Liberal arts grounding leads Michael Timm ’04 to seek to change the world

There was something about Ripon College that captured the attention of a young Michael Timm ’04 while sorting through college mailers. He found a “charm” in the private college which prompted a visit.

“I visited the campus and liked the feel of the place, the casual humility of the people,” he says. “I interviewed with Paul Axelrod, then chair of the anthropology department, who would later become my adviser. I liked him. It was also clear he liked me.

“Going to Ripon meant I quickly became an integral part of a small community, for better or worse, and that led to bonds, relationships and responsibilities that made me grow as a human being,” Timm says.

He also was offered a Pickard Scholarship that put Ripon financially on par with his other top choice, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Ripon offered the opportunity to participate in an intimate community that would challenge me socially,” he says.

At Ripon, Timm majored in anthropology and English and was on the editorial board of the College Days student newspaper. “I learned how communities functioned, how all politics is local, and how to slog through perspectives and details to formulate a story. I learned to listen, inquire, critique, think, and write for public audiences,” he says.

His passion for journalism stemmed into a career, as he worked as a contributor, assistant editor and eventual editor of Bay View Compass, an independent monthly newspaper serving Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood and surrounding communities. He also has written business history books and managed a suite of niche writing, editing and design clients.

He went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences in 2013. He now manages the Milwaukee Water Stories program for the small entrepreneurial nonprofit Reflo Sustainable Water Solutions. “We’re changing the world by creating urban green infrastructure projects that rewrite Milwaukee’s water story,” he says.

On weekends, Timm works at the reference desk at the Cudahy Family Library, a side job he picked up during graduate school but has kept because he enjoys the people and believes in the mission.

“Since graduating Ripon in 2004, I have worked as a freelance writer with the mission to engage and connect diverse audiences,” Timm says. “What that has meant has evolved over the years. I have been fortunate to further diversify my work while concentrating on my interests and passions. That means engaging the public, particularly young people, about the ways humans and water connect. …

“My study of anthropology and English at Ripon shed insight into the power of narratives to shape reality. Storytelling has the power to normalize patterns of behavior. Storytelling provides a sense of meaning about why things are the way they are and how we can change them. Stories are positive feedback mechanisms that can reverberate through culture. We are consciously changing the world by rewriting our city’s water story.”

He says that as time passes, “what remains most resonant in memory is the indelible symphony of people we knew: friends, colleagues, teachers. Some are now gone but live on in our hearts and the best angels of our work.”

Check out this short one-minute video about Timm’s work.


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