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City of Madison Engineering shared one profile a day as it celebrated National Women in Construction Week, March 7-13, 2021.

MADISON, WI – Every beautiful flower, plant and weed you see in the City of Madison starts, of course, from a seed. However, whether that seed was supposed to be there or not, would be something City of Madison Engineering Division Vegetation Coordinator Maddie Dumas would know — it’s her job, and she loves it.

“This was not a job that I grew up thinking I would be doing, but I knew I liked physical hands-on work, and I knew that I Ioved plants,” Dumas said.

Dumas was hired in 2018 to work on the City of Madison’s system of ponds and greenways, which bring stormwater to area lakes.  

“I try to improve the vegetation that grows on them [greenways and ponds], so anything from increasing the amount of native plants to controlling weeds, to planting or removing trees as needed.”

Dumas has always loved plants, for as long as she can remember growing up in a Stillwater, Minn. neighborhood, surrounded by remnant prairies.

“I found there was a lot to explore as a kid, lots of butterflies, lots of fun changing colors throughout the seasons, red grasses in the falls, beautiful blooms in the summer and it just captivated my imagination,” Dumas said.  “That [prairie land] sparked my interest as a kid. We used to see prairie burns right in our back yard.”

Now, it’s Dumas doing the prairie burns for the City, but not before she studied plants as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota. She also earned a graduate degree in landscape architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and then worked for the Madison Audobon Society as the land steward for their Good Pond Sanctuary.  

“I fell in love with our prairies and wetlands and the habitats Wisconsin has,” Dumas said.

Nature may have been a natural fit for Dumas, but it isn’t always for other women when it comes to working in the field and doing physical work.

“I don’t think we always encourage our girls to go out and do the hands-on physical work even though they’re absolutely as capable as anyone else,” Dumas said.

While she feels like she’s growing through opportunity at the City, earlier in her career, Dumas remembers subtle instances where certain skills were expected of her in the field, but may not have been taught to her. Things she might not have been encouraged to learn because she was a woman.

“I am not mechanically inclined. I’m not real good at fixing trucks and tractors. That’s the kind of thing that occasionally came up in jobs, where the tractor broke down when mowing. ‘Can you fix it?’ ‘No, I can’t.’” Dumas said. “There’s a little bit of a feeling of well, if you were a man, you might have those skills. A little bit of a perception of we’re not even going to teach them to you, we’re just going to have them fixed.”

Dumas said when those instances happen, while rare, she takes initiative, something she encourages other women to do if they’re in the same situation.

“I want to know how to fix things. I’ll just ask. I’ll observe. I’ll try it myself when I get the opportunity,” Dumas said.

A change in culture, all possible, with a strong set of skills, a natural love for our City’s green spaces and a breath of literal fresh air, all things Dumas uses to grow in her career.

“I think that’s really what we all need to do, just be a little pushy if we have to, and ask questions, because more often than not, I think it’s unintentional [that people assume you don’t know how to do something] when you ask people, they are interested in what you know.”

No matter if it’s a beautiful native plant on a City prairie or unwanted invasive species, greenways in the City are where strong plants survive and careers like Dumas’ thrive. And it all starts from a simple seed.

City of Madison Engineering shared one profile a day to celebrate National Women in Construction Week, March 8-13, 2021.