Susan Bence

Environmental Reporter

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.

Susan is now WUWM's Environmental Reporter, the station's first. Her work has been recognized by the Milwaukee Press Club, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, and the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association.

Susan worked with Prevent Blindness Wisconsin for 20 years, studied foreign languages at UWM, and loves to travel.

Tuesday marks the end of Jeanette Kowalik’s tenure as Milwaukee’s Commissioner of Health. Kowalik has been on the job for two years. She was hired at a low point in the health department’s history — after news broke that the city’s childhood lead poisoning prevention program had been grossly mismanaged.

Susan Bence

Some highly engaged naturalists — including those at Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center — are piloting a project called Yardversity to lure people to the outdoors as well as fuel research about the natural world.

READ: Milwaukee's Urban Ecology Center Strikes On A Formula That Works

Susan Bence

Many people lack access to food to sustain their families. The coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating the struggle. According to a recent Feeding America study, food insecurity could impact up to 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 2 children in the U.S.

Milwaukee-area organizations and individuals are stepping up to help fill the food gap.

Screenshot / City of Milwaukee

Milwaukee’s outgoing health commissioner is beginning to say her goodbyes, including to the city’s board of health.

On Tuesday evening, Jeanette Kowalik met virtually with the group for the last time. She was vocal about how much progress the public health team has made and about the myriad challenges she faced as a female Black commissioner of health.

Susan Bence

President Trump visited Kenosha Tuesday in the wake of protests and unrest that have ricocheted through the city.

It was nine days since police shot Jacob Blake in the back, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down, and a week since a 17-year-old from Antioch, Ill., shot and killed two protesters.

Trump surveyed areas damaged by arson and vandalism and held a law enforcement roundtable that was closed to the public.

In the meantime, a crowd gathered at Civic Center Park, where protests have erupted since Blake's shooting.

Susan Bence

The COVID-19 pandemic caused millions of people to lose their jobs and many are facing economic hardship. For some families, it’s been challenging to access fresh food.

Julian Hayda

The shaded green space of Kenosha's Civic Center Park has witnessed a lot of raw racial and social emotions lately. On Tuesday night, T.J. Clement and his sister looked on as people discussed and shouted differences of opinion about police shootings and protests. Clement thinks police reform is needed here and around the country.

Susan Bence / WUWM

Finding ways to connect and collaborate during the coronavirus pandemic is challenging. Organizers of a recent environmental cleanup think they might have come up with a way to combine getting good work done with giving people a chance to connect.

Susan Bence

Monday signaled day one of the Democratic National Convention. But we all know it’s not the DNC Milwaukee had planned to host at the Fiserv Forum. The coronavirus put an end to that.

Instead, the convention features virtual speeches and recorded messages from around the country. Major appearances by Wisconsinites are being broadcast from the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee.

But people could be found downtown Monday with strong opinions about the convention and the political process.

Susan Bence

Research at UW-Milwaukee is helping us learn how E. Coli can impact beaches. Just last week, South Shore Beach was closed because of elevated levels of bacteria in the water that could make people sick.

E. coli is a bacteria found in the gut of humans and animals, which can end up in fecal matter. If a lot of that fecal matter makes its way to beaches, it becomes a public health issue. People can get sick with an upset stomach and fever.

Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore

People working to make Milwaukee’s harbor cleaner plan to install a trash interceptor in the Kinnickinnic River. The idea is to catch floating trash before it reaches Lake Michigan. And the group Harbor District, Inc., won a federal grant to bring the project to life.

We recently met Harbor District’s Natural Environment Program Manager Aaron Zeleske as close to the future home of the trash interceptor as we can get – a fence blocks our path and trees and overgrown bushes block the view.

Michelle Maternowski / WUWM

The Wisconsin health briefing struck a somber note Thursday afternoon as officials continued to urge residents to wear masks if they have to leave home and to, also, practice socially distancing.

The only people sharing the message at the virtual news briefing were Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer of the Bureau of Communicable Diseases, and state health officer Stephanie Smiley.

Marathon County Land and Water Program

Over the last seven months, a task force has been deliberating over what Wisconsin can do about climate change. A panel picked by the governor includes industry and tribal leaders, elected officials, and youth activists. Now, everyone in the state has a chance to weigh in.


It had been two weeks since Gov. Tony Evers and state public health officials summoned the press to discuss the status of the coronavirus in Wisconsin. But Tuesday was not a case of 'no news is good news,' cases of the coronavirus are on the rise. And for the first time, Evers and his colleagues wore face masks as they addressed their virtual audience.

Even had Evers and top state health officials not had their faces shielded by masks because of a new Dane County mandate, it’s unlikely they would have had upbeat expressions.

Susan Bence

The coronavirus pandemic has many of us feeling unsure. How far is far enough when social distancing? How clean is clean enough?

Milwaukee-area entrepreneur Todd Muderlak thinks the coronavirus is changing the way people approach sanitation — and he’s developed products he hopes will fill a void.

Standing in the middle of his Glendale headquarters off Port Washington Road, Muderlak says as a kid he surrounded by his dad’s creations, including washroom innovations.

Susan Bence

Each month, UWM distinguished professor of atmospheric science Paul Roebber talks with Lake Effect as part of our climate conversations series. In this final installment, two policy experts join the conversation.

Amber Meyer Smith is from the organization Clean Wisconsin. She’s a member of Gov. Tony Evers’ climate change task force.

Susan Bence

Updated Monday at 4:24 p.m. CT

The disconnect between the call for change and staunch support of police was evident Saturday in downtown Kenosha.

In Civic Park, a group of at least 400 people — many wearing variations of red, white and blue — rallied for Back the Blue.

Another group held signs proclaiming “We Back The People” and “I Can’t Breathe." Most were standing across the park on the steps of the county courthouse, some positioned themselves combatively in the face of police officers.

Susan Bence

President Trump spent time in Wisconsin Thursday. His first stop was Green Bay’s Austin Straubel International Airport where he taped a town hall meeting. Then, Trump helicoptered 60 miles north to Marinette, where he visited a shipbuilder that won a big contract with the Navy.

Susan Bence

A statewide research initiative is underway, which involves all of the UW System’s four-year campuses. It’s called The Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin.

The hope is that this initiative will make Wisconsin and UW schools global leaders in freshwater science, technology and entrepreneurship. The group hopes to enroll hundreds of students, raise research dollars and create jobs.

Chuck Quirmbach / WUWM

Updated at 4:03 p.m. 

After nearly four weeks of marching to protest violence by police, some Milwaukee activists zeroed in on an immediate problem Tuesday: a search, they say, for missing children. The hunt that stretched through the afternoon unfolded in an emotional and sometimes chaotic scene at N. 40th St. and W. Lloyd St. in Milwaukee.

Susan Bence

Friday was Juneteenth Day, which marks when the last slaves in Galveston, Texas learned in 1865 that slavery had been abolished.

There were a number of gatherings and celebrations in Milwaukee. And they took on special meaning in a period of civil rights demonstrations that have sprouted up across the country.

>>Juneteenth: The Day African Americans Truly Gained Freedom

Courtesy of David Thomas

One day a year for the last 24 years, several thousand volunteers have spread out throughout the Milwaukee River Basin to pick up trash. But this year is different, the coronavirus forced the Milwaukee Riverkeeper organization to cancel its 25th cleanup.

The science-based, water advocacy group says the annual cleaning up of tons of trash that accumulates over the winter helps the Menomonee, Kinnickinnic and Milwaukee River watersheds, but it also helps connect people to the natural resource.

Susan Bence

Milwaukee, along with other communities around the country, has witnessed a remarkable reaction to violent killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Among the marches that have crisscrossed the region, one unfolded over the weekend in Shorewood.

The event was pulled together by some of the village’s high school students, including 17-year-old Eric Patrick Lucas III, who is black.

The march’s jubilant atmosphere shifted suddenly when a white female attorney who lives in Shorewood blocked protesters with her car, and then spat in Lucas’ face.

Susan Bence

A rainbow of humanity gathered throughout southeastern Wisconsin Saturday — from Greendale to Grafton — as marches continue in reaction to the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police almost two weeks ago. Hundreds of people converged at the North Point Water Tower in Milwaukee Saturday before making their way north to Whitefish Bay and back again.

Energy was building in this patch of brilliant green at the easternmost point of North Ave. People scooped up signs that volunteers created on the spot.

Timecook / Reddit

In one short week, George Floyd has become an internationally recognized name. His death at the hands of Minneapolis police has people marching in many cities, demanding racial equity and an end to violence by police.

>>Read WUWM & NPR Full Protest Coverage

Mars Cheese Castle, a multigenerational fixture along I-94 in Kenosha, posted "I can't breathe" on the store’s huge outdoor sign.


Late Monday afternoon, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett put a curfew into place for a third night due to the ongoing protests. People are protesting across the country over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody.

In a news conference, Barrett acknowledged racial disparities that have unfairly impacted communities of color in Milwaukee for generations.

Susan Bence

On Milwaukee’s west side Sunday, the scene was almost pastoral in Washington Park. A diverse crowd of several hundred people spread out on benches and greenspace overlooking the Washington Park bandshell for what organizers called a peaceful prayer protest.

Protests have been roiling throughout the country, including in Milwaukee, after the death of George Floyd, a black man who died when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck.

Emily Files / WUWM

Protests are happening around the country following the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who died when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck. In Milwaukee, protests have been occurring since last Friday over Floyd's death and other cases of police brutality. Here you'll find updates on protests happening in the Milwaukee area.

Susan Bence

Spring is in full swing, so many plants and trees are beginning to bloom. Research shows that blooming trends are being impacted by climate change.

Mark Schwartz, a UW-Milwaukee distinguished professor of geography, is one of the researchers digging into those trends.

Chuck Quirmbach

Children's Wisconsin officials say its team has treated the first suspected cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C) in the state. It's still unclear what causes the syndrome, but many kids who get it had the virus that causes COVID-19.