Sustainability and Well-Being Certificate Helps Air Force Veteran Become Community Leader While Pursuing Art Career 

Tiffany Stronghart May 9, 2024
paintbrushes on a canvas

Tayler Roal, who completed the Sustainability and Well-Being Certificate through the Universities of Wisconsin, has already put his education to use as a local artist who creates media using sustainable materials and as a member of the Sustainable Neenah Committee. The committee promotes sustainability measures in Neenah, Wisconsin, while increasing public awareness about programs and services to reduce waste and maximize energy efficiency. 

Tayler Roal pictured with his landscape paintings on conk.Tayler is an Air Force veteran with a service-connected disability. He is working toward a Master of Fine Arts degree through the University of Wisconsin-Stout. He has Veterans Administration (VA) benefits to use throughout the duration of his master’s program. Knowing his benefits will end once he submits his thesis (which he’s currently completing), he wanted to maximize his educational opportunities by finding courses that would lead to a certificate. He also wanted to find courses that align with his thesis.

“I wanted a certificate, and I wanted it to be something important,” Tayler says. “And that’s what sustainability encompasses, and it’s what I’m writing my thesis about.” 

Tayler, who loves foraging for mushrooms, also created a series of landscape paintings on artist’s conk that are currently on display at the VA Hospital in Neenah. 

“Artist’s conk grows on paper white birch trees and it actually kills the birch tree over time,” he says. “After collecting a lot of them, I had the idea [to paint them]. I’ve even had to climb some crazy trees to get the bigger ones. And once I did that, I’m like, well, I’ve got to do something with this now. I just kind of had a moment of enlightenment.”

In his thesis, Tayler addresses how creative practitioners need to do more for the environment. With his own paintings, he thought about using a sustainable canvas because of its biodegradable nature, and came up with painting outdoor scenes on the conk. 

“I’m a very peaceful person. Every summer, I go camping for at least four weeks. I take a four-week trip to the lake. And this lake is very personal to me. I wanted other people to appreciate it – a break from the mundane lifestyle. This is that place that I go to get that break. And it makes me a happier person. I wanted to share that with other people.” 

“My whole house is practically like a museum. I’ve got so much art everywhere. I just want to keep creating. And maybe one day I’ll actually be good at selling or directing or something, making some awesome art.”

While Tayler’s ultimate goal is to become an art director, he is intrigued by sustainability, particularly the United Nations SDG goals. He’s also interested in clean water, sanitation, avoiding microplastics, and the triple bottom line (people, planet, profit). 

The intersection of art and sustainability is what Tayler hopes to focus on in the future, and it’s what fuels him to keep working.

“I think [about] challenging creative practitioners to do more for the environment. If they’re only doing one of the SDG goals, maybe they should do more. I just think that there is the opportunity to do more for the environment, the planet, for everything. It’s interesting how interior designers and artists and package designers can all implement sustainability in different ways.”

He is employed by Amazon as well as a number of side jobs while he works on his health and his education. Getting his master’s degree is a priority, and because of the flexible online environment the Universities of Wisconsin certificate programs offer, he was able to complete his courses without feeling overwhelmed.

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As part of his coursework, Tayler created a plan for how downtown Neenah could be more sustainable. The committee meets once a month, and he’s applied ideas directly from the SMGT 750: The Built Environment course, which is part of the certificate curriculum. Dr. Amanda Goetsch, program manager for the Sustainable Management master’s and bachelor’s degree programs, helped him realize how he could further his role as a sustainability leader. 

“She was a great influence for me getting on that committee and trying to be more proactive in my community,” he says. 

Tayler Roal's landscape paintings on conk.The committee recently sold 50-gallon barrel drums for rainwater collection. The drums, donated by the local fire department, are great for community members interested in gardening or anyone looking to save water.

“They actually had a tutorial on how to set the picket and the parts to the bucket so you can get the water out of them a lot easier and collect the water in there. And they were able to sell those very cheap to anyone in the community that wanted them until they were gone. And that was pretty cool, especially for growing your plants and all that so you’re not using as much of the water at home,” he says. 

He also worked on the mobile app, Better Bin, with his committee. The app serves Winnebago, Outagamie, and Brown counties. It helps locals find places they can recycle or dispose of their products, like batteries or other materials. 

“If you’re unsure of a certain item that should go in the recycling–and people do this all the time–you can scan it on this app and it will tell you, oh, you can’t put that in the recycling. Or if you have a battery, and you have to take that to the Best Buy battery drop-off. I think that app is beneficial for people to understand whether their waste is recyclable or not.”

Are you interested in earning a certificate through the Universities of Wisconsin, such as Sustainability and Well-Being? Click here to learn more about the curriculum, faculty, and how to contact an enrollment adviser. 

Programs: Sustainability and Well-being