More than 33 UW–Platteville students majoring in criminal justice and forensic investigation recently assisted the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on several projects that helped improve conditions for visitors at Wyalusing State Park in Wyalusing and Nelson Dewey State Park in Cassville.
The students were members of UW–Platteville’s Criminal Justice Living Learning Community or were enrolled in the Criminal Justice Introduction to College Life course. Their efforts were part of UW–Platteville’s Pioneers eMbrace Citizenship Day, which provided students with the opportunity to volunteer and help surrounding communities.
“The students looked forward to participating in these projects because they believe in the power of giving back,” said Dr. Amy Nemmetz, assistant professor of criminal justice and advisor to the Criminal Justice LLC at UW–Platteville and coordinator of the projects at the state parks. “They were excited to see the transformation at both state park locations.”
At Wyalusing State Park, students cut brush and did minor trail work, under the supervision of park staff. At Nelson Dewey State Park, students painted and completed other park maintenance work.
“Volunteers are critically important to our state parks program,” said Chad Breuer, property supervisor at Wyalusing State Park. “The work that volunteers, like the students and staff from UW–Platteville, perform allows us to make improvements and maintain facilities that we never would have on our own. Last year, volunteers contributed more than 140,000 volunteer hours to the state park system.
“The trails at Wyalusing are among the most popular trails in our state park system, with the stunning views from the bluffs down to the banks of the mighty river. Trails require constant maintenance, so the trail work performed by the students will be appreciated by hundreds, if not thousands, of hikers. Restoring our park’s prairies is one of the management goals for the park and removing invasive and exotic plants from the prairie is another chore that needs constant attention, so the students’ help is a great benefit to prairie restoration efforts.”
Nemmetz said that criminal justice and related professionals often talk about the importance of hiring good stewards of the community. “Allowing students to engage in volunteer projects early in their college careers will hopefully compel them to volunteer when they can,” she said. “An added bonus was that the DNR staff talked openly about opportunities for internships and employment in these types of positions. Students appreciated their tips.”
“I found this experience to be so rewarding,” said Audrey Markey, a freshman forensic investigation major at UW–Platteville from Waukesha. “It was a great opportunity to give back to the community as well as work with faculty and other classmates with the same or similar major.”
“I enjoyed the day immensely,” said Josh Stowe, a freshman criminal justice major from Hartford. “It was a great way to do some good for the park and I had fun being able to do it with my friends. It was also very interesting and informative to be able to talk with the professionals in that field.”
“We hope the students benefited from their work at the park,” said Breuer. “We know it’s rewarding to look back at the end of the day and see the improvements that have been made, and we hope it instills in them a sense of pride and stewardship of these properties, which belong to us all.”
The volunteer projects were sponsored by the Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement, a UW–Platteville initiative and funding source for campus-wide coordination, integration and leadership of community-based scholarship of engagement projects and internships that involve students, faculty, staff and community partners.
UW–Platteville’s new CJ LLC is designed to enhance intellectual and personal development for first year criminal justice and forensic investigation students. Students in the LLC take a common course, Introduction to Criminal Justice, taught by Nemmetz.
As members of the LLC, they have the chance to participate in training and seminars facilitated by criminal justice professionals, attend career exploration field trips, participate in civic engagement projects, critically reflect upon the criminal justice field via guided discussions, and network with criminal justice professionals, faculty and staff outside the classroom.
UW–Platteville faculty members who led the projects at the state parks included Dr. Staci Strobl, chair of the department of criminal justice; Matt Michaels, an adjunct professor in the department of criminal justice; and Nemmetz.
UW–Platteville staff members who coordinated logistics for funding, transportation and PioneerLink included Kia Hendrickson, assistant director of Pioneer Academic and Transitional Help Center; Valerie Wetzel, assistant director of Pioneer Student Center; Dawn Lee, PACCE engagement specialist for the College of Business, Life Sciences and Agriculture; and Carole Speli, PACCE engagement specialist for the College of Liberal Arts and Education.