Capstone Courses

The environmental studies capstone course is a required component for students completing our majors. Priority is given to students declared in the environmental studies major. If you are an environmental studies certificate student, you may enroll on Nov. 19 if seats remain. The capstone course will count toward the theme requirement for certificate students.

Spring 2014 Capstone Courses

Section 001: Consumer-Driven Sustainability: Making Our Choices Matter
Holly Gibbs
Wednesdays, 2:25-5:25 p.m.

Professor Gibbs has been developing innovative instructional approaches to sustainability education to create a new kind of Capstone experience. Outgoing students will literally bring their knowledge into action via a semester-long research project culminating in a Campus Food Sustainability Metrics and some sort of outreach such as a short film or social media targeting consumer choices of incoming UW students.

Often we lament how consumers are destroying the planet with limitless appetites for gasoline, cheap food, and new and varied products ranging from electronics to fashion. Indeed, pressure to feed an ever-growing population, coupled with the surging demand for biofuels and meats, has led to more environmental degradation from intensive farming practices and continued expansion into natural ecosystems. However, we also see that growing consumer awareness and use of social media combined with the global reach of individual companies offers new and remarkably effective levers for sustainability. Consumer preferences, real and perceived, now have the potential to ripple through their local communities and the world via the global market. Gibbs' class will consider the growing power of consumer decisions to impact food sustainability outcomes on campus, in Madison, and around the world from direct purchases to social media campaigns.

Student-led projects will focus on creating metrics around sustainable food choices on campus. We will develop and calculate a range of metrics for "Sustainable Food Options" as a benchmark to provide a transparent baseline and to track changing options on campus. Students may elect to track available food options by categories (e.g., vegetarian / vegan, organic, local, fair trade), as well as food quality, storage, and waste management options. We will focus on the three major dining service operations (housing, athletics, and unions). We will also develop metrics around "Student Food Purchases" to quantify how many eat on campus and the types of food they purchase; these metrics will be developed in collaboration with managers at campus eateries and ideally will look over the last decade to highlight changes through time. Student groups will interview a range of campus leaders and eatery managers about current food offerings and what factors they consider. We will evaluate the potential for students to influence these food offerings, and quantify the potential of changing the Student Food Purchase metric and what that would mean for Sustainable Food Options on campus.

Section 003: Community Organizing with the South Madison Farmers' Market
Alfonso Morales and Dadit Hidayat
Thursdays, 2:25-5:25 p.m.

Farmers' markets are one of many links in food systems consistent with the spirit of sustainable agriculture. They also help educate consumers about sustainable agriculture by making local fresh produce accessible which supports the local economy.

In this spring 2014 capstone course, we will continue our collaboration with the South Madison Farmers' Market (SMFM), focusing on how to organize a community in promoting the adoption of sustainable agriculture practices. The capstone course will build upon the fall 2013 community based research (CBR) capstone course, which is assessing local vendors' perspectives on a successful farmers' market, and perception of the SMFM achievements thus far toward a more sustainable future.

The South Madison Farmers Market has been, at times, one of the most vibrant gathering places in the South Madison community, home to an economically disadvantaged and diverse ethnic population. The market has expanded to four locations (Gilbert Road, the Madison Labor Temple, Rimrock Road and the Villager Mall) with the goal of increasing access for the public. However, the market is still experiencing low sales, which implies little support from the community and therefore low participation from local vendors. The Nelson Institute class is partnering with SMFM to develop a holistic understanding and approach to this situation.

This capstone course offers a variety of engaged-learning opportunities to the Nelson Institute's students. We expect students to read, discuss, and practice various academic and outreach activities such as doing community outreach, organizing community meetings, gathering information on food sustainability issues, and evaluating the impact of our activities in a dynamic community environment.

This capstone course will focus on two learning goals for students. First, students will learn about models of community organizing and basic community organizing skills. Second, students will have the opportunity to implement these models and skills in partnership with the SMFM and other community actors. Through this course students bridge the gap between the theories of power and inequality, and the strategic models used by community organizers working on sustainability issues.

For some parts of the class, students will be working in South Madison and will need flexible schedules. In addition, about 1-2 class sessions will be held on Monday morning in The Resilience Research Center.

Section 004: Community Gardens in South West Madison
Ashleigh Ross and Sam Dennis
Tuesdays, 3:00-5:30 p.m.

The Community and School Gardens in Southwest Madison course is designed to expose UW students to a broad range of experiences with, and perspectives about, community and school gardens while providing direct service and infrastructure support to local garden programs. The class will explore the intersection of participatory planning, public health, sustainable agriculture, community development, and environmental justice through the varied garden programs in the Southwest Madison community. The course content and community projects allow for students to bring their experience and expertise to bear by working on specific projects that are of interest to the student and provide tangible benefits for our partners. Students will be matched with a community partner and will work together to develop the goals and parameters of the partnership. In addition to course readings and class time, students will attend meetings with community partners, and collaborate on projects ranging from afterschool garden clubs to garden design. This course will encourage students to synthesize academic knowledge, community development experience, and urban agriculture methods. The service-learning component of the class may include hands-on garden assistance; leading garden/environmental education clubs; and research, planning and infrastructure support. Community partners include Front Yard Gardens, Gardens for Empowerment, Toki Middle School, and Brentwood Green Team.

Please contact J. Ashleigh Ross at if you are interested.

Section 005: Large carnivore conservation in Wisconsin and around the world
Adrian Treves
Mondays, 9:00-11:30 a.m.

This course will provide an interdisciplinary and international look at coexistence between humans and large carnivores, such as bears, big cats, and wild canids. You will learn how to mitigate conflicts and balance wildlife needs with those of people. Our case study throughout the course will be the recovery of gray wolves in our state and the nation. Wolf recovery has been the most contentious and acclaimed conservation success in US history. The wolf is symbolic for many people but depending on your value orientation, the species may be vilified or revered. Its recovery from near extinction in the USA has been associated with a complex interplay of stakeholder groups including a revival of controversy over federal and state powers. At an individual level, wolf recovery has been characterized by conflicting views of the role of humans in nature. For scientists, wolf recovery has been an important test of the integration of applied research into the policy process. Nowhere has this been more clear than in Wisconsin. In this course, we review the past 30 years of wolf recovery in our state as (i) a laboratory for understanding democratic participation in decision-making about natural resources, (ii) a lens to examine the role of research in public debate and policy formulation, and (iii) am experiment in biodiversity conservation in the face of fears for human safety, economy and property. Registration requires enrollment in the Environmental Studies Major Program or consent of instructor.

Section 006: Water Stewardship and Sovereignty in the Bad River Ojibwe Community
Jessie Conaway and Roberta Hill
Mondays and Wednesdays, 2:30-3:45 p.m.
To enroll, please contact Jessie Conaway (

Meet the original Wisconsin environmentalists: a people who share the name of their place, Anishinaabeg Gitchi Gami -- the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (BRBLSC). This capstone focuses on BRBLSC water stewardship of a pristine tributary and internationally renowned wetland within the Lake Superior Basin. Threats to the BRBLSC's water resources include climate change, mineral mining, and invasive species.

The BRBLSC is exemplary in their incorporation of both native and western science to tackle these water issues. Students in this capstone will visit the Bad River reservation to 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 products that will be useful to the BRBLSC as they shape environmental policies that protect their culture and their homeland.

Section 007: Urban Food Systems and the Environment
Monica White
Tuesdays, 2:25-4:55 p.m.

This course will examine the relationship between food systems and the environment and allow students to identify a project of interest that they will develop from a research question to data collection and analysis. We will pay particular attention to the social, political and environmental impacts of local food movements. In an effort to examine community responses to food insecurity, students will explore the food landscape from production (i.e. agriculture) to distribution and participate in community service activities, like work at a community gardening project. Students will also meet with and interview local residents and stakeholders in the urban agricultural movement in Madison.

Section 008: Environmental Justice: Land, Water and Food
Monica White
Wednesdays, 1:20-3:50 p.m.

This course will explore several environmental justice movements for land, water and food. Students will select a specific organization of their own interest and apply social movement theories, for example, resource mobilization, political process model, and others, in order to examine the conditions under which a community responds to environmental concerns that impact access to and quality of land, water and food.

Section 009: Birding to Change the World
Trish O'Kane and Jack Kloppenburg
Wednesdays, 7:30-9:30 a.m. and 2:00-5:00 p.m., 3 credits

To enroll: Please contact Trish O'Kane

Note: This course will satisfy the environmental studies capstone requirement or it can be taken as a regular course.

For the seventh straight semester, Trish O'Kane and Jack Kloppenburg will be coordinating with staff at Madison's Sherman Middle School to provide a nature study program to sixth, seventh and eighth 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 7:30-9:30, our 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."

Later that same day, every Wednesday afternoon from 2-5, 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 such as harvesting garlic mustard, planting prairie seeds, birdwatching and fort-building, but 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. Read a recent press account of this work.

Read a recent press account of this work: