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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Environmental Observations of Three Science-Focused Alverno Seniors

Chris Young
Alverno students survey Menomonee River natural area within Three Bridges Park.

As Alverno College students count down to graduation day, several seniors shared their choices and concerns for the environment.

Hannah Burby says her family set an environmental example - outdoor people, who reuse cream cheese containers, not Tupperware. Recycling is not an option, it’s mandatory. Burby’s “people” are engineers.

I don't think I've met anyone that has said, these are not important issues.  You might not make a lot of money, so choose something else. No, it's been like, this is what you are passionate about, continue. Hannah Burby.

“I wanted to apply that and be an environmental engineer, and now I’ve changed my mind to do something more community-based,” Burby says.

Burby discovered her niche in environmental science. It blends the study of biology and chemistry to solve environmental issues.

And she says her studies have shown her that climate and water challenges require both local AND global action. “It might affect different regions differently, but of course we’re all connected. And at the end of the day we all drink water, we all breathe air,” Burby says.

Biology major Emily Ogas fancied living out a career in sports medicine, but was inspired when she dipped her toe into the environment.

“We did real-life experiments. We go out into the field and test the waters, learn how to test pHs. You’re actually in the field doing work before you actually go into your actual career field,” Ogas says.

Chemistry called Irma Quezeda, along with working with young children.

“So right now I’m working with MPS schools and trying to get younger students to recycle. So we do projects where they can use all their recycling waste from home and build their models or whatever they want to build,” Quezeda says.

She was blown away when a 2nd grader crafted a “minion” – an adorable single-cell, yellow animated creature, “Made all out of plastic waste. So that was very exciting,” Quezeda says.

The child’s creation has deeper meaning for Quezeda. She hopes to inspire the next generation – not simply to recycle but to pursue science and math – and anything STEM.

Classmate Emily Ogas hopes her generation tips the Science Technology Engineering and Math ratio on its head.

“I was looking up the statistics on the ratio of men and women in STEM positions and I found that even though 50 percent of the workforce is women with college degrees, only 29 percent still in 2016 are made up women in STEM programs,” Ogas adds, “So community education and educating the young is going to be really important because we need people to step up and get into the same field.”

Ogas believes young women may need to be extra resilient to make it in the sciences, judging from a few experiences when, she says, she was treated differently from male counterparts.

Credit Susan Bence
Irma Quezada, Emily Ogas and Hannah Burby on the Alverno College campus.

Yet, as graduation approaches, the students feels equipped to take on the world, and each cherishes Earth Day.

“I kind of fell off a little bit – busy life and whatnot – but last year I participated in the Earth Day clean up and it was amazing to see how many people of the community showed up to pick up garbage in the park or pull out invasive species – and they were learning at the same time,” Emily Ogas says.

“I have always been part of like some sort of Earth Day event throughout my life,” Irma Quezeda says.

“it’s a beautiful symbol of how far we’ve come and how many people, regardless of scientists or any person in this kind of related field, but it applies to everyone,” Hannah Burby adds.

All three agree, there is no time to lose, and they all share one concern - state and federal cuts to environmental and science funding, their chosen fields and passion.

This interview with Alverno College biology professor Chris Young aired on Lake Effect, a week before the November 8, 2016 presidential election. Young teaches a global citizenship course on climate chage and shared observations of his students environmental discussion during the campaign cycle.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.