Alumni Spotlight: Liz Dengate

Emily Canosa
Release Date: 

Although the UM Sustainable Food Program formed in 2012, we already have alumni doing impressive things in the world!

Each week this fall, UMSFP will be featuring Q&A with a different alumnus about what they were up to during their time at UM, what they're involved with now, and favorite UMSFP memories. Each of the alumni we're featuring are happy to have current UMSFP students get in touch with them. We hope that these "Alumni Spotlights" will help folks learn about what kinds of opportunities are out there, and get connected!

Our first Alumni Spotlight features Liz Dengate, who now works at the Minnesota Zoo. Read more about Liz below.


Liz Dengate with armadillo

How were you involved with UMSFP?
I was part of the original masters' project group that created UMSFP and the campus farm, along with many partners, and served as a Project Manager as part of that project during 2011-2013. 

What were you studying at UM, and what year did you complete your studies?
I received an M.S. in Conservation Ecology through SNRE in 2013. I also went to UM for undergrad, and graduated in PitE in 2009. 

What did you do after you finished your studies?
After undergrad, I completed an internship with the Sierra Club in Detroit, and two Student Conservation Association internships (in northern California and on Isle Royale.) I spent six months in New Zealand, and then another season at Isle Royale as a paid park ranger. Then I went back to grad school - and founded UMSFP with the best masters' project team ever! Since grad school, I've completed more seasons with the National Park Service, and am currently a community education coordinator at the Minnesota Zoo. I also volunteer for the Sierra Club, taking kids on outings, and teach dance classes for fun.

If you are working now, please let us know where (workplace name and city) and what do you do there.
I work at the Minnesota Zoo, just outside of the Twin Cities. It’s a big zoo with a lot of land that does a lot of conservation work, outreach, nature programming, and partnering with the community, which I love! I develop new education programs, write curriculum, ensure all programs have a relevant conservation message, teach, lead trips, train staff, schedule programs, and much more!

How is food a part of your life now?
I have a rich backyard garden that is always teaching me things, and lots of food-wise friends that I love to cook with. I often incorporate sustainable food messages into my education programs at work, including incorporating our big vegetable garden on-site, and discussing our sustainable seafood program.

Do you think your experiences with UMSFP influenced, inspired, or prepared you for what you do now in any way? If so, let us know how.
My experiences with UMSFP provided me with inexpressibly valuable experience. I'm constantly drawing on the lessons I learned while developing and managing the program. I gained so many new skills in communication, leadership, fundraising and grantwriting, social media and marketing, leading meetings, and much more. I also gained an amazing network of inspiring, hardworking connections who I am constantly reaching out to. I loved my time with UMSFP, working hard as part of a spectacular team, and it's a glowing feeling I carry with me. 

Do you have any favorite or notable UMSFP memories?
I loved making soil "snow" angels, wielding enormous tools, lifting friends in a cacophony of arms, and the many times we sent 50+ emails back and forth in the space of a few hours, makin' it happen. I love remembering listening to bluegrass on our new space during the first Harvest Festival. And one of my most poignant memories is of one of our very first brainstorming meetings in a classroom on the first floor of Dana, where we all looked at each other and the ideas we had all scrawled over the whiteboard and said, "Guys. We're gonna do this." More than four years later, in the hands of some incredible new leaders, that legacy of doing it and doing it right lives on.

Is there anything else you want to share?
I want to thank all of the amazing students, staff, and faculty who have put hours of hard work, manual labor, creativity, and insight into this work.

If you are willing to have UMSFP students contact you with questions about their careers or the work that you do, please enter your contact information below.
Yes! I welcome all questions.