice within their limitations.”

Fellow DNC member Jackson Moran participates in club activities with REAP, a nonprofit that strengthens ties between growers, consumers and community institutions. DNC students help out at REAP events including Chef in the Classroom, where local chefs prepare meals with kids, and Family Food Fest, a community farm-to-school event. Moran has learned a lot about getting kids to eat their veggies. “It’s important for parents to be on board with a healthy diet, and to keep healthy foods available in the home,” Moran says. “Also, children will be much more likely to eat new, healthy foods when they can be involved in preparation, or have some interactive role.”

Other DNC activities include running exploration stations at Saturday Science in the UW–Madison Discovery Building and holding nutrition-themed Lunch & Learns—expert talks for faculty, staff and students. The club’s biggest annual event is “Dinner with Dietitians,” where club members pre-pare a meal for nutrition professionals at an evening of networking and panel discussion.

Recent DNC vice president Maria Gruetzmacher BS’16 helped plan that event, and cites that experience and many other DNC activities as pivotal to her personal and professional development.

“These experiences have taught me how to be more proactive and work collaboratively, and have strengthened my event-planning skills,” Gruetzmacher says. “With each event I participated in, I met new members, each with a different path and unique ideas. I was also able to meet practicing registered dietitians who allowed me to shadow them and provided meaningful advice.”

Continue reading this story in the Fall 2016 issue of Grow magazine.

Natalie Hogan

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

Natalie Hogan, a sophomore majoring in dietetics and Spanish, hopes to practice nutrition education in schools, teaching kids about healthy foods. This past summer she honed her skills by gardening and cooking with school-age children in the Young Scientists Club, a program run by the Milwaukee-based Urban Ecology Center. Most of the kids were of Latino and African American backgrounds, and many live in neighborhoods where fresh produce is hard to come by.

In addition to preparing dishes like whole wheat pizza with fresh veggies—a big hit, Hogan says—kids took part in lessons about nutrition, sustainability and climate change, including such concepts as sustainable agriculture and carbon footprints from farm to table.

Hogan and her project partner, sophomore Katherine Piel, developed their curriculum through a Wisconsin Open Education Community Fellowship, an award totaling up to $6,000 offered by the Division of Continuing Studies and the Morgridge Center for Public Service.

Hogan learned as much from the children as they learned from her. The kids at the Urban Ecology Center’s Menomonee Valley branch were excited about gardening— planting, watering, harvesting and even weeding—while kids at Washington Park loved to cook. Hogan and Piel tailored lessons to suit those preferences, recognizing that enthusiasm is a key ingredient in learning.

The experience led Hogan to broaden her career goals. She still wants to teach children, but she’d like to include families and the larger community. “The parents are the ones buying the groceries and cooking the meals,” says Hogan. “In order to make a difference, I must work to make an impact on parents, educators, policy makers—on all those who play a role in the health of our planet and people.”

And she relished the small victories, like getting 8-year-old Victorio to eat a radish. Initially he made a “yuck” face, but out in the garden, after being the first to spot the red tops, he took charge of harvesting, washing, cutting and adding them to a salad.

“When it came time to eat them, he described them as ‘crunchy and spicy, but still pretty good!’” says Hogan. “That was a positive experience because we could see his change in attitude. And he wasn’t the only one!”

This story was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Grow magazine.

Nicole Drives

Monday, October 21st, 2013

NicoleDrives_CALSNewsAs a child Nicole Drives spent a lot of time in the kitchen with her grandmother, Laura Lee. “Lala” could make all kinds of wonderful food, but Nicole begged for them to make one recipe in particular—a nut confection called sugar and spice pecans. The scent of roasting nuts would fill the kitchen, and the resulting snack was crunchy and delectable.

Fast-forward to 2011, when Drives graduated from CALS with a degree in dietetics. She wanted work that would draw on her devotion to good food as well as her creativity, passion and discipline. Drives decided to take a bold leap by starting a business based on her grandmother’s treats.

With her parents’ encouragement, Drives wrote up a business plan, formed a limited liability company (LLC) and secured a $10,000 loan to launch her business in a shared commercial kitchen space. The process called for learning all aspects of food business start-ups. Food safety regulations, sellers’ permits, market niche, price points and product distribution became terms she would eat, sleep and breathe during 90-hour workweeks, a schedule she still maintains.

The name of her company? Lala’s Nuts, featuring pecans and walnuts in either “sugar n’ spice” or “bodacious bourbon” flavors. The nuts are finding a growing audience in the higher-end specialty snack market—online, a five-ounce bag costs $7.99—and are sold at nearly a dozen retail locations in Wisconsin as well as at expos, markets and festivals and directly to customers online.

This past spring Drives moved into her own commercial kitchen in the Madison Enterprise Center, an incubator for new businesses.

What’s your next move? I’m working on some new recipes featuring a mixed nut bag and developing a few new flavors away from the sweet—so I’ll be adding more savory and salty options. I also hope to expand into Chicago, Minneapolis, and then perhaps toward the South because pecans are so huge there.

In a recent presentation to a CALS nutrition class, you had some constructive things to say about making mistakes. (laughs) Oh, that I know I’ll make mistakes—but I try not to make the same mistake twice. Another food producer shared that with me when I started out. Because I’m the only one working in the business, I have to wear all the hats. And obviously I’m going to make mistakes. The first few months I was really hard on myself, but I’ve realized that mistakes are how you grow—I just try to learn from them and not make the same ones again.

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur? Follow your heart and your passion. As long as you’re passionate about what you do, you will become successful at it. Figure out what you love and then go with that, because when work doesn’t feel like work, you’ll enjoy what you do.

What does Lala think about all this? Oh, she loves it. She couldn’t be more proud. She thinks it’s so exciting that I took a great memory of her—something that I loved to do with her—and made it into a business. It’s a great way to keep those memories alive.

Learn more at www.lalasnuts.com

This Q&A was originally published in the Summer 2013 issue of Grow magazine.