Editor’s note: People of Madison is a weekly series produced by Digital Features Associate Dylan Wijas. The series — published online and on our social media accounts — aims to highlight a student at UW making an impact on the campus community. These Q&As are lightly edited for clarity and style.
Why did you decide on these majors?
I was the type to hop around from major to major. I have been in every school at UW, except for the Journalism and Business School. I knew I hated my chemistry classes and wanted to embark on a journey centered around a major that actively interested me. I took a community nonprofit leadership class within the School of Human Ecology and instantly loved the content and energy within the major. The entire major revolves around the engagement and facilitation of social change. I chose environmental studies as well because I care a lot about the environment in relation to food systems and policies centered around food access and consumption.

What is PAVE?
Promoting Awareness | Victim Empowerment is a student organization on campus dedicated to uplifting survivors and preventing violence. Within campus specifically, the focus is on sexual and domestic violence as well as stalking. We are responsible for many of the workshops held in order to raise awareness on the subject and provide useful strategies to intervene when necessary. We have a lot of resources for folks including support groups. I act as the volunteer coordinator for PAVE, which entails being the liaison between PAVE and the rest of the student body. I am specifically in charge of the volunteer leadership program aimed at training volunteers in sexual assault interventions and dialogue around sexual assault.

Why do you think that organizations like PAVE are essential to college campuses?
Sexual assault statistics are jarring, to say the least. They will not improve unless we do something about it. Through the work of PAVE, we are aiming for institutional change in order to get to the root of the problem. We are discussing the possibility of running these workshops earlier with younger populations with the Madison Metropolitan School District, in order to combat sexual and domestic violence and stalking. Without organizations like PAVE, we do not have a clear vision of a violence-free future. Right now, it is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. More importantly than ever, we need to promote safeguarding against sexual assault and violence.

Besides volunteering with PAVE, how can students do their part in promoting awareness against sexual violence?
The biggest, most crucial step one can take is calling out rape culture when you see it while promoting consent culture. If you hear someone say something that is problematic or promotes rape culture in any manner, then say something. Silence is complacency and perpetuates the notion that sexual and domestic violence is okay if one does not speak up about it. Ask for permission before doing things — even the little things. For example, instead of saying “Tell me about your day,” utilize a consent forward approach such as “Can I ask you about your day?

Alyssa works as a discovery guide at the Madison Children’s Museum. What is your favorite part about working at the Children’s Museum?
I work in every part of the museum and learn how to run every single exhibit space, how to run programs, how to keep people safe, how to be a point person as well as feedback in improving the efficiency of the space I was a daycare teacher for several years and have always enjoyed the company of children. It is so heartwarming and rewarding to be able to make a difference in the lives of the child which they will be able to take with them into adulthood. Being a part of a developmental milestone in the comprehension of various concepts in a child’s life is incredibly special to me. I especially love being able to facilitate children petting and taking care of animals, for example. When a child has not encountered a certain animal before and is hesitant to interact with it, I love to explain the situation and watch the children take a leap of courage in order to try something new. Being able to witness a child gain a new experience and play a role in their journey of bravery and putting oneself out of their comfort zone is very special to me.

Alyssa is also an intern with the Office of Sustainability at UW.
My role is to be a liaison between the Office of Sustainability and the student population. We have a Green Events Team where we certify events as environmentally sound. There are varying levels of sustainability status that an event can achieve. There are certifications for labs, studios, offices and events in an effort to promote sustainability throughout Madison. There are incentives such as official green certifications in which organizations are able to market and publish. We are working on the Swipe Out Hunger Program, which allows students to add a dollar onto any campus register purchase for students who are food insecure. It is very rewarding to hold businesses and organizations around campus accountable for their environmental impact.

What would you say to your freshman year self?
Go on https://guide.wisc.edu/ and look through every major and certificate and write down the ones you are interested in pursuing. Do not think about any associated careers or what anyone expects of you. If something sounds interesting, write it down. After compiling a list, find something that works the best for you. If it looks cool and interesting, you will be happy! Do not think about anything that may look good on your resume or a salary associated with a position. Do what makes you happy!