My name is Kyia Leeper and I am currently a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and attended the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities where I got my BS in Fisheries and Wildlife with an emphasis in conservation biology and a minor in Environmental Science, Policy and Management. Most of my background work experiences have been seasonal technician positions, focused in wildlife biology. I moved out to Missoula, Montana for 3 years, where I continued to work seasonally through various research and teaching opportunities. Eventually, I found my way back to Madison to pursue my MS in Environmental Conservation through the Nelson Institute at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.
The graduate program I am in is a 15-month accelerated graduate program that provides professional conservation training and experiences over three semesters of coursework, ultimately working towards a Leadership Placement Experience with a host organization engaged in conservation practice or management. Through my graduate studies, I have developed practical interdisciplinary skills that have advanced my expertise in leadership and environmental management. Conservation planning, land use policy, GIS, conservation fundraising, protected area management, program evaluation, and strategic communications have all helped me become better prepared to tackle complex conservation challenges, like land management and protection.
For my Leadership Placement, I was interested in helping an organization develop a conservation plan to continue to built and expand my conservation planning skills that I built during my graduate study coursework. Eventually, I got connected with Jen Filipiak at the Driftless Area Land Conservancy and began my Leadership Placement Experience with DALC. The goal of my Leadership Placement is to create a baseline conservation plan that would help the staff and board members at DALC prioritize future land protection efforts.
Since late May/early June, I have been attending weekly staff meetings, interviewing DALC staff and board members, facilitating team discussions, researching data, and creating a detailed written up conservation plan according to the Conservation Standards framework. This five step process for project management helps organizations be systematic about planning, implementing, and monitoring their conservation initiatives. By using this framework, I would be able to use the information provided by the staff and board to create a conservation plan that will allow DALC to learn what aspects of their conservation plan works, what doesn’t work and why, which will ultimately help adapt and improve land protection efforts implemented in the future.
In August, I will be reaching the end of my time working with DALC as well as the end of my graduate studies. As part of the requirements of my graduate program, I am required to give an oral presentation and submit a final report summarizing key aspects of my Leadership Placement experience. Additionally, I will be submitting the conservation plan I develop for DALC to demonstrate what I've accomplished during my experience working with DALC. Beyond my school requirements, I hope that the baseline conservation plan I develop can provide DALC a plan that staff can continue to build on, adapt, and implement in the future. Furthermore, I hope the conservation plan will allow DALC to continue to protect and manage important landscapes across the Driftless region from future decline, while supporting the strong agriculture community and cultural values of the landowners throughout southwest Wisconsin.
M.S. Candidate, Environmental Conservation
Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
University of Wisconsin - Madison