UWGB education brings Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary employees full circle

Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary employees Ben Nelson and Matt Rupnik have something in common beside their current place of employment. Both are also University of Wisconsin-Green Bay alumni.

No surprise. The neighboring entities — the Sanctuary is just minutes from campus — have a long and continuing partnership that includes numerous UW-Green Bay Biology and Environmental Science students serving as interns and volunteers at the Sanctuary through the years.

Nelson, a 2003 double major in Biology and Environmental Science, is now assistant director for the Wildlife Sanctuary. He returned to Green Bay after serving as a wildlife biologist for the USDA Wildlife Services in the greater Chicago area. The relatively young alumnus has worked as a natural resource scientist, a wildlife biologist and the branch manager of a wildlife management consulting firm.

“I certainly believe my education at UW-Green Bay has helped me in my role at the Wildlife Sanctuary as well as throughout my entire professional career,” he said.

Nelson said one course at UW-Green Bay, taught by Prof. Robert Howe, was particularly influential in helping him decide on a post-college career. In that course, Howe was approached for advice from an organization in regard to how to sustainably manage a property. Each student in the course looked at a different aspect of environmental/natural resource management and created a specific management plan that covered their topic.

“I selected white-tailed deer management for my project,” Nelson said, “and have been actively involved in white-tailed deer management in many different capacities ever since that course, including here at the Wildlife Sanctuary.”

Nelson wasn’t brand new to Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary in August 2012. His connection started during his undergraduate career at UW-Green Bay when he arranged an independent study assisting a UW-Green Bay graduate student with research on Canada geese at the sanctuary.

Nelson said he coordinated the study through the Cofrin Center for Biodiversity and Dr. Howe. “Now, as assistant director for Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary,” Nelson said, “I serve as the staff adviser to the sanctuary’s director on resource issues and activities related to fish and wildlife.”

His other responsibilities vary, but include anything from recommending policy, guidance and plans to serving as a liaison with state, national and international organizations in the fish and wildlife community.

Like Nelson, Rupnik, who is at present a senior animal keeper, also started with the sanctuary as a current student. The 2007 Biology grad held a work-study position there during spring semester junior year and all of senior year of college. He also worked as a temporary seasonal maintenance employee one summer and as a rehabilitation intern the next. Post-graduation, he worked at a private wildlife sanctuary in Texas for four years, as an animal care intern and an animal keeper before returning to the Wildlife Sanctuary.

He now works under the direction of the curator by assisting in the care of animals in the Wildlife Sanctuary’s permanent collection, as well as caring for injured or orphaned wildlife that come in as part of the facility’s rehab program. He also helps supervise part-time keepers, interns, work-study keepers and volunteers, making certain that they are “providing the proper care for each animal and following correct husbandry procedures.”

“I will help clean cages, prepare and distribute animal diets, calculate medicine dosages to administer to patients as directed by the curator or vet, record observations of animal behavior, handle or restrain animals, perform basic maintenance on animal enclosures and provide informal or formal presentations to the public either in person or over the phone,” he explained.

Rupnik said his classes at UW-Green Bay helped him develop skills he regularly uses on the job.

“My anatomy, mammalogy, environmental science and many of the lab exercises provided me with the skills, knowledge and thought processes necessary for what I do on a daily basis,” he said.

He added that much of what he learned was thanks to the work-study program, internships and his volunteer work.

In spring, a number of UW-Green Bay students worked at the sanctuary, including Zachary McLees, a Biology major and a work-study keeper; Haley Sharpe, a Biology major and rehab intern, who finds that her ornithology class at UWGB helps her work with the many birds that are brought to the sanctuary; intern Rachel Schiller, a Biology major who graduated this May; and Emily Ruff, a recent graduate who was also a regular volunteer.

“We have a great relationship with the Wildlife Sanctuary,” Prof. Howe said, “largely because of connections with the former director, Ty Bauman, and current director, Mike Reed. Both have been extremely supportive of our students.”
Story by Michael Duenkel
Photos by Veronica Wierer