From farm to fellowship: Student earns $50K EPA award

nielsenWisconsin has quickly become No. 1 in the country for organic dairy and beef farms. Public demand has led to rapid development of organic farms across the state. While organic agriculture produces a quality product that consumers can feel good about, the fact remains that organic agriculture still produces waste. And that’s where UW-Green Bay’s Robyn Nielsen comes in.

Nielsen is a senior Environmental Policy and Planning and Environmental Science double major who just received final award notification for a $50,000 Greater Research Opportunities (GRO) Fellowship from United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The GRO Fellowship is designed to enhance and support quality environmental education for undergraduate students enrolled in an environmentally related field. The overall objective of the GRO Fellowship Program is to encourage undergraduates in these areas to continue their education beyond the baccalaureate level and pursue careers in fields that address environmental problems and issues. Nielsen is the first UW-Green Bay student to receive the GRO Fellowship.

Nielsen’s experiences growing up on a non-commercial dairy farm in Newton, Wis. have increased her awareness of some of the challenges organic dairy farmers face when dealing with nonpoint source pollution.

“I saw some of these concerns firsthand in my neighborhood,” Nielsen said, “and knowing what I know now, I want to work with conventional farms to improve their footprint.”

Nielsen’s interests still focus around zero waste, resource recovery and recycling, but she is also interested in alternative agriculture. Nielsen hopes to intern with Glacierland Resource Conservation and Development, Inc. in Green Bay in the spring.

“I’m hoping those two programs, plus my internship this summer with the Clean Water Action Council, will all come together into some kind of cohesive conceptual unit,” Nielsen said. “I got away from that when I became enchanted by new concepts in solid waste management (that sounds bizarre) but recently I came in contact with someone who has really helped me to remember why I came to school in the first place. Of course, all of these ideas are really part of a greater whole of just living more sustainably, but either way, here I am.”

Nielsen is excited to tackle new territory.

“My subject area was nonpoint source pollution,” she said, “and I hope to be posted somewhere that is doing something with agricultural runoff or something like that.”

Story by Daniele Frechette