Graduate & Professional Studies

Earth Day is every day for Marquette Trinity Fellow

Focused on teaching disadvantaged students in Milwaukee more about the environment, one graduate student is planting educational seeds today that will hopefully grow into care for Mother Earth tomorrow.

Graduate student Kia Vang discovered a passion for environmental education through her work at Milwaukee Riverkeeper, which she was first introduced to in the Trinity Fellows program, a graduate fellowship program dedicated to developing urban leaders with a commitment to social and economic justice.

As an education coordinator and a woman of color, Vang considers her work activism and hopes to enrich the lives of Milwaukee youth.

At Milwaukee Riverkeeper she keeps ecology curriculum on par with national standards and serves as a guest teacher at local schools. Despite teaching about 1,700 students yearly, every lesson is unique to Vang. Her visits last about an hour, and she typically takes the students outside near a body of water for a learning activity on water quality.

During a recent visit, the Destiny High School campus was buzzing with excitement because Vang was the school’s first ever guest speaker. She brought all the supplies for the lesson, including water from the Milwaukee River.

“Even the teacher was like ‘What? You just show up and provide everything?’” Vang says.

The 26-year-old’s goal was to surpass barriers to education, so even children who don’t live near bodies of water can learn about our environment. There was a pivotal moment when she could sense that the students were fully engaged and even surprised with the lesson.

“I could tell that what I was saying was opening new doors of opportunity for them in terms of learning, career fields and just made an impact for them,” Vang says.

Dr. Ben Pladek, associate professor of English, enjoys working and learning with the Trinity Fellows. As director of graduate studies, he sees firsthand their commitment to improving the world around them, just as Vang has embodied in her work at Milwaukee Riverkeeper.

“Her work shows how critical it is to help young kids, especially kids from marginalized communities, understand why caring for the earth is caring for themselves,” Pladek says. “And to help them learn to advocate for themselves as an environmental concern.”

Pladek describes Vang’s work as “the kind of everyday activism that changes lives for the better.”

Initial inspiration

After working for City Year Milwaukee, an Americorps program, Vang’s experience working with students and staff in a supporting role inspired her to pursue a career in educational policy.

Today, the Trinity Fellow is in her second and final year of completing her master’s degree while working for a local nonprofit. Vang found discernment helpful during the application process and while starting a new chapter in her life. Her love for serving Milwaukee drew her to the program.

“I was born and raised in Milwaukee, and I wanted to directly serve my city and community. And I knew I wanted work in educational policy since I was an MPS student,” Vang says.

Among the Milwaukee community, the Trinity Fellows program is another close group of people who share common interests.

“If I ever want to know about something going on in the city, I just ask a Trinity Fellow,” Vang says.

She says that it’s not just her family and friends around her that keep her motivated—it’s the entire city of Milwaukee.

“It’s a really tight-knit community and for me, I want to be a part of that and make a difference,” Vang says.