Satellite view of farm fields

Program Advantages

Going to graduate school is a big decision. Each year we ask our students why they joined these programs. Here are just a few of their responses.

Cohort-based learning

We believe deep learning and true leadership is best done with a group of peers. Our cohort-based learning approach allows you to:

Conservation happens by working with people, and we start that process by having you learn and work with your peers. Our cohorts will never be more than 30 students because we believe in fostering strong relationships among students and with program staff, instructors, and faculty.

Overhead view of several students in a forest during fall closely examining a research sample.
Five smiling students with laptops at a discussion table.

A final project that is just for you

The MS program culminates with an applied conservation project with a leading organization. This is your program for your professional goals. Therefore, we don’t have a limited set of organizations or projects from you to choose from. Instead, we learn your background and understand your professional aspirations. Together, we identify relevant organizations and through conversations develop a unique and meaningful project that meets your goals and supports the organization’s ongoing work.

Watch this video to hear directly from students about their projects.

View these examples of how we work with every student to develop a leadership project that combines their background, interests, and professional goals.


Connecting wildlife populations through conservation corridors

  • Background: Interested in data visualization to tell conservation stories, particularly of wildlife
  • Goal: Get experience working with large data sets and connections to conservation leaders
  • Assessed automated wildlife alerts using satellite data
satellite view of a city at night

Smart city development

  • Background: Geographic information systems (GIS)
  • Goal: Gain experience with state-of-the-art software and connections to organizations in the geospatial sector
  • Created a geospatial network of pedestrian access routes
open field

Win-win-win solutions for Wisconsin agriculture

  • Background: International development and public relations
  • Goal: Connect geospatial technology to sustainable business management
  • Mapped cover crop adoption from satellite data and farmer surveys
satellite image showing wildfire impacts on air quality

Wildfire and air quality management and threat assessment

  • Background: Software development and data science
  • Goal: Learn about earth observation data and application to environmental issues
  • Created software for mapping air quality impacts from wildfire

Potential of low-impact solar power generation

  • Background: Chemistry and environmental studies
  • Goal: Advance GIS knowledge and gain experience applying data and skills to environmental issues
  • Created land cover map to quantify potential areas suitable for solar panel installation

New tech to map urban environment

  • Background: Geographic information systems (GIS)
  • Goal: Gain more experience with remote sensing data to map and model urban development
  • Developed methods of automated urban area mapping using open-access data and software

Forest drought stress and wildfire risk

  • Background: Environmental science and botany
  • Goal: Get hands-on experience applying geospatial data to answer ecological questions
  • Mapped probability of tree mortality using machine learning algorithms

Loss of critical wildlife habitat in protected areas

  • Background: Electrical engineering and software development
  • Goal: Connect passion for environmental conservation with technical training
  • Quantified habitat loss from road development using satellite data and field surveys

Water quality monitoring and citizen engagement

  • Background: Environmental informatics
  • Goal: Career advancement in the environmental sector
  • Created cloud-based analysis of satellite imagery and water quality data


The professional Master of Science timeline

We offer our programs in an accelerated, 15-month blended curriculum with on-campus and remote experiences. Our goal isn’t to keep you in graduate school forever, it’s to efficiently give you the best training and the strongest network so you can get back out there and advance your career.

Learn more about the program timeline and what you will learn each semester on the Curriculum page.

About 50 students, faculty and staff posing for a group photo in a lush field with trees in the distant background.

The Nelson Institute community

When you are a student in the Environmental Observation and Informatics program, you are a part of the Nelson Institute community. This means you not only have a strong cohort of professional MS students, but also a network of 80 current graduate students across the other MS and PhD programs and certificates, and thousands of alumni that live in Madison and across the world. Here are just some of the experiences you can have when join our community:

The Campus Community

Below are just some of the resources and systems of support to ensure student success as a member of our larger community.