Capstone Courses

The environmental studies capstone course (Envir St 600) is a required component for students completing our major. Priority is given to students declared in the environmental studies major.

Fall 2020 Capstone Courses

Section 001: Evaluating Sustainability through Life Cycle Assessment: A Campus-Based Approach
Tim Lindstrom
Wednesdays and Fridays, 2:30-3:45 p.m.

Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Most of the natural systems on our planet adhere to this circular narrative where every ending is a new beginning. The narrative becomes more complicated in the case of human systems, where what happens between the ashes and the dust can make all the difference. From cradle to grave, every product or process has a sustainability story filled with choices, tradeoffs, and consequences. These stories unfold every day in our lives and on our UW-Madison campus with profound implications for the long-term viability of our species and the planet. These stories also largely go unnoticed and untold.

In this course, we’ll learn how to decipher and communicate these stories to others through the practice of life cycle assessment. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a methodological approach to sustainability science that considers the full measure of resources used and waste created throughout the cradle-to-grave supply chain of a product or process. LCA methods incorporate systems thinking practices and relate to the broader concepts of industrial ecology and the circular economy. The course will explore foundational approaches to LCA and apply the practice to institutional decision-making at UW-Madison. Students in the course will partner with campus stakeholders to evaluate the sustainability of an ongoing or proposed initiative as part of a semester-long project that culminates in a deliverable LCA report.

Section 002: Last Child in the Park: How Kids and Birds Can Save the Planet
Anke Keuser
Wednesdays, 7:30-9:30 a.m. and 2:15-5:15 p.m.
To enroll, please contact Anke Keuser (

We will be working hand in hand with staff at Madison's Sherman Middle School to provide a nature study program to 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students. A high percentage of Sherman ethnically diverse students live in poverty. The school is making herculean efforts to meet student needs by providing after-school programming. Our class helps the school meet those needs by pairing UW students as after-school mentors with a Sherman student. Every Wednesday morning from 7:30-9:30am, our UW class meets for an introduction to basic field ornithology in the Lakeshore Preserve. No experience is necessary. Bird identification is a satisfying skill to acquire and birds are a beautiful portal to better understanding and appreciation of the biophysical world. You will learn how to identify Wisconsin's most common birds by sight and sound, then you will teach that skill to your middle school student "co-explorer." Every Wednesday afternoon from 2:15-5:15pm, we meet as a class at Sherman Middle School on Madison's Northside (free transportation provided by the university). Together with Sherman's Nature Explorers Club, we walk as a group to Warner Park. We spend the afternoon exploring to learn what the park and its landscape and wild creatures have to teach us, and what we all have to teach each other. We do some group activities like planting prairie seeds, birdwatching and fort-building. At the same time you will be paired with a Sherman middleschooler as "co-explorers"; in a nature-mentoring relationship. You will help your Sherman co-explorer develop academic and social skills while building an awareness of and appreciation for the natural resources of Warner Park. And your co-explorer will teach you what he or she already knows about their wonderful park and its furred, finned and feathered residents. For a press account of this work, see this article in the Capital Times.

Here is an opportunity to be the change you want to see in the world.

It is critical that you are able to attend both sessions consistently. Establishing a solid relationship with the Sherman students is extremely important, and you must be there for that relationship to develop. Attendance is 50% of your grade.

Section 003: Soil Management
Professor Nick Balster
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 12:05-12:55 p.m.
Meets-with Soil Sci 499

A capstone applying independent and team problem solving, critical thinking and oral and written communication skills to issues in soil and environmental sciences.

Section 004: Conservation: How organizations work to promote it
Professor Paul Zedler and Cooper Rosin
Thursdays, 2:25-4:55 p.m.

While still under development, this capstone class will be jointly taught by Prof. Paul Zedler and Dr. Cooper Rosin. We are both conservation biologists/ecologists in our teaching and research. We intend to use this class to further your understanding of conservation related issues and hope to partner with a conservation organization on a joint project. You will be expected to come together as a class to propose the exact project after we have spent some time discussing possibilities, and we will aim for one final, interdisciplinary product to be jointly written and edited by the class.