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 2022 Capstone Courses

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Envir St 600 Section 001: "This Must Be the Place": Environmental Writing and Place-Focused Justice

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

In an increasingly homogenized and imperiled world, how does place-specific prose work against erasure and extinction? 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.

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.

Envir St 600 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.

Envir St 600 Section 003: Soils and the Environment

Professor Nick Balster
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:30–10:45 a.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.

Envir St 600 Section 004: Citizen-Led Response to the Challenges Facing Wisconsin Waterways – A Collaborative Project with the Rock River Coalition

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

The primary educational objective of this class is to provide the students with a rich, real world experience in environmental management through participation in an interdisciplinary project. To accomplish this, we will partner with the Rock River Coalition (RRC) to develop products and a report that advances their ongoing conservation initiatives.

The RRC is a citizen-formed and citizen-supported non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to promoting the monitoring and improvement of the aquatic resources of the watershed of the Rock River. They describe themselves this way: “The Rock River Coalition is a basin-wide, not-for-profit organization founded in 1994. Its members are private citizens, businesses, conservation and historic organizations, Chambers of Commerce and local and state agency staff.”

And their mission statement makes clear their relevance to the environment and conservation: “Our mission is to educate and provide opportunities for people of diverse interests to work together to improve environmental, recreational, cultural and economic resources of the Rock River Basin.”

The class will begin by introducing the Rock River Coalition to the students by reviewing their online information and participating in discussions with staff and participants in the RRC. We will review the ecology and management of water resources. With this background we will work with the RRC staff to arrive at projects that the class can undertake within the time constraint of a single semester to assist the RRC in its mission. Through this process the students will gain an understanding of the general challenges faced in the management of natural resources and the special challenges faced by citizen-based organizations assisting in this task.

The class will involve a substantial portion of time devoted to independent work on the project or projects selected by the students. They will be expected to make presentations to the RRC staff: 1) on their proposed projects, 2) at the end of the class to present their results. Students will also be required to prepare a single coordinated written final report presenting the results of their work intended to be of value to the RRC. There may also be additional written or oral assignments at various points in the class.

Envir St 600 Section 006: Air Quality and Equity in an African City

Dorothy Lsoto and Aleia McCord
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? How do cities create and enforce air quality standards? How can civil servants, political leaders, business owners, and civil society advocates 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 within topics related to air quality standards, regulations and policies, air quality monitoring and planning a clean air city.

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.

Envir St 600 Section 007: Exploring Food System Resilience in Wisconsin Communities

Jules Reynolds
Tuesdays, 2:25–4:55 p.m.

Local food is often presented as a sustainable and resilient alternative to the environmental degradations and social inequalities caused by our global food and agricultural system. Though a range of approaches to support local food systems exists in Wisconsin, our understanding of the actual economic, ecological, and social impacts of these approaches and their meaning for resilience remains limited.

This community-engaged capstone will explore the multidisciplinary and interconnected impacts of local food system organizing in south-central Wisconsin, through the lens of The Brix Local Food Community Hub Project (The Brix Project). This is a three-year project to support local food system development and organizing in the Dane County area, and is spearheaded by the farm-to-table restaurant and cidery Brix Cider in Mt. Horeb. We will work directly with community partners who are involved in The Brix Project, including farmers and food businesses, to investigate how local food can support community and environmental resilience.

Over the semester we will develop tools to be shared with The Brix Project partners for evaluation of project impacts and/or communication of the project with the broader Wisconsin community. Course meetings will be used to explore and critically analyze local food system issues, and to work with partners to plan and implement evaluation and communication tools.