The lack of diversity in the environmental field is well documented. Green 2.0’s annual Transparency Report Cards have shown some growth in the last five years in full-time staff of color at environmental organizations, but not in leadership roles. The same goes for women and gender identities other than men. With climate change looming, invasive species spreading, and people feeling more connected to their screens than to nature, it’s clear that conservation work is more important than ever, and the lack of diversity amongst conservationists makes it harder to protect nature.

The 2023 cohort of the Diversity in Conservation Internship Program in front of Science Hall at UW–Madison before their final presentations. Photograph by Lindsey Taylor

Conservation efforts have a greater impact when they include diverse voices, perspectives, and approaches. A table full of people with very similar points of view isn’t going to provide a range of good ideas. With all the ways the environment needs our attention, it’s important to cast as wide a net as possible.

More conservationists also matters because there’s a lot of work to be done. If we want to protect biodiversity and share the beautiful places in Wisconsin that we enjoy now with future generations, it’s all hands on deck. The more people who work to conserve Wisconsin’s wild places, the better.

The 2022 Cohort of the Diversity in Conservation Internship Program on Lake Tomahawk. Photograph by Caitlin Williamson

Unfortunately, some groups who’ve been historically excluded from outdoor recreation and conservation efforts include Black, indigenous, and people of color; the LGBTQIA+ community; people with disabilities; women; and people from under-resourced communities. Students from these groups are encouraged to apply for the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin’s Diversity in Conservation Internship Program. The internship is a way to help young people from a variety of backgrounds enter the conservation field, and the program is open to students from University of Wisconsin–Madison, Lawrence University, and UW–Milwaukee. Previous environmental science background or education is not required. Students join a cohort of 10 interns for the summer and spend the 10-week internship immersed in conservation:

  • Exploring Wisconsin’s diverse landscapes and learning about the lands, waters, and wildlife that make our state unique.
  • Learning what a conservation career might look like, from ecological restoration and wildlife monitoring to policy, engagement, community outreach, and more.
  • Building relationships with other students in the cohort and learning from and supporting each other through the experience.
  • Networking with conservation leaders and practitioners from across the state, building connections for future career opportunities.
  • Gaining practical work experience and skills by working with a conservation nonprofit or agency.
  • Receiving professional development support, including mock interviews, resume reviews, and one-on-one mentoring.
  • Receiving college credit and a $6,000 stipend.
Nick, one of the interns in the 2023 cohort of the Diversity in Conservation Internship Program, in action during his internship with the Zoological Society of Milwaukee. Photograph by Caitlin Williamson

Though conservation has not been diverse, equitable, or inclusive historically, it shouldn’t stay that way—the need is too great and nature is too important. Let’s take action together to change that.

Learn more about the Diversity in Conservation Internship Program at or make a donation to support the program. Become an NRF member at

Shelly Torkelson is the communications director for Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin.

From previous internship participants:

“The Diversity in Conservation Internship Program provided me one of the most fulfilling summers of both my academic and personal life. I can now see a possible future in conservation for myself.” 


“As much as I wanted to pursue a career in conservation, I thought it wasn’t somewhere where I belonged… finding this internship seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

“One of the most exciting aspects of my internship was native plant identification and birding. It’s crazy the amount of knowledge I have 
gained on Wisconsin’s native plants and ecosystems in just two months.”