Former employee finds path through FP&M

person with short hair and light complexion wearing glasses poses in front of tan blocks of a wall, smiling
Alex Montgomery, a former FP&M Environment Health & Safety employee. Photo by Veronika Dethart

Ever since he was young, Alex Montgomery had an interest in natural science and the human body. This fascination would eventually lead him to the medical field and working for Facilities Planning & Management — and even to places outside his normal comfort zone.

Alex’s journey to FP&M started a little rough. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences in spring 2020, at the onset of the pandemic. As one might imagine, securing a job was tough in that economic landscape and as a result, he moved back home to Sun Prairie.

Soon after this decision, Alex discovered a great opportunity: he successfully interviewed for and joined UW–Madison’s COVID-19 testing program, securing a foot in the door with the university. “I worked with the COVID testing program for about a year and a half,” Alex said. “At the site I managed, there were eight other Covid testers and we would have up to 1,200 people a day. So learning how to coordinate lines and adapt to new changes were a couple things I learned. There were a lot of moving parts to keeping the campus safe.”

person smiling wearing scrubs and holding a gold novelty statue that has googly eyes and a respirator on
“Super Fitter” from Alex’s last day at EH&S

Alex’s experience working for a large-scale operation would soon prove beneficial for his next position: working as a medical assistant in Occupational Medicine. Occupational Medicine falls under the FP&M Environment Health & Safety department (EH&S) and is responsible for providing medical response plans and clinical services to UW–Madison employees and certain students. During his time at the clinic, Alex worked with a variety of patients in the respirator fitting program.

“That [respirator fitting program] was a very large program, about 3,000 members across campus,” Alex said. “I got to talk to a lot of students and employees, particularly FP&M employees, because they need to have respiratory protection for their jobs due to different hazards. This opened my eyes to all the dangers people face while working and the processes required to maintain quality health.”

Alex standing on 15 feet of potatoes at UW-Madison Agricultural Research Station
Atop 15 ft of potatoes at an agricultural research station

While working in the respirator fitting program was his main responsibility, Alex helped with other tasks for EH&S. Highlights included testing the campus cooling towers for harmful pathogens and inspecting food quality at different locations such as Camp Randall. Alex tested 14 towers total, ascending buildings of varying size to get the job done – even though he’s admittedly afraid of heights.

“EH&S had reached out to me for these assignments, and I thought it would be a cool opportunity to diversify my work a little bit,” Alex said. “For me, I always like adventure and trying new things, so each of these were really good opportunities for that.”

Alex’s search for adventure plays a role in his personal life as well. In high school, he and his friends started driving around the Madison area, hunting for interesting locations that held a bit of mystery. These places included cemeteries and other supposedly haunted locales, which Alex’s group explored with nothing but their wits and faulty flashlights, walking through silent forests and faded tombstones after dark.

a cemetary with sun shining through trees at horizon
A Milwaukee cemetery at sunset. Photo by Alex Montgomery

When college rolled around, Alex brought this developing interest with him to Milwaukee, which offered an abundance of new locations to explore. Out of all the asylums, factories and graveyards he’s visited, however, only one place has ever given him a true scare: Governor’s Island, which is really a peninsula on Lake Mendota.

“I remember we had gone there at night, and there was this shipping container near us,” Alex recalled from his 2018 trip. “This container was initially locked and we went behind it to use a Ouija board. When we came back, the container door was wide open, and it felt like someone was watching us from the forest area. That’s when my friends and I took off and ran back to our van.”

These days, Alex still chases adventure when he can, but classes have come to take up most of his free time. In 2023, he left FP&M and enrolled in UW–Madison’s accelerated nursing program, a fast-track program for college graduates interested in making a career change to nursing.

three people in formal wear smile and pose for a photo
Alex with aunt and cousin at the School of Nursing White Coat Ceremony

Alex credits his time at FP&M as an influence for pursuing the 12-month program, in addition to a genuine interest for the medical field and the many opportunities it presents.

“Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be in the medical field,” Alex said, “especially since I like meeting with and helping people. My role in Occupational Medicine gave me the experience to connect with others and help them with their medical needs.”

Alex especially credits Occupational Medicine nurses Patty Perdzock-Haas and Quin Koehl in his decision to return to school, as the two EH&S employees supported him throughout the application process and taught him about the field of nursing. “I chose nursing because I wanted to increase my knowledge of healthcare, explore new opportunities and be more hands-on with patients,” Alex said.

person stands smiling wearing all black with arms folded in front of large sign that reads "Cooper Hall" exterior stone bricks with flowery shrubs in planter below sign
Alex outside Signe Skott Cooper Hall, where he attends class. Photo by Veronika Dethart

Alex is set to graduate from his program in May 2024, and this time, hopefully, he won’t have another pandemic to contend with. Yet whatever challenges come his way, Alex is ready for them. To him, it’s all part of his next great adventure.

By Eric Herbst