Profile in Conservation

WI Green Fire, April 24, 2023

In 2022, WGF launched the Conservation Pathways Scholarship Program to engage and support young people from all backgrounds and abilities in conservation and environmental careers. The program focuses on inclusion and creating equitable learning environments to allow all students, particularly those who have been historically excluded or under-represented in conservation and environmental fields, to feel that they belong and can succeed in these fields. These profiles feature two of our Conservation Pathways scholars, and their paths into the conservation field.

Roberto Pacheco:

Roberto Pacheco was born into his Ojibwe tribe in northwestern Wisconsin, but as a child moved with his family to Las Vegas. “I didn’t really grow up around a lot of native people,” he said. “I had good friends, but sadly I was separated from my home and my tribe.”

He did find his love of nature there, in a valley surrounded by mountains where he and his friends would disappear into the rocks, practicing a form of climbing called bouldering. Three years ago, when he was 30, his family moved back to Wisconsin, and it was here that everything changed.
“I always wanted to live here in this beautiful place,” said Roberto, who’d been back before on summer visits. “I’m really grateful. Me and my brother love to go deer hunting. We collect wild rice and harvest leeks in the spring.”

He got a job at a casino, but it in the end, it was just a job. He talked about it with his beloved uncle, Dean Louis, a masterful outdoorsman who is good with his hands, good at working on machines.
“He’s definitely my mentor. Basically, he pushed me to go to college.”

At Lac Courte Oreilles University, Roberto decided to pursue his love of science. It was during the pandemic and at first he was thinking about lab work and public health.
“I love science,” he said. I know I could do really well at it. I figure it’s a way to help people.”

Then he found himself one afternoon beside a crystal clear lake under a perfect blue sky listening to the drums and songs of a tribal ceremony. He was, he said, surrounded by beauty.
“I was at a crossroads in my life. I just felt so lucky. And I wanted to do something to make sure this environment stayed good and clean.”

At the university, his teachers encouraged him to apply for the Conservation Pathways scholarship program offered by Wisconsin Green Fire. “They told me it was important to show up and be a part of something greater than yourself.” He looked up Green Fire and found a group of people that among other things is working hard for the benefit of wild animals, among them the wolf, important to Ojibwe culture. Roberto decided he wanted to be a voice for nature. He wrote the scholarship essay for Green Fire.

“Now I am spreading the word at college, trying to get other people to apply.”

Entering his junior year, Roberto is planning to major in biology. His dream job, he said, would be to work for the Environmental Protection Agency. And then someday, he said, he would like to return to the university and be a teacher and a mentor to young people in his tribe. “They really believed in me when I didn’t,” he said of the university staff. “The teachers here are so smart. I really love them.”

Annika Sedelis:

In her second year at Nicolet College in Rhinelander Annika Sedelis joined the WGF’s Conservation Pathways program on the advice of a college advisor. Years of hiking, Nordic skiing with family, and exploration of the wild areas around her home in Minocqua have helped her develop career plans. Annika hopes to broaden her citizen science skills by participating in this year’s annual Midwest Crane Count. Next, she plans to transfer to Pennsylvania to continue her studies with friends there, perhaps returning to Wisconsin to work toward a master’s degree in environmental engineering.

“I think more students will look at environmental careers if they have opportunities to get involved with issues in their own communities,” Sedelis says, “and to express their thoughts through social media.”

With her passion for preserving natural communities and her love of math and science, Annika says she feels drawn to emerging clean energy technologies including geothermal, wind and solar. One of the greatest benefits of the Conservation Pathways program, she says, is the opportunity to work with mentors she’s met through Wisconsin’s Green Fire. She has particularly appreciated their advice on her career path, help with resume development, and the opportunity to work with other women who’ve made careers in natural resource science.

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