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VIP Spotlight: Ms. Madison Burke

Good Morning Watershed Explorers! Today's VIP Spotlight is on an environmental educator that I only recently met, but one whom I already admire. She has outstanding knowledge about the environment and is working hard to educate Rhode Islanders about our waste! Please enjoy learning more about Ms. Madison Burke.

What is your title, and can you provide a brief job description?

I am the Education and Outreach Manager at Rhode Island Resource Recovery where I develop public programs in support of waste reduction, recycling, composting, and proper waste disposal for the state of Rhode Island.

How long have you been in your current position, and what did you do previously?

I recently joined Resource Recovery in December of 2019. It has been a wonderful, although unconventional, few months due to COVID-19.  Prior to working at Resource Recovery, I spent several years as a community planner at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Volpe Center where I worked on topics related to infrastructure resilience and environmental permitting and policy. During this time I expanded my interest in waste management through special projects. What is your educational background? What degree/s, classes, or continuing education help you to be successful in your work? 

I hold a bachelor’s degree in Communications and a dual master’s degree in Regional Planning and Sustainability Science from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. The courses that I liked the most and best prepared me for my job were ones that challenged me to take what I had learned in the classroom and apply it in my own community. I encourage all students to take advantage of opportunities that provide them with hands on learning experiences. It is a great way to expand your knowledge and tends to be more fun than studying a text book.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is interacting with Rhode Islanders! Whether it is giving a presentation, facility tour, or fielding a call from a resident I love being out in the community and providing information on reducing, reusing, and recycling. 

What is one aspect of your job that would surprise other people?

I know when I first joined Resource Recovery, I was surprised with how many strange items have come through the Materials Recycling Facility. We have had grenades, toys, half eaten birthday cake, and even a frozen boa constrictor! These items not only contaminate our mixed recycling stream but they put our workers in harms way. It is so important that Rhode Islanders follow the basic mixed recycling guidelines.

When you were a kid, did you like school?

I did! The combination of learning, being around friends, participating in extracurricular activities and sports, and being challenged to try new things made school a really exciting place for me. While I loved school, it also came with its fair share of challenges and failures that I had to grow from. I can look back now and see how that difficult class, failed test, or uncomfortable social interaction helped me become a more resilient person.

What was your favorite subject?

This is a tough question, I always had a hard time picking my favorite subject when I was younger because I really did and do enjoy learning about all topics! I was very interested in the sciences and understanding how the natural world works, but I have to admit I had to work harder in biology, chemistry, and physics than I did in say an English class, which came more naturally. But I liked the challenge. I think that is why Environmental Education is so appealing to me. It provides an opportunity to apply so many subjects and requires you to critically think about the connection between social, ecological, economic, cultural, and political issues.

Do you have any special talents?

This doesn’t fall under the “special talent” category but I think I am a pretty adventurous person and always up for a new experience. I have gone cliff jumping, sky-diving, white water rafting, and tubing through a cave.  

Do you have a favorite quote or comment by a student or visitor to RIRRC about your work that you could share?

I don’t have a favorite quote just yet, but during the presentations and tours I have given thus far it is great to see kids and adults alike become excited about learning where their “stuff” goes. Their commitment to being more thoughtful when disposing of their waste and excitement about recycling properly is extremely motivating.

Is there, or was there a person in your life who inspired your career journey? What was it about that person that inspired or inspires you?

I can distinctly remember being assigned a book report as a child and choosing the story of Amelia Earhart. Not only was she a courageous flyer and adventurer who has become one of the most successful female aviators in history, but her overall ambition and passion for her craft was so inspiring. After finishing that book report, I knew I was wanted to find my own version of flying and apply the same drive and persistence.  While there are many others that have and continue to inspire my career journey, I will always credit A.E. for inspiring me to dream big, work hard, and push through conventional boundaries.

Words to live by: Do you have a favorite quote, or saying that you could share that would help to inspire today's students?

“The environment, after all, is where we all meet, where we all have a mutual interest.  It is one thing that all of us share. It is not only a mirror of ourselves, but a focusing lens on what we can become.” – Lady Bird Johnson

Thanks for reading my friends! If you are interested in learning more about Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, please check out this link

Happy Exploring,

Mrs. Morissette

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