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Blugold returns to alma mater to lead sustainability projects she began as a student

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Lily Strehlow is UW-Eau Claire’s sustainability specialist three years after she graduated.

As a student at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Lily Strehlow was a leader in several sustainability-related research projects and related initiatives.

Three years after she graduated, the Blugold — now UW-Eau Claire’s sustainability specialist — is helping to bring some of those projects to life.

“There are several projects I was involved with as a student that require a full-time staff person to accomplish successfully, such as campuswide composting,” says Strehlow, who graduated in 2020 with degrees in economics and liberal studies-environmental policy and water resources, and a certificate in women’s, gender and sexuality studies. “As a staff person, I’m now beginning to implement some of our recommendations to reduce waste and expand composting options on campus.”

Strehlow is thrilled to be using the knowledge and skills she gained as a student and in her work after college to help “ensure that all students leave UWEC with practical knowledge of sustainability by 2030 and that UWEC reaches carbon neutrality by 2050.”

“I love this position because I get to work with students who are passionate about changing the world around them,” Strehlow says. “I get to organize projects ranging from grant applications, events on campus, supporting green infrastructure and greenhouse gas reporting. I feel like I’m making a difference in the world by completing this work on an institutional level.”

Growing up, Strehlow’s family often talked about the environment and environmental challenges, so sustainability has long been an interest.

As a young adult, she spent time sailing the Great Lakes and learning about regional environmental problems, which “really formalized my interest in the environment,” Strehlow says. Later, she began learning more about the social and economic side of sustainability.

Strehlow says her experiences in and out of UW-Eau Claire’s classrooms inspired her to pursue a career with a sustainability focus and gave her the skills she needs to be successful.

“My training in economics taught me how to understand and interpret data, which is essential to creating useful policy recommendations,” Strehlow says. “I also learned a lot about how to give presentations and communicate to different audiences.”

Outside the classroom, Strehlow joined multiple projects and committees with a sustainability focus. For example, she was co-chair of the Chancellor’s Sustainability & Climate Task Force, wrote and received grants to support sustainability-related research and projects, and served as an education intern in the Student Office of Sustainability.

After graduating, Strehlow worked as an AmeriCorps VISTA energy and sustainability assistant grants and contracts specialist at UW-Superior and as a funding specialist for the Family Freedom Center in Duluth, Minnesota, experiences she says “broadened my skill set and understanding of institutional-level sustainability implementation.”

Current and future Blugolds with an interest in sustainability-related jobs should identify and develop specific skill sets that interest them, Strehlow says.

“If you know GIS, you have the ability to map things like public transportation and other important things,” Strehlow says. “Getting certified through our LEED green associate program will show that you understand basic energy use and other sustainability features of buildings. Gaining knowledge in grants will help you access funding for sustainability projects.”

Students should decide if they want to specialize within their academic field or become a generalist, Strehlow says. For example, they could earn a degree in supply chain management with a focus on reducing packaging and transportation emissions, or be a generalist who could serve as a sustainability coordinator to work more broadly to create change, she says.