Strategic Plan

Mission and Vision


The Nelson Institute advances education, research, decision-making, and public engagement. We foster the next generation of leaders in sustainability and engage in scholarship to protect and preserve the environment. We are an interdisciplinary community of knowledge and practice: artists and engineers, historians and chemists, sociologists and climate scientists, ecologists and hydrologists.


We will be leaders in helping stem the tide of global species extinction, reversing runaway climate change, and adapting to a changing planet. We will address these challenges by bringing justice, equity, and inclusivity to the forefront of environmental problem-solving.

View the complete strategic plan

Institutional Values


  • We foster an open, exciting, welcoming, and disruptive setting to help faculty, staff, and students thrive, invent, learn, and engage diverse publics in whole new ways.
  • We make the Nelson Institute the premier destination for thinkers and doers, as well as the go-to site for communities and partners who need new ideas and solutions for problems.


  • We create partnerships that connect our campus with Indigenous, local, national, and global communities, organizations, and businesses, and other institutions of higher learning.
  • We invest in units and knowledge communities across our campus to make the University of Wisconsin–Madison a stronger, more innovative, and more effective place for environmental scholarship and action.


  • We seek to make environmental education and problem-solving available to everyone, from the sovereign Native Nations of our region to the small towns of our state, by starting from community needs, learning from diverse experiences, and listening to disparate voices.
  • We foster encounters between wide-ranging ideas, communities, and practices that would otherwise remain isolated.


  • We build and maintain a welcoming campus space for students, staff, and faculty to convene around a common concern for environment and sustainability.
  • We create positive learning and working environments; we respect and support each other; we listen and learn from each other.

Strategic Directions and Investments


Establish the Nelson Institute as an inclusive, cohesive, and purpose-centered community.


Launch and maintain extensive, successful, and widespread community, government, and corporate partnerships.


Create an inclusive environment where all members of our diverse Nelson community feel valued, respected, supported, and celebrated.

Education and Student Experience

Provide superlative interdisciplinary teaching and learning, experience, and training for Nelson students.


Generate high-impact scholarship — supported by external grants and gifts — with relevance and value to the public and external stakeholders.


Enhance and focus Nelson’s brand and identity.