Alexis Sienczak is a senior Geography and Biology double major. Besides being heavily involved on campus in a large number of organizations, Sienczak organized the Minnesota River Biosphere conference.
This conference, which took place on Nov. 14, is part of her effort to make the river valley into a biosphere reserve.
In January of 2018, Sienczak won the Wallenberg Internship Award. While abroad in Sweden, Sienczak had to decide what project she wanted to work on.
She first looked at the environmental problems facing Sweden. However, she wanted a project that she could take home to Minnesota. Her host father lived on a biosphere reserve, with a focus on sustainable ecotourism.
She decided that she wanted to try to create a biosphere reserve in Minnesota. Right now, there are only about twenty biosphere reserves in the U.S. and most of those are in national parks. These are drastically different than the reserves in places like Sweden where people live and work on the reserves.
The prairie biome is not commonly found in Europe, so our local ecology would give Minnesota a unique contribution. Ideally, Sienczak says the biosphere would stretch from Fargo to the Twin Cities.
The conference consisted of several lectures from a panel for the first part of the day, including Sienczak giving a talk, and workshops during the second half. The goal of the conference was to introduce the concept of a biosphere and create a committee of local members. Present at the conference were Gustavus students, local farmers, members of the Minnesota DNR, and more.
Outside of organizing the conference, Sienczak has been very involved on campus during her four years. She was a member of the swim team during her first two years, was a big partner in the “Big Partner, Little Partner” program, and was involved in Building Bridges.
“I didn’t really find my place being involved in all of these clubs, and so I made my own”, Sienczak said in regard to the biosphere conference. “Through all of this experience I learned a lot of things. I learned more about myself, I learned when to quit, and I learned when to say ‘no’. I also learned how to be a kid, and not get bogged down by life.”
Sienczak also works in the library. One of her coworkers, Jeannie Peterson, says: “Sienczak is a self-driven, ambitious student employee who repeatedly gives one-hundred percent to her job. She is flexible, approachable and sees the best in people and the world around her.”
Sienczak said her goals have changed drastically during her time in college. She was intending to study biology with geography as a minor but realized the importance of geography as a field and decided to double major. After she graduates, she would like to find a job working with a nature conservancy.
“Geography is a lot more than just maps,”Sienczak said.She has been particularly interested in studying urban geography. Her favorite quote is from Ronald Horvath: “People in university have a sense of scale but no sense, communities have sense but no sense of scale.”
With her remaining time at Gustavus, Sienczak says she wants to leave it all on the table. While originally being anxious about leaving college, she is excited to have another story to start. “Life won’t happen until you start it,” Sienczak said.