StoutStories: Kyra Danielowski

Love for learning leads Environmental Science major to Maine.
Kyra Danielowski, environmental science students, at Viles Arboretum in Augusta, Maine.
Abbey Goers | December 28, 2018

An intrepid soul, Kyra Danielowski’s passion for the outdoors has led her on a path to teach others how to care for our planet. She began her college career at UW-Stout, attracted to its polytechnic approach, its unique programming, and closeness to her home north of the cities. She soon transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for journalism to pursue her dream of writing for National Geographic.

“But I wanted to be more in it,” Danielowski admitted. “I love being outside and learning about the world around me.”

Danielowski returned to Stout and recalling how much she enjoyed her botany course, was inspired to declare her major in Environmental Science. Danielowski wanted to be an active contributor in her field. She served as president of two sustainability-focused student organizations: Green Sense, an outreach organization which promotes sustainable lifestyles, and Sustainable Food which teaches healthy, sustainable eating through a plant-based diet. Within her senior capstone project, hers was the first group at UW-Stout to begin a Sustainable Landscaping Initiative.

Dr. Krista James, the program director at the time, stated, “Kyra has been a valued member of our environmental science community. For the past three years, she has worked in the greenhouse, maintaining plants, giving tours, and setting up fun activities for school children. She is always friendly, professional, and very knowledgeable.”

These outreach experiences empowered Danielowski. She became comfortable with public speaking, preparing her for interview processes. She also found her professional scientific writing skills strengthen.

In her search for an internship over Summer 2018, Danielowski applied to twelve different organizations, primarily on the west coast.

While not a single one of these twelve applications were accepted, Danielowski shrugged and said, “If nothing else, it was great practice for my writing.”

She turned her direction out east and applied as an Ecology Technician for an organization in Maine. This application was not accepted either. But recognizing something special in Danielowski, the organization forwarded a job description to her for a Botanical Collections Manager and Outreach Specialist at the Viles Arboretum in Augusta, Maine. At once, she applied and received an email requesting a phone interview in which she accepted the internship position that same afternoon.

Danielowski handling a Milk snake. / Kyra Danielowski

Off to Maine

Danielowski’s journey to the Viles Arboretum was an adventure in itself. She packed up her VW Passat and hit the road to Canada, deciding to take the scenic route along Highway 1. She slept in her car, either in motel parking lots or little waysides.

"It got kind of cold at night. And I had no cell service for navigation, so I used paper maps. I got lost a couple of times and stopped for directions. Everyone spoke French.”

Not speaking French, herself, she laughed, “It wasn’t easy. But the drive through the boreal forest was absolutely beautiful.”

When she reached the Viles Arboretum, Danielowski was immediately immersed in its mission: to promote the knowledge and appreciation of Maine’s trees and other flora for people of all ages by offering opportunities for education, recreation, and inspiration. She was set to work learning the ropes of running a non-profit, quickly excelling at a multitude of tasks.

Danielowski welcomed visitors, wrote newsletter articles, held radio interviews, created a new trail map, oversaw the farmer’s market, cleaned the rock garden, dealt with off-leash dogs, learned how to safely handle snakes, and how to drive a tractor.

“My favorite part of my internship was that 75% of the time, I was outside,” she said.

Her time outside as the Botanical Collections Manager consisted of maintaining the arboretum’s forty different collections of tree species. Danielowski was responsible for pruning and trimming trees and mowing green spaces.


Meditation by David Randall, on the Art Trail
Meditation by David Randall, on the Art Trail. / Kyra Danielowski

As the Outreach Specialist, Danielowski gave tours of the arboretum, including the Art Trail which is the largest permanent outdoor display of art in Maine. She especially loved giving tours to elementary school groups.

“Speaking with the kids boosted my confidence. It was empowering to share my knowledge with them. As we toured through the sculpture trail, I would ask the kids what they thought the art meant and how it made them feel. My favorite sculpture on the tour is called Meditation. It depicts a woman resting her head in her hand. I liked to teach the kids how to meditate and we would reflect on what we were thankful for. It was a very calming exercise.”

Danielowski found a mentor in the Viles Arboretum Executive Director and Senior Ecologist, Mark DesMeules.

“I built a strong connection with Mark during my phone interview. Over the summer, Mark taught me that to be taken seriously as an ecologist, I need to be confident in my subject, do my research, constantly ask questions and be willing to learn, be open to new information, and love what I do.”

Already in love with what she was doing, this advice became relevant during the most challenging task of her internship: to design components of a boardwalk and then build it over the wetlands with help from volunteers.

“It’s hard to be taken seriously as a woman in the science field. Many of our volunteers were men in their mid-forties and they had several suggestions on how they thought the boardwalk design could be improved upon. Having to redirect the volunteers back to the plan I created, I felt my confidence grow and managerial skills improve."

Her successful efforts were praised by Director DesMeules. “My very first impression of Kyra was one that told me this student has initiative…outstanding initiative. We lucked out with Kyra who turned out to become the very best intern we have ever had at the Viles Arboretum. Kyra truly impressed us with her UW-Stout education. We feel fortunate to have brushed shoulders with Kyra who will clearly be an important player in saving our planet!”

While her success during her internship was profound, perhaps what Danielowski found most difficult during her time in Augusta was the lack of people her own age. Describing the average age of the city’s citizens to be in their mid-forties, she felt a little isolated. But she did find friendship with Sammee Quong, a board member of the arboretum with whom she stayed over the summer.

Danielowski fondly reflected, “Sammee is the best Chinese grandmother I never had. She has nine tattoos. She’s a retired nurse and is very involved in her community. She showed me all around Augusta. I ate most of my meals with Sammee. We would cook for each other. She served me traditional Chinese meals and I taught her about sustainable food.”

Ms. Quong described Danielowski as "enthusiastic, intelligent, independent, industrious, adaptable, and a delightfully good person. She never complained about her work and stated how she enjoyed the challenges."


Danielowski at a radio interview
Danielowski at a radio interview. / Kyra Danielowski

Future Endeavors

Thankful for the opportunity to share her passion for environmental science during her internship, Danielowski looks to a bright future in the field.

“Through whatever I do, I want to teach and show others we all play a part in this world, whether in its flourishment or its demise. We all make an impact. I want to spark curiosity, love, and inspiration to take care of our planet.”

Danielowski graduated in December 2018 with her Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and will begin working for Paint Creek Nursery in Cadott, WI.  She plans to one day join the Peace Corps.

Perhaps she'll return to the Viles Arboretum and revisit the place where she had such a powerful, positive impact.

"My heart is in Maine," she reflected.

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