Welcome, Victoria Wittig!

Save the Dunes is excited to welcome our newest staff member, Victoria Wittig. In true poetic form, Victoria has written the following introduction. May this fun read acquaint you with our newest talent working behind the scenes to save the dunes!

Victoria Wittig is delighted to be the new Project Coordinator for an organization pivotal in preserving the beautiful beaches she grew up inspired by! A quaint family cottage at Porter Beach provided more than a child could ask for during sizzling summer days in the Midwest. The cottage itself was really just for sleeping and eating; every other possible moment was spent at the beach! Early on, she learned to find crinoids, fossilized treasures hidden amongst the incredible variety of beach rocks. She loved swimming out to the ever-shifting sand bar, sometimes to stand on bare sand in the midst of the lake! She also learned that her beloved beach could sing, and thoroughly enjoyed bounding along marking every footfall as a new note in the sands’ song.

Your life is a poem,
Your life is a song.

With a keen eye for nature, Victoria was always puzzled by the presence of the dark, smoky steel mills so close to her beach paradise. As she grew up she also witnessed the dynamic changes in plant community composition in the Dunes south of the beach and became intimately familiar with the incredible diversity of ecosystems nestled into the mosaic of the dune landscape. Indeed, the puzzle of the mills’ presence sitting in stark contrast to the beautiful duneland environment inspired her decision to pursue a degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences from the Urbana campus of the University of Illinois. As an undergraduate on the ecology track, Victoria was as proud as could be to learn that the Dunes were the setting where the concept of plant succession, and later ecological succession, was first defined! The Dunes seemed to be drumming the rhythm to her life.

Your life is a poem,
Your life is a song.
Listen to the sands that sing,
They will guide you on and on.

With an insatiable appetite to learn all there was to know about the environment, Victoria’s academic pursuits took her many places in the United States and abroad. She spent her junior year studying in the premiere Environmental Studies Department of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, where she rejoiced at an opportunity to conduct ecological course work along the sandy duneland shores of southwest Ireland.  Walking from the beach through the marram grass, to the grey dunes to the duneslack, she felt that familiar home-away-from-home sensation that kept her connected to her deep roots in the Dunes. 

Your life is a poem,
Your life is a song.
A succession of changes,
The plants chart your way.

During these formative years, she became acutely aware of pressures on the global environment and participated in student-led demonstrations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 6th meeting in The Hague. From that point forward, climate change impacts on the environment took center stage - she needed to learn the scientific basis so she could be an agent of positive change and enact solutions as an environmental professional.

Your life is a poem,
Your life is a song.
The communities are assembled,
The connections are deep.

To that end, she completed a Ph.D. that examined the impacts of rising carbon dioxide and tropospheric ozone on the growth and productivity of trees, and gained expertise on how ozone, or ground-level smog, impacts the health and vitality of trees. It is no surprise to her that she developed expertise on ozone pollution; she has a permanent image of smoke stacks in her mind from countless day-dreamy days looking west and waiting to see the sun set behind Chicago from the Dunes. Her thesis research resulted in the three first-authored publications, which are highly cited manuscripts still relevant today! Her research was supported by the Department of Energy’s Global Change Education Program; an outstanding Fellowship opportunity that connected her to global change research across the United States and beyond.

Your life is a poem,
Your life is a song.
Test your foundation;
Continue your growth.

Following a post-doctoral climate modeling project that integrated ozone impacts into physiological models of photosynthesis, Victoria was compelled to change the course of her career during the push to pass comprehensive federal climate change legislation and entered into science-policy work in Washington, D.C. Trained by some of the leading organizations in the field including The Union of Concerned Scientists, The Pew Charitable Trusts and as a Christine-Mirzayan Science and Technology Fellow at The National Academies, she was on her way. 

Your life is a poem,
Your life is a song.
Resilience is a balance;
Protect what is fragile.

Shortly thereafter, Victoria was selected from thousands of global applicants as one of 18 new Junior Professional Program Officers for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. She was posted in the Maldives, a small-island state on the front lines of climate change impacts in the Indian Ocean. Informed by her experience in the Dunes, Victoria worked with resident UN agencies as part of the Maldives’ United Nations Country Team to develop low-emission, climate resilient development projects to preserve the fragile Maldivian coral atolls. During her tenure in the Maldives, she again felt the wisdom of the Dunes as she struggled to reconcile the beauty and fragility of coastal habitats surrounded by mounting development pressures intensified by the dangers from climate change.

Your life is a poem,
Your life is a song.
Fluttering by are our sacred butterflies;
Ancient wisdom on the wind.

Upon returning to the United States, Victoria pursued opportunities to become engaged in sustainable community initiatives in her hometown, which to her delight resulted in “Earth Wise” outreach programming at the Park Forest Public Library and an Adjunct Professorship in Biology at Prairie State College. Victoria enjoyed her work immensely, including developing native gardens to enhance local biodiversity and increase public awareness of the wonderful world right outside one’s doorstep. She is most proud of successfully raising and releasing monarch and black swallowtail butterflies with her community and is hooked as a butterfly mom for life. The pollinators are precious members of our community and they need our help. Planting with purpose for local biodiversity is a mission Victoria has gladly accepted.

Your life is a poem,
Your life is a song.
Sing the song of your heart;
Walk with your feet in the singing sands.

Coming to Save the Dunes as the new Project Coordinator threads the needle through Victoria’s personal and professional development back to the place that inspired it all. She is thrilled that her pursuit for scientific understanding of the challenges facing fragile environments, such as the Dunes, and her skills to preserve, protect and restore its unparalleled biodiversity, have come full circle. Embodying all that is “Earth Wise” at the Park Forest Public Library taught her that life is a poem. The Dunes have taught her that life is a song! She looks forward to many new days full of brilliant possibilities to cherish and to Save the Dunes.

Onward!