Students gather on a pier on the shore of Lake Mendota at dusk

Student Life

Community + Academics + Career

From the first day of class through graduation, the Nelson Institute provides a complete experience for our students. Whichever program you choose, you’ll be supported by an inspiring community of like-minded future environmental leaders and a dedicated staff committed to your success.

You Belong at Nelson

A group of diverse students and instructors posing in a photo booth

The Nelson Institute strives for an inclusive, welcoming, and collaborative community of scholars and encourages students to apply to our educational programs regardless of race, national origin, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, political affiliation, or economic class.

Today’s complex environment issues are best understood and solved through familiarity with diverse perspectives. That’s why we’re deeply committed to amplifying underrepresented voices, engaging communities, and addressing issues of environmental justice.

Student Spotlight

From advancing environmental justice to using technology to developing sustainable solutions, our students are working to create a better future for our planet, and they’re doing it from a diverse range of backgrounds, interests, and experiences. Check out how some of our future environmental leaders are making a difference, both locally and abroad.

Find Inspiration from Our Alumni

Nelson Institute graduates are making a difference all over the world, with careers ranging from working on land rights reform to developing climate change solutions. Watch these videos to learn about the many ways in which Nelson alumni are adding to our legacy of leadership in the environmental sciences.

Patricia O’Kane

Environment and Resources, 2015

2022 Alumni Award Recipient

Keefe Keeley

Agroecology (MS and PhD), 2014 and 2021

2022 Alumni Award Recipient

Linda Vakunta

Environment and Resources, 2015

2021 Alumni Award Recipient

Vijay Limaye and Jessica Price

Limaye: Environment and Resources, 2015. Price: Environment and Resources, 2016; Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development, 2010

2021 Alumni Award Recipients

Dan York

Land Resources (PhD), 1991; Land Resources (MS) and Energy Analysis and Policy Certificate, 1987

2021 Alumni Award Recipient

Maria Castillo

Environmental Studies Undergraduate Major, 2017

Finding My Way from Environmental Studies to Urban Health and Planning

Dylan Jennings

Environmental Studies Undergraduate Certificate, 2013; Current Environmental Conservation Student

Tribal Environmental Work

Leela Hazzah

Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development, 2007; Environment and Resources, 2011

Changing Conservation Norms

Emmanuel Urey

Environment and Resources, 2013 and 2018

The Promise of Land Reform

Elizabeth Bagley

Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development, 2008; Environment and Resources, 2011

Climate Solutions for the New Decade

Rich Beilfus

Water Resources Management, 1990; Land Resources, 2002

Restoring the Kafue Flats, Zambia, for People and Wildlife

Stephanie Dresen

Environmental Studies Undergraduate Major, 2015

Exploring Environmental Career Options in Your 20s

John Francis

Land Resources, 1991

Environmental Compassion

Steven Olikara

Environmental Studies Undergraduate Major, 2012

Bipartisan Environmental Action

Sabrina Scull

Environmental Conservation, 2015

Ecological Communication to Equip Our Leaders and Professionals with Quality Science

Steve Ventura

Environmental Monitoring, 1984; Land Resources, 1989

Air, Water, Food, and Community

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Connect with Your Community

Nearly 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students call the Nelson Institute home each year, ready to rise to the challenge of solving Earth’s most urgent environmental problems. Take advantage of the Nelson community by connecting with other Nelson students in class, at student events, or online. Learn more about student leadership opportunities at Nelson or join an environmental student organization on campus.

Students sitting with the dean on the steps of Science Hall

Meet Your Representatives

Each year Nelson Institute undergraduate and graduate students elect leaders to represent their interests in Nelson Institute affairs and plan student community building events. Meet the undergraduate ambassadors and graduate representatives.

Student holding a sign that says,

Student Organizations and Activities

Looking for a group of like-minded, passionate peers dedicated to making a difference? Consider joining an environmentally focused student organization – there are many to choose from.

Group photo of community environmental scholars in a classroom

Community Environmental Scholars Program

The Nelson Institute’s Community Environmental Scholars Program (CESP) brings together environmentally minded people from different philosophies, disciplines, and demographic backgrounds. Community Environmental Scholars are a diverse group of students who want to use their environmental studies education to serve the broader community.

Jim Miller wearing a long-sleeved button-up collared shirt in Badger red, embroidered with the Nelson Institute logo

Get Your Nelson Gear

Show your Badger and Nelson spirit wherever life takes you. Visit our online store to purchase Nelson-branded merchandise, including button-down shirts, fleece, soft-shell vests and jackets, hats, bags, and more. Shop now

Get Social

Have something to share or just want to keep up with Nelson Institute goings-on? Stay connected with the Nelson Institute via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the Nelson Institute Alumni and Friends LinkedIn page.

Student listen intently during a meeting with researcher Holly Gibbs

Research Centers

Students interested in a specific environmental topic can find opportunities in one of our four interdisciplinary research centers.

Support for Success

Looking for academic resources? The Nelson Institute Academic Programs Office is ready to help. Learn more about the undergraduate major and certificates and the graduate degree programs and certificates.

Academic Deadlines

Stay on top of your academic career with these important deadlines.

Students sitting around a table working on their laptops

Scholarships and Funding

Learn more about Nelson Institute scholarships and funding opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students.

Student receiving a scholarship from the dean and donors


Each semester, the Nelson Institute offers undergraduate featured courses on diverse topics including climate change, environmental justice, and ecology.

Closeup of a laptop screen showing a schedule of classes

Preparation for What's Next

Looking for an internship or job? Brainstorming what to do after graduation? Tap into the Nelson Institute’s vast network of resources dedicated to helping you reach the next level, wherever life takes you.

Environmental Jobs Board

Our environmental jobs board features employment opportunities from around the country. New openings are continuously added, and you can sign up to receive email alerts about new postings.

Alumni mingling during a reception at Rendezvous on the Terrace

LinkedIn Alumni and Friends Group

Network with Nelson Institute alumni through our LinkedIn Alumni and Friends group! Watch for job postings, shoutouts, and our Dear Alumni posts featuring advice requests from our students.

Career Services

SuccessWorks at the College of Letters and Science has dedicated services to connect you with the advisors, alumni mentors and employers who can help you explore your interests, try out different occupations, and the land the job or internship of your dreams.

Leveling Up

Whether you are just beginning your college journey or about to launch a professional career, we invite you to “level up” by attending events or viewing short videos to help guide you on your career quest.