Nelson Institute announces endowment for Professor Clarence “Clay” Schoenfeld Scholarship Environmental Education Fund

CESP students participate in a service day at the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Photo: Rob Beattie
CESP students participate in a service day at the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Photo: Rob Beattie

The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies is honored to announce a new $30,000 endowment from donor George R. Affeldt in support of the Professor Clarence “Clay” Schoenfeld Scholarship Environmental Education Fund. The gift will support students in the Nelson Institute Community Environmental Scholars Program (CESP), which is a scholarship-based program designed for students who want to link their passion for the environment with a commitment to the community. 

Affeldt, who has long been an advocate for community-based environmental work, was inspired to donate to CESP as it affords students the opportunity to gain professional experience, explore environmental science through a cohort, and work with environmental organizations on community projects. 

“I hope the beneficiaries will help transform our world by working in their local communities,” Affeldt said. “May they share their love of ecology- both natural and human- with their fellow citizens.”

George Affeldt
George Affeldt

Affeldt, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1986 with a degree in elementary education, is deeply invested in furthering community education and environmental education. A supporter of The Urban Ecology Center, The Riveredge Nature Center, and other environmental education centers near his home in Milwaukee, Wis., Affeldt believes in the power that environmental education can have on an individual and a community.

“My last semester on campus, I took the first inter-college conservation class. The views I learned of Earth and its natural, scientific, and societal processes have influenced my life for over a half-century,” Affeldt said. 

This course, which so deeply impacted Affeldt was taught by Dr. Clarence “Clay” Schoenfeld, for whom the scholarship is named. 

“He was delightful and I admired him because he had a duel appointment with Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology and the School of Journalism. He had the skills of introducing me to a wide variety of professors, scientists, writers, lawyers, etc. The great ones for me were the botany and zoology professors. It was three-credits and I loved going to class.” Affeldt shared. “He made a wide range of students feel welcome.”

After graduating, Affeldt joined the United States Navy, but he says he can recall hearing about the first Earth Day in 1970 and how the things he learned in his inter-college conservation class impacted his thoughts that day. He also decided around that time to add The Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund to his will. 

“What George Affeldt powerfully feels is that if we can’t make the urgent conservation and climate messages relevant to a broader range of communities, and if we can’t diversify the environmental leadership of the future, we’ve had it. At Nelson, we get that too,” said Nelson Institute Dean, Paul Robbins. “That’s why a thoughtful person like George, who received his degree from a different unit on campus, chose to support CESP and the Nelson Institute.”

In addition to Affeldt’s donation to the Nelson Institute, Affeldt has donated to the School of Education Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC). His family also has a long history of supporting UW-Madison initiatives. His father George A. Affeldt was a prominent lawyer, alumnus of the University of Wisconsin Law School, a past President of the Wisconsin Alumni Association, a board member of the UW Foundation, and a member of the UW Athletic Board. Together, Affeldt and his six siblings have made donations in honor of their father and their own experiences at UW-Madison.

“I’ve been able to endow several things and am happy to do so,” Affeldt said. “The donations are part of a connection to the university and a thank you to the university for a great education.”