Women in Construction 2023: Emily Jorgensen
For any basic person, names like “Agastache scrophulariaefolia” or “Asclepias incarnata” may not come naturally when it comes to knowing what they mean. For Engineering’s Conservation Technician Emily Jorgensen, it’s second nature to know what these names mean, how they translate to more common names and how they benefit the urban environment.
“I didn’t always pay attention to the plants I was looking at, but I knew I enjoyed being outdoors,” Jorgensen said. “I spent my elementary and middle school years in Hong Kong, which is a concrete jungle.”
Jorgensen said her family would come to Wisconsin to visit family in the summer to escape the Hong Kong mid-summer heat.
“We were always just so excited because it was so easy to breath here,” Jorgensen said. “There were so many wide-open areas, we could just run around and be kids.”
After six years, Jorgensen’s family would make the trip to stay for good in Wisconsin, and her love for the Midwest’s native flora and its importance for wildlife was sparked while attending volunteer days at Pheasant Branch Conservancy. She then continued at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Jorgensen earned a degree in Environmental Studies and Mandarin Chinese.
“I started really learning my plants after I finished university,” Jorgensen said. “I was out in the field working which was the ideal classroom for me. Field work kept me going and kept me excited because every week you’re out in the field and something different is blooming.”
After college, Jorgensen was a Prairie Partner intern with the Madison Audubon Society, then held a position with Goose Pond Conservancy doing seed collection and processing. Then, Jorgensen worked an internship with Lakeshore Nature Preserve as an invasive species specialist before working for a private company named Good Oak Ecological Services focusing on prescribed burning.
In 2019, Jorgensen earned an internship as a conservation intern with the City of Madison Engineering Division where she could use everything she learned so far and apply it to working on the City’s stormwater conveyance land in the field.
“I definitely noticed more males working in the field, but especially in Madison, there are a lot of females working in restoration ecology. A lot of those females are people I look up to and learn from, like the City’s Greenway Vegetation Coordinator Madeline Dumas and Good Oak Ecological Service’s Senior Project Manager, Raluca Allen,” Jorgensen said.
Growing in the field with strong leaders has helped Jorgensen hone in on her skills as a restoration ecologist while working with the challenges of doing this in urban areas.
“Just watching them be confident in their roles, helped me to trust myself and realize that I may not be perfect, but I can always pursue the knowledge and become an expert in whatever I need to, even if that means conducting my own field experiments to see what works,” Jorgensen said.
Integrating green spaces into urban areas can be difficult, something she’s been familiar with since she was young.
“So in Hong Kong there was a lot of concrete, but then all of the sudden, at the edge of a road a steep cliff side would drop off and it would be jungle. That land wasn’t able to support urban development and often had trail systems running through it, were really beautiful and felt so good escape to. These areas were so important to the quality of life for myself and many Hong Kong residents,” Jorgensen said.
From China, to Madison, Wis., both have challenges and opportunities for ways to integrate habitat into urban spaces.
“It’s not a one or the other scenario, it doesn’t have to be just concrete or just natural areas, we can merge those two together,” Jorgensen said. “It helps people’s relationship with their surroundings and with nature as well.”
Even though knowing native species names doesn’t come as second nature to most of us, one thing is for certain, appreciation is universal, and for Jorgensen it’s why working at the City of Madison is a natural fit for her plant knowledge and love for the environment, even as she continues to grow.
The City of Madison is highlighting the work of five women during National Women in Construction Week March 5-11,2023.
- Hannah Mohelnitzky, City of Madison Engineering Division, firstname.lastname@example.org