Student Profiles

Olivia Lopez
Majors-Conservation Biology and Environmental Studies

Conservation Related Experience:   In the Fall semester, I had to privilege of participating in a study abroad program through the School for Field Studies, an environmental education non-profit. I travelled to Bocas del Toro, an archipelago off the Atlantic coast of Panama, where I studied tropical island biodiversity and conservation. I was enrolled in four courses that covered marine and terrestrial ecology, socio-economic values of the region, and Panamanian culture. I adored each one of these courses, because they were non-traditional and hands-on. I studied ecology under the canopy of rainforests, determined the health of coral reefs while snorkeling in the ocean, and better understood complex societal issues through interviews with local people. At the end of the semester, I completed a Directed Research project that analyzed the ways in which tourism affects Indigenous people of the archipelago. The connections I have made through this research have been strong, and I continue to collaborate and contribute to this project almost a year later. My experience abroad was not only important to my educational and professional goals, but it also allowed me to build relationships with local Panamanians, understand a culture different from my own, and strengthen my personal connection with nature in one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.

Connection to Conservation Biology:  I believe that this program, titled Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies, was perfectly suited for me as a student majoring in Conservation Biology. We actively learned about conservation strategies while visiting and observing the ecosystems in need of protection. Many of the projects that we completed better uncovered the complexities that come with creating and implementing conservation initiatives than any textbook could. I also appreciated the way in which this program focused on the biological, scientific aspects of conservation while leading us to realize that conservation is also very much a social issue that impacts groups of people in different ways. Through courses taken abroad, I was able to better understand the ways in which conservation itself is an umbrella term that encompasses numerous diverse subjects and ideas.


Kathy Stenehjem
Majors-Conservation Biology and Microbiology

Conservation Related Experience:  For the past couple years, I have been working at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in Middleton, WI. At the USGS, I have mostly worked with a team studying urban stormwater, but I have also worked with  Hydrologic Technicians, researchers studying rural stormwater in Dane county, and researchers studying harmful algae blooms in Lake Erie. In addition to my work at the USGS, a friend and I have received a Wisconsin Idea Fellowship (WIF) for the 2019-2020 school year. With our WIF, we have partnered with the Goodman Community Center after-school program in Madison to run a club teaching elementary students about healthy and sustainable living.

Connection to Conservation Biology:
Both my work for the USGS and for my WIF project have allowed me to apply the knowledge I have gained as a Conservation Biology major to the real world. At the USGS, I have worked in water quality management with the goal of improving the health of aquatic systems in Wisconsin. Through this work, I have applied knowledge gained through the hard science courses I have taken as part of my Conservation Biology major. Alternatively, through my WIF project, I have applied knowledge gained through my social sciences and policy related courses
to help me inspire lasting relationships between the children in the Goodman Community Center after school program and the natural world.

Conservation Biology Student Nicole Adrian -Photo of Nicole standing on a glacier in Iceland

Nicole Adrian
Majors-Conservation Biology and History

Conservation Related Experience:  During the spring semester of my junior year I had the pleasure of studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. My studies abroad focused on the environment of the Arctic and I did a climate change study of Iceland. In April I travelled to Iceland with my Danish professor and saw first hand glacial recession and the impact climate change has on our world oceans and Arctic ecosystems.

Connection to Conservation Biology:  My time abroad allowed me to realize how interconnected the world of conservation is. The field is quickly growing and we must work together in order to mitigate the global issue of climate change.  I am extremely grateful for the ground work I had while in the Arctic, an experience that I would not be able to have in Wisconsin due to the differing climate. It was nice to see how the skills I have learned in Madison can be utilized all over the world.

Melia Markham outdoor hiking photo
Melia Markham
Majors-Conservation Biology, Biology (Pre-Health focused), and Zoology

Conservation Related Experience: So far, my direct conservation experience has been with the classes I’ve taken at UW; Ecology 460 over the summer gave me lots of field time working with invasive species and plant identification in multiple habitats, and Introduction to Primatological Research had me in the zoo collecting behavioral data nearly every week. However, starting this summer after graduation I have the incredible opportunity to move to South Africa and help start up a new field site for Professor McFarland, working to habituate a group of chacma baboons for studies on behavioral ecology and physiology. I’m super excited to see what ways I can tie conservation into my work!

Connection to Conservation Biology: Something that I really want to study in the future is how diseases that can zoonotically transfer between primates and people are impacting primate conservation efforts in tropical regions. I think it’s really important to promote locally-led conservation organizations because I believe the people who can support the land best are the ones who understand it the most deeply, and part of promoting that is understanding the complex interactions that primates and people have globally that may inhibit conservation efforts. Having worked in a lab setting as a member of the enrichment staff at Harlow Primate Lab, I am incredibly excited to get out into the field and start being able to do hands on conservation work wherever I find it.

Julia Buskirk, Conservation Biology major on a boatJulia Buskirk
Major-Conservation Biology

Conservation Related Experience: With the support of a Hilldale Fellowship, I was able to develop Water Lines, a series of blogs and illustrations that highlight the ecological and social histories revolving around local Lake Mendota. Combining research, history, and interviews from current day water researchers helped me understand the context for what the lake is like today. Through the span of this project, I’ve also learned that drawing is a really fun way to communicate science!

Connection to Conservation Biology: While researching for Water Lines, I was reminded of the huge scope of disciplines and knowledges needed to understand our world, both from an ecological viewpoint and a social one. Conservation Biology both as a major and a line of study requires strong foundations in a variety of sciences and perspectives. This allows us to not only understand how our world really works, but also how to fix the huge ecological and social issues we’re being faced with.

Maddy Kobs, Conservation Biology major in a prairie
Maddy Kobs
Majors-Conservation Biology and Geography

Conservation Experience: 

During the summer, I completed work on the remaining portion of a mobile plant identification app for Wisconsin flora. My research project included writing detailed descriptions and compiling data on the botanical characteristics of over thirteen hundred species of herbs and forbs. I also began work on the second objective of my research experience: targeted testing of the app’s accuracy to identify species in the field.

Connection to Conservation Biology: As climate and land-use changes continue to threaten Wisconsin plant communities, there is an exigence for more widespread civic engagement with the environment to facilitate conservation efforts. It was a rewarding experience to help create this educational tool to inspire meaningful connections with nature and strengthen public awareness about Wisconsin native and invasive plant species. The app may also facilitate species identification for scientists and natural resource management investigating the ecology and conservation of our state’s vegetation. Additionally, the citizen-science data collection tool provided by the app can fill pressing knowledge gaps on the effects of the threats faced by Wisconsin vegetation, ultimately paving the way towards more informed land-use practices. The data compilation portion of the project greatly enriched my understanding of and appreciation for Wisconsin flora. I was also able to unify concepts I have learned as a student of conservation biology to the implementation of research and app testing.

Ernest KwanErnest Kwan
Major-Conservation Biology

Conservation Related Experience:

The ocean has always fascinated me. Whenever I go to the beach, I always love discovering its secrets. Initially, when I first entered college, I was focused on my other passion, art. However, as I took more classes to fulfill requirements, I stumbled upon an oceanography class. It sparked my interest in ecology, and I knew I wanted to do something to protect our oceans. This led me to change my major and transfer to UW Madison.

Last year, I took a course called Ecology of Fishes, where I learned about a domestic study abroad opportunity at the Keys Marine Lab in Key West, Florida. I embarked on this journey with esteemed professors and fellow students. We did a lot of snorkeling, and I saw more species up close than I ever dreamed possible. Each day began with a morning lecture and walkthrough, followed by visits to field sites. We diligently recorded our observations in field journals, reflecting on what we learned and saw. In addition to our journals, we each conducted individual research projects and took an exam.

For my project, I did a comparative study of fish diversity between an artificial bay and an open water natural bay. This required snorkeling in six different sites and laying transect lines to record fish species and populations. By the end, we all presented our individual projects. Our professors encouraged us to share our work at the Spring undergraduate research symposium, where I created an academic poster for my presentation.

This experience opened my eyes to the world of marine ecology research and public presentation, further solidifying my determination to study marine biology in the future.

Lucia Frias-Wackman
Majors-Conservation Biology and Spanish

Conservation Related Experience: This summer I had the opportunity to work alongside the Minnesota Zoo in researching freshwater mussels. Freshwater mussels are among the most endangered animal groups in North America. This section of the zoo is working on farming freshwater mussels and eventually reintroducing them back into their natural habitats–flowing water ranging anywhere from small streams to large rivers.

Connection to Conservation Biology: Being as endangered as they are, the mussels need immediate attention. The efforts that the zoo are putting forth gave me hope again–people do care and people are taking the necessary measures to preserve a species. Working alongside the zoo was a fantastic experience. The farming of the mussels has been a great success thus far–they are growing and they are beautiful! Freshwater mussels used to be so bountiful that you couldn’t see the bottoms of rivers–they would be lined with mussels. Nowadays, you are lucky if you can even find a couple. Farming and reintroducing these mussels back into their original (natural) habitats and eventually replenishing the falling mussel species is what the Minnesota Zoo and I worked for this summer–it was inspiring.

Evan Douglas

Conservation Related Experience: If studying at a scientific research station in the Ecuadorian Amazon with my freshmen year FIG wasn’t enough, during the summer of my sophomore year I was given the incredible opportunity to study the ecology and conservation of Southeast Asian elephants in Cambodia with the School for Field Studies. Not only was I able to observe elephants at a “true” sanctuary that improves the health and welfare of captive elephants whom have often suffered from the abusive industries of illegal logging and tourism riding, but I completed and presented a grant proposal project on implementing beehive fences to prevent wild elephants from raiding crop farms for food. My eye-opening experience in Cambodia with SFS inspired me to partake in a full semester long SFS program but this time in Tanzania, a place I always dreamed of going to. The SFS Wildlife Management program based in the small village of Rhotia, Tanzania enabled me to take courses in Wildlife Ecology, Techniques in Wildlife Management, Environmental Policy, East African Culture, and even Swahili. Being out in the field on safari’s in the some of the most famous national parks in the world such as the Serengeti and Amboseli National Park in Kenya, we were able to conduct behavioral studies and species counts on some of the diverse wildlife Africa has to offer from lions to elephants to giraffes to hyenas to even the endangered African wild dogs! The culmination of these courses led to a month-long directed research project that was presented to almost one hundred staff and community constituents for use in future wildlife policy and decision making. Collecting data for my groups research project on Carnivore occupancy in Makame Wildlife Management Area involved driving for up to ten hours a day at 4mph with a tracking expert sitting on the front of the vehicle to stop and identify every single carnivore track. From this data, we were able to analyze the density and occupancy of populations in the area to compare it to other areas in East Africa and understand the effect of human presence on carnivores.

Connection to Conservation Biology: Through my field research experiences in places all around the world, I’ve truly gained a deeper understanding on today’s environmental issues and the role that humans play on our planet.  Being able to see first-hand the devastating impact that humans have had on wildlife, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that in order for wildlife conservation to be effective, policies must meet the needs of both people and wildlife. Getting the support of local people for protected areas is so important in biodiversity conservation as it is the local people who are impacted most and thus often have negative attitudes towards the wildlife, a side I was completely unaware of until interviewing farmers in Cambodia, Tanzania, and Kenya. By examining the wildlife management plans/techniques currently in place in these countries and hearing the perspectives of different stakeholders like the locals, we analyzed the most effective conservation plans and further efforts that should be implemented to better allow both humans and wildlife to coexist.

Conservation Biology student Katherine Platcha
Katherine Plachta
Majors-Conservation Biology and Legal Studies with Biocore Curriculum Honors Certificate (minor)

Conservation Related Experience: I completed the Biocore Program here at UW-Madison which is a four semester honors biology course. The first course is Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics which has a lecture and lab component. The first lab is conducted in the Biocore Prairie where you are given free reign to study whatever you wish. My group investigated the sucrose concentration preference of bees.

Connection to Conservation Biology: Through my experiences in Biocore, I have gained a incredibly in-depth understanding of biology including everything from cell cycle regulation to microbial ecosystems. The program helped develop my critical thinking skills to be able to evaluate not just scientific arguments, but legal arguments as well. Hopefully, these skills will serve me well as I go on to law school and a possible career in environmental law.

Luis Abreu-Socorro holding UW Madison Badgers flag underwater while at Turks and Caicos study abroad program

Luis Abreu-Socorro
Majors -Conservation Biology and Zoology

Conservation Related Experience: During the summer, I was able to participate in a study abroad experience with the School for Field Studies on the South Caicos Island of the Turks and Caicos archipelago. My academic/research experience focused on the Marine Megafauna in the surrounding waters, where I was able to snorkel and conduct research projects on Rays, Turtles, Sharks, and other marine animals. One research project that I worked on was taking photographs of different Spotted Eagle Rays and Turtles and using the I3S animal identification software to identify each individual species. With this, my group was able to determine the species population abundance in the area by determining whether individuals were spotted more than once.

 Connection to Conservation Biology: Studying abroad in the Turks and Caicos Archipelago wasn’t merely just an opportunity to gain class credit in a different country, but to gain hands-on research experience in an environment different from what is offered at UW-Madison. This research experience and the topics we learned about pertained to the overall conservation of the area and the species inhabiting the area. We focused highly on the effects of ecotourism and resource management, and from there determined the conservation efforts further needed to conserve these species.

Halley Feil, conservation experience in Ecuador featuring a galapagos tortoise
Halley Feil
Major-Conservation Biology

Conservation Related Experience: During the summer, I interned at a dry forest reserve on the coast of Ecuador studying howler monkeys and working with geographical information systems (GIS) to create maps of their locations. It wasn’t just the monkeys I was interested in though. My experiences in conservation have been as varied as they come: creating a sculpture signifying ocean acidification in Olbrich gardens, volunteering at Henry Vilas Zoo, deer tagging, State park naturalist programs, and being a board member for the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation’s CLC Program have all taught me that conservation is not just about saving the monkeys…it’s about connecting people with one another and their environment.

Connection to Conservation Biology: Seeing this connection, and the decline in funding for conservation projects, I wanted to find an easy, creative way people could get involved in conservation. I came up with a benefits card program called “Eco Perks” that would allow citizens to purchase a card at participating local businesses in Dane County and get discounts at any store participating when they show their card. A portion of every card purchase goes directly to Dane County conservation projects such as cleaning up lake Mendota or installing solar panels by the airport! This system gives everyone a chance to get involved in conservation and be able to see the changes being made right here in Madison!