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 2021 Capstone Courses

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

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 sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students. A high percentage of Sherman’s 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-Madison students as after-school mentors with a Sherman student.

Every Wednesday morning from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m., our UW-Madison 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 to 5:15 p.m., we meet as a class at Sherman Middle School on Madison’s north side (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 middle schooler 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.

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 percent of your grade.

Section 003: Soil Management

Professor Nick Balster
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 1:05–1:55 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 of the Badger Lands – A Story of Human Use and Citizen Involvement Pre-1492 to the Present

Professor Paul Zedler and Cooper Rosin
Thursdays, 2:25–4:55 p.m.

This capstone class will partner with the Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance (SPCA) to develop products that advance their ongoing conservation initiatives. SPCA is a citizen-formed and citizen-supported non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to promoting the restoration of the site of the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant (located near Baraboo, Wisconsin) to native prairie and oak savanna.

SPCA supports this restoration work with the objective of promoting nature education and low-impact nature-based recreation, combining on-the-ground conservation biology with education and outreach to the general public. Given their interdisciplinary approach, SPCA is an ideal partner for a class looking to learn about how small nature-oriented NGOs operate, including their limitations and opportunities.

A primary teaching objective is to provide the class with a rich, real world experience that requires interdisciplinary collaboration. A part of this richness arises from the fact that the site is divided among four organizations: the Wisconsin DNR (the “Sauk Prairie Recreation Area”), the Ho-Chunk Nation, the USDA Dairy Forage Research Station, and a small area dedicated to the treatment facilities of the Bluffview Sewage District.

We expect to have representatives of the first three organizations speak to the class to explain their specific vision as part of the overall “Badger Project,” and for students in the course to make a meaningful contribution to SPCA activities.

Section 005: “This Must Be the Place”: Environmental Writing and Place-Focused Justice

Noreen McAuliffe
Tuesdays, 1:20–3:15 p.m.

In an increasingly homogenized and imperiled world, how does place-specific prose work against erasure and extinction? From Walden to Bhopal, environmental writing rooted in place has inspired and shaped global environmental justice movements. In this course we will read place-focused prose and students will create work that draws on their lived and imagined experience of landscape and setting within the context of Madison, Wisconsin.

In our reading and writing we’ll think through these questions:

  • What kinds of places and stories tend to be represented in “nature” writing?
  • How might textured, place-driven prose contribute to local resilience?
  • When big data is now the primary means of representation for complex ecological systems, what is the function of the essay with its narrow lens of focus?
  • Can the personal narrative be a mode of resistance to the official account?

Course meetings will be structured primarily around workshop, where students’ writing is the main focus for discussion. Class will include field excursions to practice site-specific writing exercises on campus and in Madison. The research and writing of the course will culminate in a group project in which students investigate the lesser known places and stories of the environment on campus.

The class will then design a GPS self-guided audio walking tour focused on student-created narratives of these campus environmental sites. Students will re-envision what constitutes a “significant” place through their research and creative practice. The goal of the audio tour project will be to contribute to a more inclusive account of the history of environmentalism and environmental sciences at University of Wisconsin-Madison.