Changing world, changing curriculum

Unique courses help train tomorrow’s environmental leaders

October 3, 2013

When you’re a student in the Nelson Institute, your coursework transcends disciplinary boundaries. No single specialty can solve environmental challenges – innovation emerges by combining the sciences, business, history, international studies, art, resource management and more.

Hands-on experience is also crucial: Lessons are just as likely to be learned in the community as they are in the classroom.

As the world is changing, so too is the environmental studies curriculum at UW-Madison, which includes well over 300 course offerings from more than 50 academic departments. These eight courses – just a glimpse of those available to our students – demonstrate the variety of ways the Nelson Institute and the university are training tomorrow’s environmental problem-solvers.

From Ecotopia to Ecopocalypse: Telling Digital Stories About the Environment

Environmental Studies 402/Communication Arts 609/Art 469
Instructor: Alex Rivera, Fall 2013 Artist in Residence

This course brings a cross-disciplinary approach to two questions: How can we understand the changes occurring all around us in our lived environment, and how can we speak powerfully about those changes?

Alex Rivera, a digital media artist and filmmaker, will engage students with readings and films that communicate pressing ecological realities. Students will also learn the basics of creative filmmaking and then produce a personal short film of their own around the theme of "Ecotopia and Ecopocalypse," to be screened at the Tales From Planet Earth film festival in November.

Domestic and International Dimensions of Renewable Energy Technologies and Sustainable Development

Environmental Studies 600, Section 6
Instructors: Sarah Stefanos and Aleia McCord, master’s students in Environment and Resources

One of six available sections of a required service learning course for environmental studies majors, this class introduces students to the domestic and international dimensions of renewable energy technologies and sustainable development.

Students will assist the Farley Center, a local organization dedicated to community partnership, sustainability and ecological justice, to identify and fill knowledge gaps about micro-scale biogas production. They'll investigate the implementation of this new renewable energy technology – leveraging the expertise of local and international experts and lessons learned from a field trip to the Milwaukee-based urban farming organization Growing Power – and then present their findings.

Climate Change and Natural Resources

Forest and Wildlife Ecology 375/875
Instructor: Benjamin Zuckerberg, assistant professor of forest and wildlife ecology

As the world is changing,
so too is the environmental
studies curriculum, which
includes well over 300 course
offerings from more than 50
academic departments. 

This course spans the ecological impacts of climate change with an emphasis on adaptation, management and future impacts. Students explore the mechanisms, feedback systems and drivers associated with modern climate change, as well as the ecological and evolutionary effects on natural communities and wildlife populations. They also gain real-world experience, developing a climate change adaptation plan that could be implemented by a local, state or national conservation agency.

Climate Change, Human Rights and the Environment

Law 918
Instructor: Sumudu Atapattu, senior lecturer, UW Law School

Students in this course explore the international mechanisms and laws applicable to global climate change, as well as the relationship between climate change and human rights.

Topics include how protected rights will be affected by consequences of climate change and how a human rights framework can inform discourse. For example, special focus is placed on the impact of climate change on vulnerable communities, including indigenous peoples and climate refugees, and the plight of small island states and their people.

U.S. Environmental Issues: Policy and Politics

Geography 475
Instructor: Morgan Robertson, assistant professor of geography

This new course offers a survey of American environmental policy, familiarizing students with the spectrum of major U.S. environmental regulations, how the policies affect daily interactions with the environment, the social issues influencing their interpretation and implementation, and the critical and geographic viewpoints scientists and academics often adopt in viewing issues of policy. 

Social Perspectives in Environmental Studies: Nature, Faith and Community

Environmental Studies 402
Instructor: Michael Bell, professor of community and environmental sociology

This course takes a sociological look at the history and interrelationship of three of the most culturally powerful realms of reasoning: nature, faith and community. From Buddha to Darwin, from Lao-Tzu to Thoreau, from Mohamed to Einstein, from Gilgamesh to the Bible, students will consider the past, present and future and develop their own responses in dialogue with others.  

People, Land and Food

Geography/Environmental Studies 309
Instructor: Holly Gibbs, assistant professor of environmental studies and geography

This class introduces students to how and why humans have transformed natural landscapes around the world, exploring different agricultural systems, the environmental impacts of food production, tropical deforestation and topics such as food security, land scarcity and bioenergy.

Students also go beyond the walls of the classroom – supported by an Office of Sustainability service-learning grant – to study the campus and city community and to work toward making change through group research and service-learning projects.

Agroecosystems and Global Change

Agronomy/Agroecology/Environmental Studies 724
Instructor: Chris Kucharik, associate professor of agronomy and environmental studies

In this course, students examine how global-change factors such as land use, climate and policy impact agricultural systems and the goods and services derived from them. Students also investigate related feedbacks; for example, how agricultural land management has contributed to emerging environmental challenges, while at the same time providing potential means, such as bioenergy, to mitigate further global warming.