Meet Some of the Wonder Women of the Forest Preserve District 2022

A Blog Story About Nature in Our DuPage Forest Preserves

Meet Some of the District's Wonder Women 2022

Posted by Forest Preserve District of DuPage County | 3/1/22 10:58 AM

Women’s History Month is a great time to reflect on the hard work, dedication achievements of women in all walks of life. We’d like to introduce you to some of the amazing women who work at the DuPage Forest Preserve District.

We asked a handful of them about their work and what advice they would give to girls and young women thinking of pursuing careers in nature or STEM-related fields (science, technology, engineering and math). Here’s what they told us.

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Alicia Biewer, resident wildlife specialist, Willowbrook Wildlife Center

Education: Bachelor of fine arts, fashion design; certifications; instructor at College of DuPage (teaches a Wildlife Care in Captivity course)

Why I Chose this Field
I have had a great love for animals my entire life. I knew I wanted to help them from pretty early on. I grew up in the area and my mom often brought me to Willowbrook when I was younger, so it was close to my heart.

Alicia-Biewer-headshot-250x240We rescued and brought many animals to Willowbrook over the years. After college I was working in the fashion design industry and found myself unfulfilled. I wanted to do something more important, and I knew animals were missing from my life, so I decided to volunteer in wildlife rehab.

I quickly fell in love with all aspects of the job. I couldn’t believe there was a job where I could see animals like beautiful warblers, coyotes, and raccoons up close. Even better was that I was able to watch them heal and be released back into the wild! I got a rehab position soon after volunteering and never left!

Advice to Others
I highly recommend getting experience in a few animal-care related fields before deciding which avenue to go down. Volunteering is a great first step. There are a lot of options out there that you can even start at a young age. For example, Willowbrook has a junior keeper program and summer camps that will give you a look into wildlife rehab. Rehab is very hard work — mentally, physically, and emotionally. Volunteering, internships, and camps are a great first step. This will also give you a chance to talk with people in the careers you are considering.

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Favorite Way to Connect to Nature
For me hiking and birding are the best way to connect to nature. My fiancé and I go hiking/birding almost every week. All of our vacations are also based on nature and animals. Every time we go out in nature, we see something exciting or learn something new about an animal or plant. We live in such a busy society it’s nice to go out into nature to slow down for a few hours.

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Jessica Ortega, manager of strategic plans and initiatives, Executive Office

Education: Bachelor of Landscape architecture (BLA) with a minor in Natural Resources, Ball State University; working on an M.A. in Organizational Leadership from Lewis University (expected completion in 2023). Registered Landscape Architect in the state of Illinois (PLA) and a Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP).

Why I Chose this Field
Jessica-Ortega-headshot-250x240I came into this field as a landscape architect. I was always interested in plants and gardening growing up and spent a lot of time outdoors with my family. After I got a degree in landscape architecture, I worked as a landscape architect at a private consulting firm in Chicago.

After a few years working in urban environments, I wanted to get back to pursuing my interest in working in natural areas and wanted to find a way to serve a broader range of people by helping to create an environment where people can feel comfortable being in nature.

Advice to Others
When young women are preparing for their professional careers, don’t forget about public service. While it may not seem as exciting at first as working and living in an urban environment, serving the public and protecting natural areas can be extremely rewarding.

In our field, you have the opportunity to see your work make an impact on the environment and on society as a whole. Importantly, we can increase opportunities for people to spend time in nature where they can take time to learn about themselves through quiet introspection and can make a connection with the transcendent, which I think is lacking in our world today.

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Favorite Way to Connect to Nature
I have two small boys now and I love taking them to our preserves. It brings me joy to see them learning about the world around them by spending time in nature. They especially love Herrick Lake and Fullersburg Woods forest preserves, where they can get up close and interact with the water. St. James Farm is another one of their favorites where they can see interesting historical relics of our agricultural and industrial past, like the tractors and the caboose.

Another way I connect to nature is my daily walk at lunchtime on the trail outside of our headquarters. I love seeing the prairie change through the seasons, seeing the bright green shoots sprout up as it rebounds after a burn, and catching a glimpse of the different birds that migrate through the preserves throughout the year.

 

Melanie Cosgrove, ranger, Site Operations

Education: B.S. in biology and Spanish from Elmhurst College

However, various fields of study or related experience will give you success in this field. What's more important than a degree is positive attitude, communication and a willingness to try new things because that cannot be taught.

Why I Chose this Field
Melanie-Cosgrove-headshot-250x240Like many, I got into this field because I genuinely enjoy being outdoors and it’s an important part of who I am. Growing up I was lucky enough to have a large, wooded backyard where my parents gave me free reign to explore, collect bugs, and dig around in the dirt.

When looking for a career, it was important to me to incorporate my passions and interests with the natural world. Working outside as a ranger every day — rain, snow, and sunshine — provides me not only this opportunity, but also encourages a personal healthy, active lifestyle. We (humans) spend a tremendous portion of our time at work; life is too short to hate what you’re doing for eight hours a day.

Advice to Others
My advice for women interested in working in this field would be to go for it! Don’t let yourself fall into self-victimization or the illusion of disadvantage, you CAN do it! Your value and respect in any field comes from your knowledge, adaptability and determination to learn new skills.

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If you want to work outdoors, there are many paths to make that a reality. Start off by narrowing down what you’re most passionate about and take advantage of related volunteer opportunities or seasonal positions.

Talk to people in the field. Advocate for yourself if there is a new skill you'd like to learn, or find a respected mentor who can guide you. You can improve on any skill with effort and practice. Be flexible and curious; my favorite thing to do is ask questions. There are always new things to learn.

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Favorite Way to Connect to Nature
One of the easiest ways to get involved with nature is hiking. In an ever-connected world, it's peaceful to do so without headphones or electronic distractions. Simply walk and listen. You’ll be surprised that you can hear more than just critters and birds. Perhaps some of your best ideas will come after a quiet hike, fresh air and some mental clarity.

 

Tanya Ziobrowski, management technician, Natural Resources

Education: B.S. in biology, Northern Illinois University

Why I Chose This Field
Growing up I spent most of my days enjoying the outdoors. Whether it was spending my Tanya-Ziobrowski-headshot-350x240summers wandering the woods and exploring the waters catching bullfrogs at my great grandmother's pond, or enjoying the winters on the seat of a snowmobile, I have always had a love for everything nature.

But my interest in environmental studies and environmental restoration was sparked by a pond study we did in my high school advanced biology class. After college I worked as a seasonal restoration technician and instantly fell in love with the work.

Advice to Others
Have no fear! Don't be afraid to go for what you want. Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way to learn something new; you will be able to take something away from it and learn and grow as a person and as an employee.

This is usually a male-dominated field to work in, but don't let that intimidate you. Be fearless and work hard. Volunteering or working seasonal jobs are great ways to gain experience in the field.

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Favorite Way to Connect to Nature
My favorite way to connect to nature outside of work is to go birding with my family, work in my garden, and go on hikes. I am very lucky to love my job and the work I do, and to know it will have a lasting impression on the environment around us.

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Laura Michael, police officer, Law Enforcement

Education: B.S. in criminal justice and a minor in psychology, Missouri Western State University. Certified evidence technician, defense tactics instructor, firearms instructor, field training officer, bicycle officer and officer in charge

Why I Chose this Field
I have always had a strong desire to help others. I have had family members, teachers and Laura-Michael-headshot-250x210other role models who helped me realize how law enforcement was a way to help people. I always had an interest in the field of law enforcement and psychology, which led me to study criminal justice and psychology in college.

I have a childhood friend (who is now in law enforcement) who said to me, "I am not surprised you became a police officer because I saw those traits in you when we were kids. You helped others, you stood up for everyone, and you were always there for people. It just makes sense that you ended up in law enforcement."

 

Advice to Others
We need more women in law enforcement; we need all types of people in the field because we need to understand, represent and protect everyone under the law.

My advice for girls interested in the field is to realize that you will use all your life experiences in law enforcement, so get as many experiences and exposure to people different from yourself and situations as possible.

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My advice for anyone interested in law enforcement — especially becoming a police officer — is to take care of your mental, physical, and emotional health first and foremost. You should also create a strong support system of family, friends, neighbors, and especially your spouse. The work schedule and hours can be difficult at times with longer shifts or odd times of day, which means time away from your support system.

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Doing the right thing for people who need assistance is very rewarding. My motto is "little gets you big," meaning small actions, words and deeds result in larger accomplishments in the long run.

Favorite Way to Connect to Nature
Every day I find and recognize what I call "my moment of zen" in nature. I connect with nature at home and at work, whether it’s walking my dog in the neighborhood and hearing a bird sing, or noticing an animal in their habitat while on patrol.

The forest preserves gave me a deeper appreciation of knowing that in a metropolitan area we can still escape and enjoy all of the nature preserved around us. Part of my job now is to protect and preserve that nature along with the people enjoying it. It is great to have a job that allows you to be outside.

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Topics: Insider, Conservation, Nature, Rehabilitation

Written by Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County welcomes more than 6.2 million visitors a year; and manages nearly 26,000 acres in 60 forest preserves containing prairies, woodlands and wetlands.