Spring 2024 grad: Keira Obert seeks to promote safe and sustainable outdoor recreation and conservation practices

Keira Obert, who grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota, will be graduating this spring with a bachelor’s in wildlife ecology and certificates in environmental studies and studio art. She was selected to be the CALS flag bearer at the UW–Madison commencement ceremony. In this Q&A, she talks about her experiences with the Hoofer Outing Club, attending “summer camp” with faculty and fellow students in her department, and her career plans, which involve promoting safe and sustainable outdoor recreation and conservation practices that benefit both wildlife and humanity.

Why did you choose your major – and what did you learn, in a nutshell?
I chose to major in wildlife ecology because I wanted to pursue a career in fieldwork and a career that would provide access to the outdoors. Additionally, I have always been drawn to conservation, and I pursued wildlife ecology to protect our wildlife species and their environments! I have learned about the connections between wildlife, the environment and humanity. I learned approaches to balance the needs of wildlife with the needs of humanity, and how to promote wildlife conservation while uplifting local communities.

What other activities were you involved in? 
I am a trip leader for the Hoofer Outing Club. I lead weekend backpacking and canoeing trips around the Midwest! I love being a leader in the outing club because it allows me to share my love of the outdoors with other UW students and allows me to be an outdoor educator and improve access to local wilderness!

I am the vice president of marketing for Wisconsin Hoofers (representing all 6 Hoofer clubs and over 2,000 active members), and in this role, I promote club outreach and education across campus, and market events to help get more UW students outside.

I am a CALS Study Abroad marketing intern. I lead events for CALS students to promote study abroad resources and programs. I had the opportunity to study wildlife management in Tanzania, and I am passionate about helping other students study abroad!

I am a member of the UW Student Chapter of the Wildlife Society and the UW Audubon Society.

I completed a research project in the Van Deelen-Drake Laboratory, working on their Urban Canid Project, where I used GIS software to analyze coyote and red fox GPS data to measure biological season movement patterns around Madison.

What are your future academic and/or career plans – short-term and long-term?
After graduation, I will be an environmental education and science communication graduate student at the University of Idaho pursuing a master’s degree in natural resources! Long term, I hope to combine my education in wildlife ecology with my experience in outdoor education to promote safe and sustainable outdoor recreation and conservation practices that benefit both wildlife and humanity! 

What were the most valuable/meaningful college experiences you had?
Being a leader in Hoofers has been my most valuable experience in college in terms of professional and personal growth. By leading trips and working as VP of marketing, I grew as a leader and gained invaluable professional skills. Additionally, helping new leaders grow in the club and helping to foster a culture of belonging in Hoofers has meant that I not only feel like I am leaving the club in great hands, but also that I have found a second family at UW through Hoofers that I will stay connected with forever.

Additionally, the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology has made my undergraduate experience incredibly meaningful. The faculty and my fellow students have been so supportive and instrumental in my success here at UW. I felt closest to the professors and students in FWE after attending a two-week field practicum at UW’s Kemp Natural Resource Station, where I gained close connections with my peers and instructors. Madison and FWE are unique, because it is not every school where you can attend summer camp with your professors, share all of your meals together, go canoeing, and wake up at 5am to go birding. 

When you think about your time here as student, what are you proud of?
I am proud of myself for building a community at UW that will be so hard to leave. I have formed meaningful connections in the FWE department, in Hoofers, and in the CALS office that I will be sad to leave, but I am excited to continue those lasting relationships in the future. 

Do you have any advice you’d like to share with CALS students? 
Don’t be afraid to dive right in! Pursue research opportunities, talk to your professors, join clubs, and reach out to your classmates. Additionally, the CALS faculty are so supportive, caring, and passionate about helping you reach your goals. There are so many resources in CALS that exist to help you succeed, and you just have to be willing to pursue support.