As a junior at UW–Madison, Lauren Lewandowski applied to the Morgridge Center for Public Service on a whim.
Today, she considers it one of the best bets of her young professional career.
“In college, I had never had an internship before. I had a lot of imposter syndrome, where I was, like, I don’t know if I’m good enough, or if I know enough about public service,” she says. “I’m so glad I just went for it, I was myself, and it obviously worked out. So just trying not to be afraid of new things is huge.”
Lewandowski, who graduated from UW–Madison with degrees in journalism and history in 2018, joined the Morgridge Center as a communications and marketing intern her senior year. Today, she holds a similar title as a communications specialist at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
While she considers MPCA to be her dream job, it wasn’t a straight path for her to get there. After she graduated, Lewandowski spent a few years working in communications for various businesses, including a health insurance company and a software company.
But she wasn’t fulfilled — she wanted to get back into public service work, similar to what she did at Morgridge Center. Then the MPCA job opened up.
“And I guess I found this job and kind of had one of those ‘aha!’ moments, when I felt like this was the job I’ve been waiting for since post grad,” she says.
It’s not a surprise that she found her way to MPCA based on her other connection to the Morgridge Center: Badger Volunteers.
During the four semesters she participated in the program, Lewandowski found herself drawn to the environmentally oriented Badger Volunteer opportunities. In the second semester of her senior year, she combined her passion for the environment with the communications skills she picked up at the Morgridge Center in her volunteer work for the Aldo Leopold Nature Center.
I’m so glad I just went for it, I was myself, and it obviously worked out. So just trying not to be afraid of new things is huge.
“I’m interested in environmental topics. I’m interested in wanting to get other people excited about them,” she says. “Badger Volunteers specifically fueled that passion.”
At MPCA, Lewandowski describes the bulk of her work as community engagement. Whether it is external environmental groups or other governmental entities, she aims to forge partnerships and connect stakeholders to work together on environmental conservation issues.
Looking back on her professional and volunteer experiences through the Morgridge Center, all the puzzle pieces of her post-grad journey come together.
“At the Morgridge Center, it felt good to help get the word out about things that others aren’t aware of or organizations don’t have resources to do so,” she says. “I’ve been in this job (at MCPA) for three years now and still have that same sort of passion for wanting to be in a role where I feel like we’re providing services to people and doing good, and protecting the environment as well.”
While she now embraces her self-described “strange journey” to where she is today, Lewandowski knows just how hard that can be for undergraduates. She too remembers the feelings of uncertainty or nervousness of what the future held.
Despite the unknowns, she encouraged students to pursue their passions in college and take advantage of any opportunities to explore their interests. Lewandowski says volunteer experience rivals paid internships when it boils down to the skills students can gain about their future careers, especially in environmental work.
“People who want to work in the environmental field, there are so many opportunities out there for not only employment, but volunteer opportunities to get involved in the environment, and volunteer experience is just as valuable as paid experience,” she says.
“There are a lot of opportunities out there for you to gain whatever experience or knowledge you’re looking for. And sometimes all you need is just like a foot in the door.”