Some students spend summer doing something unusual

Summertime and the living is easy.

But not for the many UWM students who spend their summers earning money for school and acquiring new skills. Sometimes those summer jobs turn out to be both fun and interesting. Here’s a look at how students spent their summer “vacation.”

Trey Meier: Elvis, the Kenosha Kingfish mascot

Trey Meier as Elvis the Kingfish mascot (Photo courtesy of Kenosha Kingfish/Alina Nelson)

Trey Meier, a junior marketing major in the Lubar College of Business, was looking for a summer job two years ago when he saw an opening for a mascot for the Kenosha Kingfish baseball team, part of the summer collegiate Northwoods League.

“I love sports, and it was five minutes from my home in Kenosha. It was the perfect summer job for me,” Meier said.

Trey Meier

As Elvis the Kingfish, Meier encourages fans to cheer on the team and have fun at the games. That was challenging at first, he said.

“I’m not the most outgoing guy. I’m a little reserved, so I had to come out of my shell. “Running around in the heavy costume on hot summer days isn’t easy, but Meier, who is on the UWM track team, was used to handling the heat.  And, he added, he does love entering the stadium on a zip line at the beginning of the games.

In mid-July, however, he became a social media sensation when he was tackled by Green Bay Packers running back A.J. Dillon during a celebrity softball event and his Elvis head went flying. Not losing your head is a cardinal rule of being a mascot, Meier said. (Dillon later apologized, explaining he hadn’t intended to hit Meier quite so hard in the demonstration drill.)

“It’s hard to see out of that costume, it’s hard to move,” Meier told a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at the time.

“It happened all so fast, but what I’m thinking in that moment, I’m just like, ‘I hope he kind of gently pushes me over or something like that.’”

Video of the tackle went viral, and Meier found himself inundated with media calls, doing eight interviews the Monday afterwards.

“That was an unreal experience,” he said. “It was overwhelming.”

After the media frenzy died down, Meier continued with his mascot duties. He also works as a Little League umpire and volunteers as a coach for a Little League team. He’s hoping to return to the Kingfish as a marketing intern next summer, a job that may or may not include being Elvis again.

Mikayla Walker, Gavin Schmidt and Chris Giddens: Beach ambassadors

Beach ambassadors Mikayla Walker and Gavin Schmidt at the lakefront, getting ready to start their day at the beach. (UWM Photo/Elora Hennessey)

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, work with visitors to educate them about potential dangers and encourage them to enjoy the lake while being aware of its hazards.

The program itself 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 best part of the job – meeting and talking with people – is also the most challenging, said Schmidt, a sophomore in the Peck School of the Arts.

“Most people are friendly and receptive,” he said, but sometimes they aren’t interested in chatting just then, so the ambassadors have to be sensitive to that.

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

Schmidt found out about the summer job through an online job posting. 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.”

Giddens, a graduate student in the School of Freshwater Sciences, said the number of visitors to the beaches has increased since COVID restrictions were lifted, and many who come down to the lakefront to cool off may not be aware of potential safety issues.

Nurhasanah Harun: Legislative intern

Nurhasanah Harun with Sen. Tammy Baldwin (Photo courtesy of Nurhasanah Harun)

When Nurhasanah Harun received an email about applying for a summer legislative internship in Washington, D.C., she thought it sounded interesting.

“To be honest, I didn’t think I’d get the internship, but once I got started it was great,” said Harun, a senior in criminology.

She didn’t know where she’d be assigned, but was excited to go to Washington, D.C., a city she had never been to before. She ended up spending the summer as an intern in Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s office.

Much of her day-to-day duties focused on helping other interns filter through the communications Baldwin received from constituents – “email, faxes and physical letters.”

The communications this summer focused on abortion and guns – two topics widely in the news – but for some reason there were also a good many letters about horse slaughter, Harun said.

The most challenging part of the job for her was writing memos since English isn’t her first or even second language. (She speaks Malay, Indonesian and Javanese). But overall, the experience was fun and interesting, she said.

“I enjoyed being on the Hill and at the Capitol,” Harun said. “It was great to see how government works from the inside. To be able to see and work with the senator was great.”

Exploring the nation’s capital was a definite perk of the job, she added.

“On Sundays, I had the chance to visit the museums around the city.”

Harun returned to Milwaukee in late July, but the internship has sparked her interest in a future career. “I would definitely like to eventually work in government.”

Klaudia Rixmann: Operations and marketing intern at Revitalize Milwaukee

Klaudia Rixmann works Aug. 13 at Block Build MKE 2022, a home repair event that included Revitalize Milwaukee. (UWM Photo/Elora Hennessey)

Klaudia Rixmann’s internship grew out of an interview she did as part of an urban geography class.

After finishing the interview with the manager of Revitalize Milwaukee, “I asked her, ‘do you take interns?’” When Rixmann found out they did, she immediately filled out an application and was accepted.

She discovered a passion for the organization’s work – providing free home repairs for low-income seniors, the disabled and veterans. The need is critical, she said.

“When they need a home repair, they have to make a choice that month between paying their mortgage or their electricity and getting the repair done.”

In 2020, the organization worked on 296 homes in Milwaukee and Waukesha and completed 2,292 repairs.

In Rixmann’s work reviewing applications and helping with communications, she has found herself immersed in the personal stories of those who ask for help, ranging from veterans with PTSD to single mothers struggling to keep a roof over their family’s heads.

“The best part of the job is meeting the homeowners. They are amazing and work so hard to keep their homes up in spite of age and disabilities.”

The repairs range from carpentry to plumbing to electrical to installing nonskid flooring for the elderly or accessible toilets and tubs needed by those with disabilities. In Milwaukee, much of the work is done in urban neighborhoods on the north and south sides, predominately with residents of color.

Her internship has helped her better understand some of the abstract concepts she studied in her courses, Rixmann said.

“My background in urban and environmental geography helped me. In this job you see the reality of systemic racism and redlining that kept people in low-income jobs and confined to certain urban neighborhoods with aging housing stock,” Rixmann said.

Nateya Taylor: Digitization and curatorial intern, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Nateya Taylor prepares a camera to take photos of archival objects at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. (Photo by Lia L. Jones)

Nateya Taylor, a graduate student in urban studies, became interested in archival research when she took a class with UWM history professor Amanda Seligman. In looking for an internship that aligned with her research interests, she applied and was accepted for the summer at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

 Located on the National Mall, the museum is the country’s premier institution detailing the history of Black Americans.

“I remember when it opened in 2016,” Taylor recalled. “(It was) my freshman year of college, and I really wanted to go but never had come to visit. So I was like, it’d be so cool to work there.”

As a digitization and curatorial intern, she handled the museum’s archival objects, took photographs of the materials, and then added metadata to the files: the object’s origins, who donated it, its age and a description.

Digitization is important because the process not only makes the museum’s collection available to patrons who may only be able to access these materials virtually, but it also helps preserve archival materials that might be fragile, like a fading photograph or a crumbling piece of paper.

As much as she enjoyed working with older collections, Taylor says the coolest artifact she’s seen in the museum is actually fairly young: “One of the cool things I got to see that the museum has is the Black Panther costume that Chadwick Boseman wore in the Marvel movie. That was just so amazing,” she said.

Taylor’s Smithsonian internship ends in August. She already has another internship lined up for after she returns – this time at America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee.

Sarah Vickery contributed to this report. 

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