Cait Williamson ’11, director of conservation programs for the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, is building collaborative networks that are bolstering diversity, equity, and inclusion in statewide conservation efforts.

She continues to do so while staying closely connected to Lawrence University, where she graduated a dozen years ago with a degree in biology.

Williamson’s work recently earned her the Rising Star Alumni Award from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. After graduating from Lawrence, Williamson went on to earn a Master of Science degree from UW.

In her work with the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, she is a leader in the organization’s mission to support conservation efforts and environmental education programs, both financially and strategically. She has a particular interest in bolstering diversity, equity, and inclusion in the conservation field.

Caitlin Williamson does field work.
Cait Williamson '11 credits her time at Lawrence for inspiring her conservation work. (Photo courtesy of Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies)

One of her passion projects is the Diversity in Conservation Internship Program she created in association with Lawrence, in which historically underrepresented students can engage with professional opportunities in the field of conservation.

“It’s filling a very important need in the conservation field, which has historically been very white male dominated, and so helping to make an intentional, safe, welcoming space in the conservation community has been one of the highlights of the work I get to do,” Williamson said.

When she founded the Diversity in Conservation Internship Program, it drew three students from Lawrence. Now, the program has expanded to about 10 students every year, including students from Lawrence and other Wisconsin universities.

Love of Lawrence

Williamson, originally from Omaha, Nebraska, was drawn to the Lawrence community by its passion.

“The students were just so engaged and thoughtful in the classes,” she said. “It just seemed like a very dynamic place for students.”

Wildlife conservation has always been important to Williamson, and she was amazed by the opportunities Lawrence gave her to explore her individual passions through independent study programs, which set her up for graduate school at UW, and then a thriving career in conservation.

“I absolutely loved Lawrence,” Williamson said. “I think it’s a place for opportunities, and I am someone who really likes to take full advantage of whatever possibilities or opportunities are out there. Lawrence does such a good job of providing that for students.”

Williamson said she will continue to work on conservation initiatives in Wisconsin, creating collaborative and cross-jurisdictional solutions to the complex issues of natural resource conservation. She said she hopes to bring a “cultural shift” to her field, raising awareness that the issues in natural resource conservation are interconnected and bringing diversity and equity into that conversation.