Outdoor Leaders on the Green Career Path

January 4, 2024

Outdoor Leaders

The Outdoor Leader program at the Urban Ecology Center allows youth to get outside, learn about green careers, make friends, and get paid! It is our goal to provide high school students the resources and guidance to make connections within themselves, their communities, and nature. Outdoor Leaders are a part of our Green Career Pathway program, which engages people of all ages, backgrounds, and interests in studies of ecology, volunteerism, environmental justice, and much more.

New Outdoor Leader sessions begin every summer and fall. During our 8-week summer intensive (June-August), we welcome 18 OLs who participate in training and hands-on work with a variety of departments at the UEC to cultivate understanding and interest in environmental careers. Some of the departments include Land Stewardship, Research, Community Programs, Neighborhood Engagement, Marketing/Photography, Animal Care, Facilities/Maintenance, and more! We also provide our teens with training on leadership, resume and interview skills, public speaking, conflict resolution, and other personal and professional development skills.

Outdoor Leaders on a bike ride by the Lake Front in Milwaukee.

The program continues during the school year (September-April) as we welcome nine students to continue learning professional and environmental skills while focusing on a specific department. We believe a well-rounded program should have a balance of hands-on work, education, exploration, and fun!

Outdoor Leaders enjoy and explore the outdoors through biking, canoeing, rock climbing, and hiking. We all connect to nature in different ways. Mindfulness in nature is a theme we teach our students to establish lifelong, generational relationships with the outdoors.

A forest needs a variety of trees, plants, and wildlife to thrive. We call this biodiversity. Much like a forest, we as a community thrive in diversity when people of all backgrounds, cultures, and abilities are part of working towards creating a cleaner, happier, healthier planet. The Outdoor Leader program is committed to bringing together youth in Milwaukee of any background and experience level.

Listen to the stories our Outdoor Leaders from each of our branches have to tell.

  • Olivia Raasch, Green Career Pathway Coordinator
Jeremiah, Menomonee Valley Outdoor Leader

Being an outdoor leader has been an absolutely pandemonium experience for me; it has had an astounding impact on my life. I started at the Urban Ecology Center in 2019 and have worked as an Outdoor Leader for three years. As a 9th grader in high school, I was searching for my first job to keep me busy. My school career center sent me information about a paid internship opportunity called the Urban Ecology Center. It piqued my interest due to my childhood experience that was very fun and fulfilling. Also, I wanted to connect other youths to the Urban Ecology Center to experience the greatness there. The rest was history and I stayed here for my high school tenure.

During my tenure at the Urban Ecology Center, I rotated through different departments and met many great people throughout my time here. I enjoyed working with the youth and being outside with the Young Scientist Club. I very much enjoyed cleaning the environment around us with Park Rangers and Facilities. Even helping with ROOT was invaluable to me. I learned so many invaluable skills such as initiative, working earnestly and efficiently, community outreach, and growing my curiosity to grow even more. My favorite department, however, to work in was Neighborhood Engagement. I felt it created the blueprint for reaching my full potential. Leading volunteer groups and constantly working with people assisted with my goal of making as many valuable bonds and connections as possible. My goal is to be an entrepreneur and a mogul in the fashion industry. Being at the UEC helps motivate me to keep pushing myself to make it a reality.

Why should anyone be an Outdoor Leader? Being an Outdoor Leader gives you so many new tools in the toolbox that can be used in any field. The amount of soft and hard skills that a person will gain will benefit them for life. What being an Outdoor Leader means to me is taking the initiative at any given time and being an example of a leader of the environment, always advocating for it. It is the most fun position to be in while in high school due to the flexibility and connections it gives you. Youth should consider the Outdoor Leader position because it will ultimately sustain our environment in the future, even if it's a tad bit. Any help has the potential to create a domino effect that can become a big effect. Again, I met so many great people in and out of the Urban Ecology Center and I am forever grateful and indebted to the Urban Ecology Center.

  • Jeremiah, Menomonee Valley Outdoor Leader
Miranda, Riverside Park Outdoor Leader

Hello, my name is Miranda I am one of the Outdoor Leaders (OL) at the Riverside branch. Working as an OL I was both challenged and found myself having fun. From getting tangled up in canoe straps to feeding a 20lb snapping turtle, I found my time to be wild. One of my favorite memories I have is when Edward our salamander peed on my coworker Ava while she was holding him. While working here I connected to a snake here named Neil. I was scared and nervous to handle Neil at first, but over time I've grown to be comfortable and confident with him. As an OL I have learned so many things like teamwork, commutation, time management, and even how to pump up a bike wheel.

  • Miranda, Riverside Park Outdoor Leader
Gwen, Washington Park Outdoor Leader

The Outdoor Leader program at the Urban Ecology Center is a program for high schoolers to get in touch with nature and to connect with people all while getting paid! The Outdoor Leader position is a good position for experienced workers looking for a job and a great position for a first-time employee with its welcoming environment and fun experiences. The tasks you are assigned to do throughout your time are good tasks for new workers with them being at just the right difficulty and with the tasks being really fun overall. The people here are great too, with amazing and welcoming employees to the friendly faces you will see coming in and out of your branch. One of the fun things you get to do as an Outdoor Leader is to be able to take part in a lot of the community events like the Candlelight Hike. It was fun to work at the Hike because it was productive yet laid back, and when my family showed up I got to hang out with them (I also got free hot cocoa).

The most fun part of my job is being able to spend time with all of the amazing people at my branch while working. This position will also help me with my dream to run an independently owned flower shop and all the planting experience I get from this job is going to really pay off in the future. I think it is important for teens like me to take interest in green careers because global warming is going to become a serious threat soon and jobs like these are going to be a big component in fighting climate change. We are the generation that is going to suffer the consequences if we don't take action now. Another positive about this job is that it helped me with my social anxiety a bit and it helped me with my self-confidence. With how wonderful the other employees and guests treat me, I have felt more comfortable expressing who I am. That is really important, especially as someone a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Overall this job is great for any interested teen.

  • Gwen, Washington Park Outdoor Leader
Past Employee
Guest Author
Green Career Pathways Manager

Olivia’s journey with the UEC began all the way back in third grade during a fieldtrip to our Riverside Park branch. She was part of our high school Outdoor Leader program in 2012, and is now a Community Programs Educator and Volunteer Coordinator at our Washington Park branch. As a Milwaukee native, Olivia enjoys finding new places around the city to explore. She loves ice skating with her little brother, camping with her family, and swimming on hot days. Karaoke? Also a plus!

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