Geosciences student is a beach ambassador

Three UWM students have an office with one of the best views in Milwaukee.

As beach ambassadors, Mikayla Walker, Gavin Schmidt and Chris Giddens patrol Bradford and McKinley beaches along Lake Michigan from Thursday through Sunday afternoons.

The beach ambassadors, wearing matching blue T-shirts, educate visitors about potential dangers and encourage them to enjoy the lake while being aware of its hazards.

The program is a response to the four drownings on McKinley Beach in 2020 and 56 overall in Lake Michigan that year. A shortage of lifeguards has made the situation worse.

The beach ambassadors aren’t lifeguards, but try to keep people safe by offering information and advice about water conditions and safety. For example, many beach visitors aren’t aware that when red flags are flying, it’s not safe to go into the water because of dangerous currents and high waves.

The beach ambassador program was organized in 2021 as a pilot program by Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Milwaukee Water Commons, Milwaukee Community Sailing Center, Coastline Services LLC and the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute. That pilot effort was renewed this summer.

Walker, a senior in geology, saw a department email about the program and thought it was a good fit with her interests. She’d previously done undergraduate research studying fossils deposited along the lakeshore in a park near Cudahy.

“We want people to have fun, but stay safe,” Walker said. She feels a special responsibility to reach out people of color who may not have had early opportunities for swimming lessons or safety courses. She noted that all four drowning victims at the beach last year were Black. “As a person of color, I feel it’s particularly important to reach out to them whenever possible.”