WEC Alumni in the World - Matt Reetz
"My mom was an avid birdwatcher when I was growing up. She kept our feeders full and was always so excited to get a new bird at her feeder," says Dr. Matt Reetz (WEC PhD 2008). "My mom once burned 30 minutes of a VHS tape filming a single Baltimore oriole. A lot of that passion for birds was naturally absorbed by me."
Dr. Reetz is the executive director of the Madison Audubon Society in Wisconsin's capital city, a post he gained thanks to "diverse experiences," beginning with his teaching assistant position as a graduate student at UF, and including his post-doc experience at University of Wisconsin collaborating on a research project with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on a state-threatened bird. Matt began volunteering - then working - for a nonprofit organization called Gathering Waters Conservancy, which is based in Madison, when a colleague recommended he do so. It was in this capacity that he discovered a passion for nonprofit work.
"It combines three things that I am passionate about and that I have experience in, thanks in no small part to my time at UF," says Matt regarding his position at the Madison Audubon Society. "It requires program and project development, execution and follow-up. It requires both knowledge and enthusiasm for bird conservation, as well as an ability to express that in multiple ways to multiple audiences. And it requires working with people; forming relationships, making partnerships, and building trust. My experiences at UF provided experience in all of those areas."
During his years at UF, Dr. Reetz met his wife, Dr. LeAnn White, and several great friends. "From that perspective alone," Matt says, "my time at WEC is beyond value. Professionally speaking, the staff, faculty, and programs at WEC whipped a pretty shapeless ball of clay into an actual scientist. And a well-rounded one at that. In particular, I owe a debt of gratitude to Dave Steadman, Scott Robinson and especially my advisor Katie Sieving. Katie is a fabulous mentor whose skills at developing capable scientists are only exceeded by her ability to grow good citizens."
Dr. Sieving has great memories of Matt as a graduate student. "Matt epitomizes substance and character," she says. "He treats everyone and everything he does with respect and was always going to be a leader in conservation [...] Matt's dedication to conservation and his human relationships (life, basically) has always run deep, and it shows up in his teaching, his work, his many hours given to charities and public service organizations. Matt recognizes and invests in organizations and efforts and people that are substantive. Now more than a century old, the Audubon Society (not Matt!) is unquestionably the premiere American conservation society. In part, Audubon's prominence and track record derives from its unwavering focus on participatory conservation education. Unwavering character and commitment - it really matters. So of course I was thrilled -- but not surprised -- that Matt and Audubon have teamed up. "
What is Matt's advice for graduate students in the field of wildlife ecology? "Get experience! BROADEN. YOUR. HORIZONS. Don't just do your program. Yes, be sure to go to class and absorb everything you can from your professors. Ask them questions. Read. Do the work. BUT, get involved in other things. Help with research projects outside your field or taxa or question. Get teaching experience. It helps you learn how to communicate effectively but also fosters an even greater enthusiasm for science. Volunteer with a nonprofit or agency. It doesn't even have to be science-related. By the way, you don't have to like all of these things. That's the point. You get to find out. These opportunities give you marketable experience AND help you find potential paths that may provide future professional satisfaction. "