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.

Spring 2021 Capstone Courses

Section 001: Fostering Nature Appreciation in Middle Schoolers in a Virtual World
Anke Keuser
Hybrid: Mondays, 7:30-9:30 a.m. (in-person) and Mondays, 2:30-5:30 p.m. (online)
To enroll, please contact Anke Keuser (

We will be working hand in hand with Madison's Sherman Middle School to provide a virtual 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 Sherman students.

Every Monday morning from 7:30-9:30am, our UW class meets for an introduction to environmental experiential teaching techniques, and basic field ornithology in the Lakeshore Preserve. We also utilize this time to prep nature activities for our virtual afternoon session with Sherman Middle School. 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.

Monday afternoon from 2:30-5:30pm, we meet as a class at Sherman Middle School’s virtual forum. Together with Sherman's Nature Explorers Club, we explore aspects of urban nature. We spend the afternoon exploring through activities you will design for our Sherman co-explorers what each of us has discovered throughout the week. We do some group activities as well as small group meetings through a virtual forum provided by Sherman Middle After School.

You will help your Sherman co-explorers develop academic and social skills while building an awareness of and appreciation for the natural resources their neighborhood has to offer. And your co-explorer will teach you what he or she already knows about their neighborhood nature and feathered residents. 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.

Section 002: Evaluating Sustainability through Life Cycle Assessment: A Campus-Based Approach
Tim Lindstrom
In-person: 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 003: Ecology and Conservation with Native Nations in Wisconsin
Jessie Conaway
Online: Mondays and Wednesdays, 1-2:15 p.m.

Be the change! Work with Native Nations in Wisconsin on issues such as water conservation, climate change adaptation, cultural landscape preservation, and environmental health. Learn about how conservation and stewardship in Tribal communities are guided by Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and western science.

Students in this capstone will learn first-hand about indigenous environmental philosophy and practice. Integrating ecology, water resource management, environmental health, mapping, and science communications. We will work directly with Tribal members on projects that will be useful to them as they shape environmental policies that protect their cultures and their homelands. Student commitment to this partnership and process is central to this course.

To enroll, please contact Jessie Conaway ( with a few sentences describing your interest in cross-cultural experiences, and commitment to community-based and project-based learning. Include your major(s) and year in school.

Section 004: Air Pollution and Equity in an African City
Aleia McCord and Dorothy Lsoto
Online: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:30-10:45 a.m.

We cannot escape the air we breathe. Air pollution kills over seven million people each year. What causes this pollution? How and who does it kill? Does economic growth necessarily cause a decline in air quality? How do civil servants, political leaders, business owners, and civil society advocates conceptualize air pollution, and how can they work together to protect both the health of their communities and the vibrancy of local economies?

No single person or discipline can address such complex questions. In this capstone, you will be asked to apply the entirety of your transdisciplinary environmental studies education to understanding the air quality challenges facing one of Africa’s fastest growing and most dynamic cities: Kampala, Uganda.

We will work with Ugandan civil servants, politicians, researchers, and entrepreneurs to understand how local leaders translate theoretical concepts about public health and economic growth into action. We will explore the history of urbanization, the emergence of air pollution as a public health threat, the promise and peril of new technologies, and the existing and proposed public policies that directly impact air quality in Kampala. We will work to understand the chemical signatures of the four major sources of air pollution in Kampala, the ecological and health impacts of each of these pollutants, and the ways in which each pollutant differentially impacts vulnerable populations.

Students will work together in small interdisciplinary teams with Ugandan experts to analyze the relative risks of industrial, household, waste-associated, and transportation-related air pollution. This course is appropriate for students of all disciplinary backgrounds. Please be prepared to contribute your unique knowledge and disciplinary expertise to our learning community.

Section 005: Environmental Justice and Indigenous Communities
Professor Grace Bulltail
Online: Tuesdays, 2:25-4:55 p.m.

Indigenous communities often contain vast natural resources and members have little authority to act as effective land stewards. As a result of resource extraction, these communities experience environmental degradation and are disproportionately impacted by climate change, environmental injustice, and health disparities. This environmental capstone course will center on the interactions of land use and natural resource management impacting tribal communities.

We will consider regulatory and policy considerations governing environmental management regimes in tribal communities. We will also explore interventions to address environmental impacts and inequities. Students will focus on areas of interest as possible interventions that may include food sovereignty, improved tribal natural resource authority, data sovereignty, capacity building and equity.