Off and running: Excitement builds as environmental studies major opens to students

September 20, 2011

For the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, Sept. 19 was a date long-circled on the calendar. That's when students could begin signing up for the new undergraduate major in environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Excitement around the major has been building since its approval by the UW System Board of Regents in April. Only a day into its availability, more than 30 students have declared the major.

The Nelson Institute will offer the major jointly with the College of Letters and Science. Because it is designed to be taken simultaneously with another undergraduate major, students will not only learn about current environmental issues, they will also learn how to link environmental science, policy, literature, history, art and philosophy to another chosen field of study.

"Economic surveys show that environmental fields are where some of the most rapid job growth will occur between now and 2016. Students are energized by the possibilities of a green future and their role in building it. This new major helps provide them with the tools to get there," Nelson Institute Interim Director Gregg Mitman said at the time of the major's approval.

Efforts to create an environmental studies major began in the 1970s, soon after the Nelson Institute was established. The institute has offered an undergraduate certificate since 1979, but the path to a full major ran into a number of obstacles over the years.

The major's debut comes at a time when issues of energy, climate, water, food and health are defining problems of the century, and as UW-Madison places an increased emphasis on sustainability in education, research and operations.

Many of the 350 students currently pursuing the undergraduate environmental studies certificate are expected to switch to the major. The certificate -- among the most popular of roughly three dozen on campus -- has been revised to a 15-credit program and can be added to any undergraduate major, enhancing the value of a bachelor's degree.

Those interested in pursuing the environmental studies major should sign up for an informational advising session. Any undergraduate student enrolled at UW-Madison pending approval from his or her home school or college is eligible to apply for the environmental studies major or to participate in the certificate program.

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