CES student tackles the trash for internship at Alpine Valley Music Theatre

Sean O’Dwyer’s summer job was to listen to concerts, hang out in one of the biggest music venues in Wisconsin, and sort through thousands of pounds of garbage at midnight.

It was a great experience, he said.

O’Dwyer was of one of several students drawn from UWM’s Conservation and Environmental Science program and other UW System schools who interned at Alpine Valley Music Theatre this summer. The concert venue in East Troy, Wisconsin, is focusing more on its sustainability efforts, which include diverting recyclable materials away from landfills.

To do that, O’Dwyer and his cohort pulled on their gloves after each event was finished and went elbow-deep into the hundreds of trash bags that guests generated throughout the night, often working through midnight or later.

“That’s the gist of it,” O’Dwyer laughed. “We try to separate as much recycling from trash as possible. Recycling includes glass, metal, and a variety of different plastics. Pretty much we chill in the back of the venue and sort through any trash that comes our way.”

If it sounds like a gross job, it is – but it’s a rewarding one, said O’Dwyer’s internship supervisor, Quintin Bendixen.

“We actually have fun, believe it or not,” Bendixen said. “I am convinced that without our efforts, 0 percent (of recyclables) would actually end up recycled.”

In addition to sorting the trash, O’Dwyer and his fellow interns also worked to educate Alpine Valley Music Theatre’s guests about sustainable practices. He posted signs about the venue’s environmental efforts and also put up posters that asked concert-goers to generate ideas about sustainable changes they could make in their own lives.

O’Dwyer has long been drawn to the outdoors. He started his schooling at UWM at Waukesha and then transferred to UWM’s main campus. He is majoring in conservation and environmental science in hopes of creating a better world.

“I can tell that there’s a big sense of dread for a lot of the population for the future. I’m doing this a little bit out of a sense of morality,” O’Dwyer said of his education choice. “I feel like it’s probably one of the best things I could do for the world, and at the same time, make a career out of it.”

For that, O’Dwyer knew he needed internship experience. When he found out that Bendixen was recruiting, he signed on immediately.

Bendixen is a senior lecturer at in UWM’s College of General Studies and O’Dwyer has taken many of his classes. In fact, O’Dwyer credits Bendixen with sparking his interest in environmental science.

Bendixen hopes that all of his students gained new experiences and understanding during their internship.

“I think it’s important to get your hands dirty. You can understand individually how each part of the system works and you have a better chance of coming to a conclusion that is holistic and systematic to make it run better,” Bendixen said. “So I hope that they get that ‘boots on the ground’ – or ‘gloves in the bag’ – experience.”

For O’Dwyer, not only did he gain an understanding of systemic sustainability practices, but he also got to listen to great music with some amazing coworkers.

“The best part was being able to go out and experience the concert, and just hanging out with the whole sustainability crew. We’re all really friendly, really nice,” O’Dwyer said. “We’re brothers in arms.”

They’re exactly the people you want to sort trash with you at midnight.

By Sarah Vickery, College of Letters & Science