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. If you are an environmental studies certificate student, you may enroll on November 17 if seats remain. The capstone course will count toward the theme requirement for environmental studies certificate students.

Spring 2016 Capstone Courses

Section 001: Water in a Changing World
Professor Mutlu Ozdogan
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1:00-2:15 p.m.

Earth is a water planet. Water in the atmosphere, on land, and in the oceans sustains life and great biodiversity. However, the amount of renewable fresh water comprises only a small fraction of global water resources and the mismatch between the demand and supply is increasing, thanks to global climate change and growing human populations. What will the Earth's fresh water resources look like in the next century? This course is designed to answer this fundamental question using recent evidence from both natural and social sciences. The course will be presented in two parts: i) Physical understanding of the water cycle in a changing world including a description of the hydrologic cycle, its natural and human-induced variability, the hydrologic impacts of human activities, and the predicted short- and long-term hydrologic changes and impacts under a changing climate; ii) Social understanding of the water cycle in a changing world including population pressure on water resources, economic development and water quality/quantity, access to water, and poverty and water. The class will be a combination of lectures and active participation by students in the form of collaborative research, classroom presentations, software simulations and visualizations, and extended discussions. The main objectives of this course include exposing students to main physical principles of the global water cycle, forming an in-depth understanding of the relationship between humans, climate, and water systems, and providing a view of disparate distribution of fresh water resources from a changing climate and socioeconomic window.

Section 002: Millennials vs. Climate Change: 350 Madison's NextGen Climate Action
Professor Leah Horowitz
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, 9:55-10:45 a.m.

Our world is currently experiencing unprecedented environmental and social conditions due to a rapidly changing climate. This course explores how Millennials are taking action against climate change. We will start with some background on climate change politics, activism, and communication. Next, we will delve into a case study of 350 Madison’s NextGen Climate Action. In collaboration with NextGen, students will work as a team to create an original climate change communication project: creating videos, designing websites, and drafting written and/or oral educational materials.

In this course, you will develop your understanding of climate change activism, strategies, and messaging, and build key skills in collaborating as a team, working with a community partner, and designing creative projects in a variety of media. You will leave feeling empowered, with a clearer sense of the unique contribution you can make in shaping our planet’s future.

Section 003: Energy, Air, and Policy
Professor Tracey Holloway
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:30-3:45 p.m.

Over the last 45 years, air quality in the United States has seen remarkable improvements -- pollution levels are way down, life expectancies are up, and visible smog is a rarity across the country. The health benefits of current air pollution controls are staggering. In fact, according to a White House report, 98-99% of the monetized benefits of all EPA regulation are due to air rules. These rules affect energy in the U.S., especially electricity, transportation, and manufacturing, and highlight an environmental challenge in providing energy that is affordable, reliable, and clean. This course will delve into current air pollution policies and controversies, and examine air and energy issues from all sides. Students will use air and/or energy data to help an air or energy partner address a question or analysis need, and prepare a final report.

Section 004: Local to Global Solutions to Reduce Food Waste
Professor Holly Gibbs and Tyler Lark
Wednesdays, 2:25-5:25 p.m.

Food waste is recognized as a problem of global importance and one that will require addressing over the next half century if we are to meet the growing demand for food and agricultural products. Solution spaces span from our own homes to national and international policy changes, and student action at the University level can initiate positive changes that cascade throughout society. In this course we'll explore the causes and consequences of food waste at local to global scales and evaluate the leading solutions proposed to reduce waste and improve the sustainability of our food systems. Students will then have the opportunity to generate new ideas and put their knowledge into action via semester-long research and outreach projects, culminating with implementation of a proposed food waste solution.

Section 005: Last Child in the Park: How Kids and Birds Can Save the Planet
Anke Keuser
Mondays, 2:30-4:30 p.m. and Wednesdays, 2:00-5:00 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 Monday afternoon from 2:30-4:30pm, 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 2:00-5:00pm, 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

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 006: Building Food Justice Capacity in South Madison
Abby Jackson, Lexa Dundore, Dadit Hidayat, and Alfonso Morales
Mondays, 2:25-5:25 p.m.

Join the "Building Food Justice Capacity in South Madison" course and become part of an impactful project that is working to improve access to healthy food via sustainable, urban agriculture. In general, the project builds food justice capacity in South Madison by forging a network of entrepreneurship opportunities in the field of urban agriculture for formerly incarcerated citizens while improving healthy food access to the broader South Madison community.

This course is the second in a series of four service learning capstone courses funded by the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment (approved for funding in June 2015). The preceding semester worked to hold commercial urban agriculture (CUA)-oriented events to engage formerly incarcerated individuals (FIIs), and identify two (2) participants for the next stages of the project. Objectives for the spring 2016 capstone course include:

Students will be involved in both planning and execution processes, and will work closely with South Madison Farmers' Market leader Robert Pierce, Nehemiah's Director of Reentry Services Anthony Cooper, and the emerging urban farmers. The course will rely heavily on student participation and motivation to support our community partners' visions beyond the classroom. Flexible schedules are generally expected as likely we will have project tasks that require students to go to meetings outside of regular class times.

This course is designed for students who want to learn and be part of a unique interpretation of interdisciplinary learning, translating academic knowledge to community action, in relation to food justice movement. Designed as a community organizing class, this course is open to all majors and will address issues of marginalized communities, post incarceration program, local food systems and informal science learning.

Entering the second phase, this community-based project has attracted a lot of attention from the public, which confirms the values of this project. Article in the Capital Times and news segment at the Madison NBC15 should help provide more information about this project.

Envir St/Soil Sci 575: Assessment of Environmental Impact
Professor Stephen Ventura
Lecture: Mondays and Wednesdays, 8:50-9:40 a.m.
Discussion: Mondays, 12:05-2:10 p.m.
This course can fulfill the capstone requirement OR count toward the theme requirement of the environmental studies major.

Overview of methods for collecting and analyzing information about environmental impacts on agricultural and natural resources, including monitoring the physical environment and relating impacts to people and society.