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Meet the 2024-25 Future Leaders Fellows

Fellows Cate, Ariana, Cadence, Lily and Sophie standing in front of the Leopold Shack

Each year a new set of passionate young conservationists grace the Aldo Leopold Foundation as members of the Future Leaders Program: a year-long fellowship that provides college graduates the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in land stewardship, leadership, non-profit management, education and communications, and so much more—all while living on the very land that first inspired the Leopolds' revolutionary conservation work.

This year's cohort is a whip-smart bunch, coming to us already versed in conservation ethics and practice. Meet Ariana, Cate, Cadence, Lily, and Sophie, the five bright Fellows giving us hope for the future of conservation.

While a portion of all donor support makes the Future Leaders Program possible, these experiences would not be possible without the generous support of Herb Paaren and Denise Marino, the Pines family, Nate Johnson, the Derse Foundation, the estate of Liz Wywialowski, the Cedar Tree Foundation, Chris and Jacque McKay, Gregory and Ellen Sebasky, and the Hartmann-Oehrlein-Vogel Fund at the Community Foundation for South Central Wisconsin. 

Please contact Susan Kilmer (susan@aldoleopold.org) if you would like to learn more about how you can help create a life-changing experience and invest in the future of the conservation movement.

A headshot of Ariana smiling

Ariana Zimney, Education & Communications Fellow

Hometown: Two Rivers, WI

Studied: Environmental Science & Biology at Northern Michigan University

Favorite essay in A Sand County Almanac: Marshland Elegy or 65290

What are you excited for during the Fellowship?: To share the legacy of the land ethic with visitors and further my understanding of what avenues of conservation are at play at the Foundation, from land stewardship activities to leading Shack tours!

What is your funniest memory from your first month here: Hiking at Devil's Lake and getting down-poured on!

What's your independent project?: E-Newsletter Staff Reporter

What's an interesting thing you've discovered here?: Seeing the difference in blooming timelines by studying the phenology both here and in my hometown has been eye-opening and new!

A headshot of Cate smiling

Cate Nelson, Land Stewardship Fellow

Hometown: Grayslake, IL

Studied: Environmental Science & Studio Art at Norbert College

What are you excited for during the Fellowship?: I’m excited to befriend the plants and the ecosystems here. Knowing the names of plants and recognizing birds by call makes me feel at home.

What is your funniest memory from your first month here?: All of us gathering in the Future Leaders Center to collectively groan at our favorite ridiculous reality TV show. It definitely wasn’t something I expected to do with my coworkers, but it’s so much fun.

What's a natural place you love?: The lakescapes of the Wisconsin Northwoods

What's an interesting thing you've discovered here?: I am getting most of my daily caloric intake from snacking on black raspberries as I wander the property. They’re sweet and delicious and always a joy to see.

What's your independent project?: I’ll be the LPCA Reporter, so will be responsible for the #StewardshipSaturday posts and blog articles that discuss conservation techniques, how the Foundation manages land, and what it’s like to be a land steward!

A headshot of Cadence smiling

Cadence Eischens, Education & Communications Fellow

Hometown: East-central Minnesota, from the Twin Cities to Duluth

Studied: Environmental Studies & Anthropology/Sociology at Knox College

Favorite essay in A Sand County Almanac: Marshland Elegy, because of how it relates to...

What are you excited for during the Fellowship?: ...my independent project, which is...

What's your independent project?: ...Crane Congregation Program Support! I'm stoked to be strengthening my skills in project management and environmental interpretation while sharing the land ethic with other crane and marshland enthusiasts.  

What's a natural place you love?: There's nowhere in the world, for me, like Lake Superior. The lake's kaleidoscope of presences is at once humbling and comforting - I understand my place in the universe from her shores.

What's an interesting thing you've discovered here?: I had no idea the circus was from Baraboo! I enjoyed visiting the Circus World Museum with fellow Fellows Ari and Lily, and taking a hike at Devil's Lake afterwards.

A headshot of Lily smiling

Lily Simko, Land Stewardship Fellow

Hometown: Hope, Idaho

Studied: Environmental Science and Sustainability at the University of Montana

Favorite essay in A Sand County Almanac: I grew up in a home heated with a wood stove, so Good Oak has always resonated with me. I just learned Estella Leopold was the “Chief Sawyer,” which makes me love the essay even more.

What are you excited for during the Fellowship?: I'm so excited to watch the landscape change over the next year. As I’ve started to learn plant names and geologic history, what I am seeing has already shifted. I’m also psyched for burn season!

What is your funniest memory from your first month here?: Pulling knapweed out of a poison ivy patch with mosquitos out for blood—truly glamorous. You’ve got to laugh.

What's a natural place you love?: I'm not sure my affinity for mountains and the illusion of endless space will ever fade. I love the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex in western MT.

What's an interesting thing you've discovered here?: Poison ivy, fireflies, and cheese curds…all new to me!

What's your independent project?: Land Ethics Near and Far. I'll be working with our Land Ethic Manager Carrie and the USFS to develop stories demonstrating land ethics in action beyond Aldo Leopold's work. This project will also include strategizing about how we're engaging the next generation in developing a land ethic.

A headshot of Sophie smiling

Sophie Van Zee, Land Stewardship Fellow

Hometown: Des Moines, IA

Studied: Environmental Science & Sociology at Drake University

Favorite essay in A Sand County Almanac: On a Monument to the Pigeon

What are you excited for during the Fellowship?: To develop my own land ethic, learn about Wisconsin's many environments, and learn how to use a chainsaw!

What's a natural place you love?: Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah

What's your independent project?: Acoustic monitoring of bird species on the LPCA

What's an interesting thing you discovered here?: The mural of Alan Anderson, beloved tour guide and Leopold family friend, on a wall in downtown Baraboo

What is your funniest memory from your first month here?: When we went to visit Lily's horse at the stables and another horse stepped on my toe

You can read the Fellows' full bios on our staff page, and learn more about our Future Leaders Program here.