Spring 2024 grad: Rosalie Powell embarks on career path combining conservation and communication

Rosalie Powell, who grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, will be graduating this spring with two bachelor’s degrees – environmental sciences and life sciences communication. In this Q&A, she talks about the satisfaction of registering students to vote, anticipation of publishing her undergrad research, and excitement about her upcoming conservation-focused fellowship in Washington State. Learn more about Rosalie’s big-picture goal to help global communities adapt to climate change in this Grow article.

Why did you choose your major – and what did you learn, in a nutshell?
Growing up on the Isthmus gave me a first hand view on how people impacted the lakes, and the ecosystem services that natural areas provide. I saw Mendota and Monona turn murky green in the summer and started to wonder about run-off and pollution. This led me to pursue a degree in environmental science. After gaining experience conducting conservation outreach with Wisconsin farmers I added a second major in life sciences communication with the goal of involving the public in stewardship and building mutual understanding of our environment.

These two majors complemented each other well. In environmental science I learned scientific theory and application ranging from soil science to wetland ecology, to entomology and silviculture. In life sciences communication I learned theory about how to increase science engagement and skills such as video editing and social media. Jointly these CALS programs thoroughly prepared me for applied conservation and communications.

What groups and activities were you involved in?
I love learning and civic engagement, so I was so lucky to dip my toes in many different organizations and projects. My longest commitment has been to the Damschen Community Ecology Research Lab, where I will (hopefully soon!) publish my first authored manuscript. In addition I conducted science outreach through two internships first at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and later with the NASA Health and Air Quality Applied Science Team. I worked to increase voter accessibility on campus both as a Chief Election Inspector and fellow for Wisconsin Conservation Voters. Finally, I sought to understand how conservation worked on a global scale both as a Wisconsin International Scholar and a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow.

What are your future academic and/or career plans – short-term and long-term?
Directly after graduation I will be moving to the eastern Cascades in Washington to start a conservation outreach fellowship. I am specifically excited to learn how to use science communication for wildfire prevention.

I am inspired by outreach and communications that connect researchers to practitioners and communities. In my future work I hope to help bridge this gap through conservation outreach and climate change communications. My dream position would be one that leverages my fluency in Spanish and Portuguese to conduct conservation on larger scales through collaboration between the U.S. and South America. While I have a lot of dreams and ideas, I am always open to change as I better understand my strengths and the existing opportunities.

What were the most meaningful college experiences you had?
I think college is such a good time to explore your interests and try on different roles and types of work. I had such a fun time going from being knee deep in mud on a farm to my cubicle to my current hybrid position. Additionally, I had amazing opportunities to study abroad in both Prague and Rio de Janeiro. It’s hard to imagine another time in your life where it is normal to have so much change so fast. To add to that, I also got to meet so many amazing students who were also figuring out what they are passionate about. This joint experience of growth was really special.

When you think about your time here as a student, what are you proud of?
I am really proud of my work getting students excited about voting. So often we have these feelings of powerlessness with everything going on in the world. Going through every step of the process with peers from registration to getting their ‘I voted’ sticker is so rewarding because I can see how they light up. Specifically for the 2022 midterm I worked really hard to increase accessibility in our community through hosting registration drives all over campus. I registered over 500 students before election day, and over 2,000 with my team on election day.

Additionally, I am excited about the manuscript that I hope to publish this spring. I started this project over two years ago with my mentor Katherine Charton, and have been involved in every aspect from design to analysis to writing. I hope that this work will help inform land managers of how climate change will impact Wisconsin’s dwindling tallgrass prairies.

Do you have any advice you’d like to share with CALS students?
I would advise students to take advantage of all CALS and UW has to offer to the fullest extent. There are so many resources and people who are at your disposal and excited to work with you. Be brave and attend office hours with the intimidating professor, go to the org meeting even though you don’t know anyone, and apply for that research position you don’t feel qualified for. At the same time take care of your mental health, as it is the foundation holding everything else together. Everything is what you make it.