Exploring the Intersection Between Storytelling and Science: From the Office of Sustainability to the Milwaukee Water Commons

By Chandler Wells

In our “Where Are They Now?” series, current student interns interview former interns about their experience at the Office of Sustainability, particularly how that experience has helped them since graduation. In the following entry, Chandler Wells relates her conversation with Nina Delgadillo.

During the Water @ UW Conference in the Spring of 2023, Nina Delgadillo found herself among a diverse group of academics, researchers, and community leaders from local environmental organizations. Representing the Office of Sustainability (OS), Nina delivered a lightning talk titled “From the classroom to the community: The importance of student involvement in social sustainability.” It was during this conference that Nina crossed paths with the Director of Programming at the Milwaukee Water Commons, sparking a connection that would ignite her professional journey.

Photograph of Nina

After graduating from UW–Madison in May of 2023, Nina landed a position as the Digital Communications Coordinator at the environmental nonprofit based in Milwaukee. The City of Milwaukee faces various water-related challenges, including issues with lead pipes in older homes and limited beach access, particularly in the neighborhoods historically marginalized by segregation. Nina’s role at Milwaukee Water Commons involves crafting monthly newsletters, updating event calendars, conducting community outreach, and managing their social media account to showcase ongoing policy efforts, events, and initiatives affiliated with the organization.

“We work closely with the community to ensure that every single Milwaukee resident knows what it’s like to have access to safe, clean water,” said Nina, highlighting the organization’s mission.

The Milwaukee Water Commons collaborates with community partners, other nonprofit organizations, and the City of Milwaukee to prioritize equitable access to clean water. Nina underscored the organization’s commitment to community engagement, noting that environmental initiatives should make a greater effort to involve input from local residents. She pointed out that the Milwaukee Water Commons is dedicated to its Water City Agenda, consisting of six key initiatives, including Branch Out Milwaukee, which focuses on tree maintenance to preserve water quality. As part of her role, Nina engages with residents about the importance of healthy trees in their neighborhood and uses the Milwaukee Water Commons’ digital platform to ensure residents’ voices are acknowledged.

Nina attended the 2023 One Water Summit with the Milwaukee Water Commons.
Nina pictured (back row, fourth from left) at the 2023 One Water Summit, which she attended as a Milwaukee Water Commons staff member and a member of the Water Equity and Climate Resilience (WECR) Caucus.

Nina brings a unique perspective to her communications role, emphasizing the importance of storytelling in addressing environmental issues. 

“We often focus on numbers and data, but it’s crucial to highlight the lived experiences of people,” she said. 

Nina attributes her interest in environmental communications to her numerous experiences at UW–Madison. She interned with the OS for two years until her graduation in May 2023, earning a B.S. degree in Environmental Sciences and Conservation Biology, along with a Sustainability Undergraduate Certificate. During her time as an intern, Nina served on the Green Athletics, Communications, SSC, and UW Zero Waste Teams.

Nina reflected on her time as an intern, recognizing that “OS staff create a safe and welcoming environment for interns to learn and grow” and that the student intern program provided many professional development opportunities.

Among the many opportunities at the OS, Nina highlighted the skills she acquired in event planning. During her time with the Communications Team, she played a key role in coordinating events for Earth Week and Sustain-A-Bash, gaining essential skills in goal-setting and implementing effective strategies for campus engagement. One of her favorite projects with the OS was conducting waste audits with Green Athletics, where she gained firsthand experience in waste management operation.

Nina conducted a Women's Soccer Waste Audit in 2021 with other members of the Green Athletics team.
Nina (fourth from left) conducted a Women’s Soccer Waste Audit in 2021 with other members of the Green Athletics and Student Athletes for Sustainability teams.

Nina also emphasized the influential role of her undergraduate research position at UW–Madison, encouraging students to “find a research opportunity that aligns with your niche.”

During her junior year at UW–Madison, Nina tapped into the resources of the UW–Madison research portal, contacting professors and offering her assistance with their research endeavors. She was fortunate to connect with Dr. Caroline Gottschalk Druschke, contributing to the ongoing community-based research by conducting interviews with residents of the Kickapoo and Coon Creek watersheds for the Learning to Make Running Water Walk oral narrative project.

Nina’s career advice extends beyond standard strategies for job applications; it encourages students to recognize their intrinsic value beyond the confines of their academic qualifications.

“When applying for jobs, remember that you are an asset,” Nina said. “You have unique skills, hobbies, and passions—and you are more than just your degree.”

This philosophy resonates with her own professional journey. Nina’s dedication to sustainability and social justice did not go unnoticed by the hiring committee at the Milwaukee Water Commons, who recognized and valued her commitment to advancing social sustainability. From struggling to launch SSC’s Amplifying BIPOC Voices in Sustainability Series to witnessing its successes in campus engagement, Nina learned the power of persistence and passion. 

“Don’t let these passions slip away,” she said. “Show people your passions, and they will be more than willing to teach you new things as well.”