Why Gathering Waters?: My internship inspired my professional goals

“Why Gathering Waters” is a special blog series that tells the stories of our supporters and why they support Gathering Waters. Our first blog post of this series was written by Valerie Klessig, a former communications and outreach intern at Gathering Waters. Continue reading to learn what Gathering Waters means to Valerie.

My name is Valerie Klessig, and I am a UW-Madison senior majoring in journalism and Spanish and graduating this May. I was a communications and outreach intern at Gathering Waters in 2010. The experiences, knowledge and skills I acquired at Gathering Waters are invaluable and have helped shape the young woman I am today. Above all, my internship helped to reinforce in me the values of sustainability and land conservation that I grew up with, affirming my desire to pursue work that I love.

I am part of the sixth generation born on my family’s dairy farm in Cleveland, Wis., where I developed my love for the land and learned that milk, cheese and corn are not, in fact, made at the grocery store but rather come from a process much more complex and interesting. My grandfather, who had Aldo Leopold as a professor, instilled in his children and grandchildren the desire to be good stewards of the land. I am proud to be a part of this legacy, but I didn’t fully understand how I wanted to build upon that legacy until my time at Gathering Waters.

As a graduating senior, I was recently offered some career advice: consider what really makes me feel alive and pursue that. I can tell—just from my five hours a week in the Gathering Waters office and the occasional field trip with GWC staff—that their work truly makes them feel alive. They are such passionate advocates of rural Wisconsin and all her residents who care about the land. I have many dreams about the potential career paths I may travel down. Perhaps I’ll pursue a communications-related job within the agriculture industry or work in the nonprofit sector to enhance rural Wisconsin. Yet, my biggest dream is to do something that makes me feel alive, just like the Gathering Waters staff does working to protect Wisconsin.

Two adages that ring true to me come from two people whom I admire.  A good family friend once told me that our land is our petroleum, and not enough people carefully consider the fact that we are not making any more land! That could be what Franklin Delano Roosevelt had in mind when he said that “the history of every nation is eventually written by the way in which it cares for its soil.” I believe that land is our most valuable resource, so it is wonderful to know our state has progressive leaders like Gathering Waters and the rest of the land trust community. It is because of those conservation values and the inspiration I got during my internship that I so strongly support Gathering Waters.