In the classroom, lab and community, UW graduates excel

May 13, 2014

This weekend's spring Commencement marks a new beginning for students whose time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been a transformative experience.

They've excelled in the classroom, the laboratory and, taking to heart the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea, they have often reached out into the community to make a personal investment in improving the lives of others in Wisconsin and beyond.

Here are just a few of the many inspiring and interesting stories of UW-Madison's Class of 2014, from students within the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. View the full story, highlighting additional UW-Madison students graduating this spring.

Sue Montgomery

Cottage Grove, Wis.

After a 20-year career practicing family medicine, Montgomery has removed her doctor’s coat to instead work to create a healthier environment.

Nelson Institute graduate student Sue Montgomery
Sue Montgomery

She says access to clean, fresh water is a major health concern of the 21st century, and she sees a direct connection between her interests in medicine and the environment.

Montgomery is graduating with a master’s degree from the Nelson Institute in water resources management (WRM).

“There are already global problems with the availability of clean, fresh water, and that’s going to get worse, particularly with climate change and population growth,” Montgomery says.

As part of the WRM summer workshop, a culminating experience that offers students the opportunity to collectively study a contemporary water resources problem of concern to a Wisconsin community, Montgomery and classmates assessed potential methods for trapping transient sediment in Dorn Creek within the Six Mile Creek watershed.

This Dane County watershed extends south from Waunakee before draining into Lake Mendota, and its phosphorous-heavy sediment pollutes the lake, contributing to the growth of detrimental algae and weeds.

She now plans to gain professional experience in water resources management and hopes to found her own organization focused on water and health.

Kaylie Duffy

Fort Atkinson, Wis.

Throughout college Duffy, who graduates with dual degrees in geography and environmental studies, has volunteered for the Literacy Network in Madison; tutoring English as a second language.

UW-Madison student Kaylie Duffy
Kaylie Duffy

Her passion turned into a job at the Greater University Tutoring Service as the Conversational English Hour coordinator. She’s enjoyed hosting events, outings, and tours for international students, faculty, and visiting scholars.

Duffy’s love of languages also led her to study Russian and eventually study abroad in Saint Petersburg, Russia. There, her fascination with architecture and urban planning grew, and upon returning home she began an internship with the land-use advocacy group 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.

Duffy feels her undergraduate experience has given her a good understanding of geographic information systems and urban environments, preparing her for her next goal – achieving a master’s degree in urban planning.

When I was a child, Harry Potter taught me that perseverance and a strong team will help anyone overcome the most intimidating obstacles,” she says. “I carried this message with me throughout college, and hope to transfer it into my professional career as a geographer and writer.

Wally Graeber

Twin Lakes, Wis.

Graeber, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture with a certificate in environmental studies, would like to see America’s educational system transformed to include more hands-on lessons that involve growing food.

 “I think growing plants is a much more engaging and effective way to learn all kinds of core subjects—including math, science, art, engineering and many other life skills,” he says.

UW-Madison student Wally Graeber
Wally Graeber

Much of his extracurricular work at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences has focused on this goal.

As a Wisconsin Idea Undergraduate Fellow through the Morgridge Center for Public Service, Graeber taught cooking and gardening to kids at the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County’s Allied Family Center, and then later assisted in the installation and activity planning for two vegetable gardens for the Club.

As part of an international internship, Graeber set up an aquaponics system—a food production system that incorporates both fish and plants—at a university in Kochi, India to use as an innovative agricultural education tool for area schoolchildren.

Back in Wisconsin, he then set up similar systems in the UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery building and the Madison Children’s Museum that serve the same purpose.

Graeber also teamed up with CALS emeritus professor Paul Williams to help expand William’s “bottle biology” project, a science outreach project that distributes mini-greenhouses made from old water bottles to area K-12 students.