Great outdoors inspires summer course line-up

April 2, 2018

As UW-Madison students anxiously await registration for their summer courses, the Nelson Institute has announced their lineup for anyone interested in courses that are a little different. These courses focus not only on international geography and policy, but also make use of the outdoors as a non-traditional classroom setting to encourage students to explore and engage with the natural world.

While the course “Outdoors for All” doesn’t have an official field component, it does encourage students to make use of the public land system and think broadly about access to the outdoors. James Edward Mills is a prominent outdoors author, filmmaker and manager of his own media site The Joy Trip Project. His course seeks to explore the racial inequities of the environmental conservation movement and the efforts that aim to correct them.

In his reporting, Mills has encountered numerous non-white adventurers and explorers who’ve had previously neglected outdoors recreation because they felt like those spaces weren’t meant for them. As he further explored this issue, he found this was part of a larger historical inequity. He hopes to promote an understanding of why minority groups feel unwelcome and encourage individuals to share their story of why nature matters to them.

“For many years now, I’ve put a great deal of thought into understanding why there is an apparent disparity between those who spend time in nature and those who don’t,” Mills said. “I want to explore this phenomenon in an academic setting with students so that we can perhaps come to a better understanding of what I describe as ‘the adventure gap.’ ”

These courses also have focus on the natural world beyond the United States, with a particular focus on a new international partnership the Nelson Institute has been cultivating with Botswana. “Botswana: Ecology and Environment” is a new course that will focus on an African country seen as a leader in conservation policies. This seminar-type course will explore the ecology of this unique region and consider its past and present policies for preserving its valuable natural heritage. It will be taught by Dr. Cooper Rosin, postdoctoral researcher at the Nelson Institute with experience in Central Africa and the challenges of human populations coexisting with diverse natural ecosystems.

“Conservation work in tropical countries like Botswana is particularly important given that much of Earth's biodiversity is found there,” Rosin said. “Botswana as a nation offers so much potential for us to better understand our natural world and contribute to its preservation, while promoting sustainable development.”

This course also comes at a very opportune time when joint UW-Botswanan projects are currently taking place, as the keynote for the Nelson 2018 Earth Day Conference in April will be presented by the Honorable Tshekdi Khama II, the Minister for Environment, Wildlife and Tourism and Member of Parliament for Botswana.

In addition, several new courses have been introduced to the summer roster, including “Preserving Nature,” “Cultures of Disaster” and “Science and Practice of Prescribed Fire.” These courses range from 1-3 credits of both elementary and intermediate/advanced designations across humanities, literature and biological sciences.

The courses include online options for off-campus students that may be completing an internship or travelling over the summer. Alternatively, there are also opportunities for field exploration of the local outdoors in both the prairie fire course and field ecology laboratory.