environmental-studies-major

WHY CHOOSE AN ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES MAJOR?

The Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies is one of the world’s leading institutions for environmental studies and is the administrative home for the major. The major offers a robust and interdisciplinary curriculum that spans all contemporary disciplines that touch upon the environment. The curriculum includes biological sciences, physical sciences, and social sciences, as well as humanities, history, health, and modern culture.

The environmental studies major, offered by the College of Letters & Science and administered by the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, provides unique opportunities for undergraduate students to broaden their studies through interdisciplinary coursework related to the environment. The major must always be completed in tandem with a second major. This requirement is unique to the environmental studies major and allows undergraduates the opportunity to both broaden and deepen the focus of their other major with a perspective on the environment that spans a wide range of topics, and involves varying depths of application.

The major includes experiential learning opportunities via the capstone course and the field requirement, and encourages global interaction through study or internships abroad. With numerous travel abroad possibilities and ongoing access to a large selection of extracurricular events, graduates have countless combinations available to them. The outcome is a solid academic foundation in the study of the environment and access to a network of multidisciplinary problem-solving colleagues.

In today's world, the program prepares students to address modern challenges using interdisciplinary problem-solving approaches, applying both an understanding of, and practical experience beyond, a single academic discipline. Employers purposefully seek individuals with interdisciplinary and international preparation, and environmental studies students are ready to meet that need.

Click here to see a complete list of faculty and staff affiliated with the Nelson Institute.

The Nelson Institute also offers two undergraduate certificates:

Environmental Studies Certificate
Sustainability Certificate

Note: Students may complete only one program offered through the Nelson Institute.

How to Declare

Students interested in declaring the environmental studies major should request a major declaration appointment. Information about declaring the major can be found at undergraduate advising

University General Education Requirements

All undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are required to fulfill a minimum set of common university general education requirements to ensure that every graduate acquires the essential core of an undergraduate education. This core establishes a foundation for living a productive life, being a citizen of the world, appreciating aesthetic values, and engaging in lifelong learning in a continually changing world. Various schools and colleges will have requirements in addition to the requirements listed below. Consult your advisor for assistance, as needed. For additional information, see the university Undergraduate General Education Requirements section of the Guide.

General Education
  • Breadth—Humanities/Literature/Arts: 6 credits
  • Breadth—Natural Science: 4 to 6 credits, consisting of one 4- or 5-credit course with a laboratory component; or two courses providing a total of 6 credits
  • Breadth—Social Studies: 3 credits
  • Communication Part A & Part B *
  • Ethnic Studies *
  • Quantitative Reasoning Part A & Part B *

* The mortarboard symbol appears before the title of any course that fulfills one of the Communication Part A or Part B, Ethnic Studies, or Quantitative Reasoning Part A or Part B requirements.

School/College Requirements

The Environmental Studies major is always paired with another major. Please refer to the School/College degree requirements of the other major to learn about degree requirements or consult an advisor.

Requirements for the Major

The environmental studies major provides students with an academically rigorous course sequence that encompasses introductory through advanced understandings of the interdisciplinary field of environmental studies. Environmental studies undergraduates are present in all eight undergraduate schools and colleges. Students must have a declared primary major, and are allowed to overlap a portion of course work from that major for the environmental studies major, making it possible to complete their degree within four years.

  • 30 credits in the major as defined below.
  • Declare and complete a primary major. Students must have a primary major declared before reaching senior standing (86 credits) or the environmental studies major may be canceled.
  • At least 15 credits taken for the environmental studies major must be distinct, and not also meeting minimum requirements in another major. 
  • Students outside the College of Letters & Science may have to meet additional overlap requirements.

Foundation (12-16 Credits)

One course from each of the following four areas, one of which must be at the intermediate or advanced level. Courses used to meet a requirement within the foundation section cannot also be used in other areas of the curriculum.

Environmental Humanities (1 course)

ENVIR ST 113 Environmental Studies: The Humanistic Perspective3
ENVIR ST/​HIST SCI/​HISTORY  125 Green Screen: Environmental Perspectives through Film3
ENVIR ST/​ENGL  153 Literature and the Environment3
ENVIR ST/​RELIG ST  270 Environment and Religion3-4
HISTORY/​ENVIR ST/​GEOG  460 American Environmental History4

Environmental Social Science (1 course)

ENVIR ST 112 Environmental Studies: The Social Perspective3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  139 Living in the Global Environment: An Introduction to People-Environment Geography3-4
SOC/​C&E SOC  140 Introduction to Community and Environmental Sociology3
ENVIR ST/​A A E  244 The Environment and the Global Economy3
SOC/​C&E SOC/​F&W ECOL  248 Environment, Natural Resources, and Society3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  339 Environmental Conservation4

Environmental Physical Science (1 course)

ATM OCN 100 Weather and Climate3
ATM OCN 101 Weather and Climate4
ENVIR ST/​GEOSCI  106 Environmental Geology3
PHYSICS 115 Energy3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  120 Introduction to the Earth System3
ENVIR ST/​ILS  126 Principles of Environmental Science *4
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  127 Physical Systems of the Environment *5
SOIL SCI/​ATM OCN  132 Earth's Water: Natural Science and Human Use3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG/​SOIL SCI  230 Soil: Ecosystem and Resource3
ENVIR ST 250 Introduction to Sustainability Science3
SOIL SCI 301 General Soil Science *4
ENVIR ST/​ATM OCN/​GEOG/​GEOSCI  335 Climatic Environments of the Past3
ENVIR ST/​ATM OCN/​GEOG  332 Global Warming: Science and Impacts3
*

 Counts as a designated field course to fulfill Field Experience.

Environmental Ecology (1 course)

GEOSCI 110 Evolution and Extinction4
BOTANY 240 Plants and Humans3
ENVIR ST/​BOTANY/​ZOOLOGY  260 Introductory Ecology3
F&W ECOL 401 Physiological Animal Ecology3
F&W ECOL/​BOTANY/​ZOOLOGY  460 General Ecology *4
F&W ECOL 550 Forest Ecology3
*

 Counts as a designated field course to fulfill Field Experience.

THEME (15 credits)

Five courses and 15 credits from any of the areas below. Courses may be concentrated in one area or distributed across multiple areas. Variable Topics courses (ENVIR ST 400, ENVIR ST 401, ENVIR ST 402, ENVIR ST 404)  will count in the Theme requirements, depending on Topical content; due to variability, they are not listed individually under the section headings. Courses applied to the thematic areas cannot also be used in Foundation or Capstone.  

Biodiversity

ENVIR ST/​ENTOM  201 Insects and Human Culture-a Survey Course in Entomology3
ENTOM/​ZOOLOGY  302 Introduction to Entomology4
F&W ECOL 318 Principles of Wildlife Ecology3
GEOG/​BOTANY  338 Environmental Biogeography3
ENVIR ST/​F&W ECOL/​ZOOLOGY  360 Extinction of Species3
ENVIR ST/​LAND ARC  361 Wetlands Ecology3
SOIL SCI/​AGRONOMY/​BOTANY  370 Grassland Ecology3
ENVIR ST 375 Field Ecology Workshop3
BOTANY 401 Vascular Flora of Wisconsin4
BOTANY/​ANTHRO/​ZOOLOGY  410 Evolutionary Biology3
BOTANY 422 Plant Geography3
ENVIR ST/​C&E SOC/​GEOG  434 People, Wildlife and Landscapes3
BOTANY/​ZOOLOGY  450 Midwestern Ecological Issues: A Case Study Approach2
BOTANY/​F&W ECOL  455 The Vegetation of Wisconsin4
BOTANY/​F&W ECOL/​ZOOLOGY  460 General Ecology4
AN SCI/​F&W ECOL/​ZOOLOGY  520 Ornithology3
AN SCI/​F&W ECOL/​ZOOLOGY  521 Birds of Southern Wisconsin3
ATM OCN/​AGRONOMY/​SOIL SCI  532 Environmental Biophysics3
GEOG 538 The Humid Tropics: Ecology, Subsistence, and Development4
F&W ECOL/​SURG SCI  548 Diseases of Wildlife3
F&W ECOL 550 Forest Ecology3
F&W ECOL 551 Forest Ecology Lab *1
ENVIR ST/​BOTANY/​F&W ECOL/​ZOOLOGY  651 Conservation Biology3
LAND ARC 667 Field Study: Native Plant Communities3
BOTANY/​F&W ECOL/​ZOOLOGY  672 Historical Ecology2

Climate

A A E 246 Climate Change Economics and Policy3
GEOG 321 Climatology3
ENVIR ST/​ATM OCN/​GEOG/​GEOSCI  335 Climatic Environments of the Past3
ENVIR ST/​ATM OCN/​GEOG  332 Global Warming: Science and Impacts3
GEOG/​GEOSCI  420 Glacial and Pleistocene Geology3
ATM OCN 425 Global Climate Processes3
M E 466 Air Pollution Effects, Measurements and Control3
ENVIR ST/​PHYSICS  472 Scientific Background to Global Environmental Problems3
ENVIR ST/​ATM OCN  520 Bioclimatology3
ATM OCN 522 Tropical Meteorology3
GEOG/​GEOSCI  523 Quaternary Vegetation Dynamics3
GEOG/​GEOSCI  527 The Quaternary Period3
ENVIR ST/​ATM OCN/​GEOG  528 Past Climates and Climatic Change3
ENVIR ST/​ATM OCN  535 Atmospheric Dispersion and Air Pollution3

Energy

E C E 356 Electric Power Processing for Alternative Energy Systems3
ENVIR ST/​BSE  367 Renewable Energy Systems3
ENVIR ST/​N E  373 Nuclear Energy and the Environment3
ENVIR ST/​GEOSCI  411 Energy Resources3
BSE 460 Biorefining: Energy and Products from Renewable Resources3
M E 461 Thermal Systems Modeling3
M E 466 Air Pollution Effects, Measurements and Control3
ENVIR ST/​ATM OCN  535 Atmospheric Dispersion and Air Pollution3
ENVIR ST/​A A E/​CIV ENGR/​URB R PL  561 Energy Markets3
ENVIR ST/​A A E/​ECON/​URB R PL  671 Energy Economics3

Food and Agriculture

FOOD SCI 120 Science of Food3
NUTR SCI 132 Nutrition Today3
SOC/​C&E SOC  222 Food, Culture, and Society3
C&E SOC/​HIST SCI  230 Agriculture and Social Change in Western History3
AGRONOMY 300 Cropping Systems3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  309 People, Land and Food: Comparative Study of Agriculture Systems3
CNSR SCI 360 Sustainable and Socially Just Consumption3
HORT 370 World Vegetable Crops3
AGRONOMY 377 Cropping Systems of the Tropics3
FOLKLORE 439 Foodways3
SOC/​C&E SOC  650 Sociology of Agriculture3

Health

ENVIR ST/​MED HIST  213 Global Environmental Health: An Interdisciplinary Introduction3
A A E/​AGRONOMY/​INTER-AG/​NUTR SCI  350 World Hunger and Malnutrition3
POP HLTH 370 Introduction to Public Health: Local to Global Perspectives3
CIV ENGR 422 Elements of Public Health Engineering3
CIV ENGR 423 Air Pollution Effects, Measurement and Control3
M E 466 Air Pollution Effects, Measurements and Control3
ENVIR ST/​POP HLTH  471 Introduction to Environmental Health3
ENVIR ST/​POP HLTH  502 Air Pollution and Human Health3
ENVIR ST/​HIST SCI/​MED HIST  513 Environment and Health in Global Perspective3
GEN&WS/​INTL ST  535 Women's Global Health and Human Rights3
POP HLTH/​HIST SCI/​MED HIST  553 International Health and Global Society3
CIV ENGR/​M&ENVTOX/​SOIL SCI  631 Toxicants in the Environment: Sources, Distribution, Fate, & Effects3

History and Culture

ENVIR ST/​ENGL  153 Literature and the Environment3
ENVIR ST/​RELIG ST  270 Environment and Religion3-4
ENVIR ST 307 Literature of the Environment: Speaking for Nature3
GEOG 319 Environmental Evaluation and Adaptation3
ENVIR ST/​HISTORY  328 Environmental History of Europe3
F&W ECOL/​ZOOLOGY  335 Human/Animal Relationships: Biological and Philosophical Issues3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  339 Environmental Conservation4
ENVIR ST/​HIST SCI  353 History of Ecology3
ENVIR ST/​HIST SCI/​LCA/​RELIG ST  356 Islam, Science & Technology, and the Environment3-4
ENVIR ST/​HISTORY/​LEGAL ST  430 Law and Environment: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives3
ENVIR ST/​PHILOS  441 Environmental Ethics3-4
ENVIR ST/​F&W ECOL/​HISTORY  452 World Forest History3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG/​HISTORY  460 American Environmental History4
HISTORY/​CHICLA  461 The American West to18503-4
HISTORY/​CHICLA  462 The American West Since 18503-4
ENVIR ST/​GEOG/​HISTORY  469 The Making of the American Landscape4
HISTORY/​AMER IND  490 American Indian History3-4
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  537 Culture and Environment4
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  557 Development and Environment in Southeast Asia3
BOTANY/​F&W ECOL/​ZOOLOGY  672 Historical Ecology2

Land Use

ENVIR ST/​GEOG/​SOIL SCI  230 Soil: Ecosystem and Resource3
GEOG/​URB R PL  305 Introduction to the City3-4
A A E/​ECON/​REAL EST/​URB R PL  306 The Real Estate Process3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  309 People, Land and Food: Comparative Study of Agriculture Systems3
ENVIR ST/​SOIL SCI  324 Soils and Environmental Quality3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  325 Analysis of the Physical Environment4
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  337 Nature, Power and Society3
BOTANY/​GEOG  338 Environmental Biogeography3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  339 Environmental Conservation4
GEOG 344 The American West3
BSE/​DS/​LAND ARC  356 Sustainable Residential Construction3
CNSR SCI 360 Sustainable and Socially Just Consumption3
ENVIR ST/​GEOSCI  410 Minerals as a Public Problem3
F&W ECOL 410 Principles of Silviculture3
ECON/​REAL EST/​URB R PL  420 Urban and Regional Economics3
ENVIR ST/​C&E SOC/​GEOG  434 People, Wildlife and Landscapes3
ENVIR ST/​ECON/​POLI SCI/​URB R PL  449 Government and Natural Resources3-4
F&W ECOL/​SOIL SCI  451 Environmental Biogeochemistry3
ENVIR ST/​F&W ECOL/​HISTORY  452 World Forest History3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG/​HISTORY  460 American Environmental History4
LAND ARC/​URB R PL  463 Evolution of American Planning3
GEOG/​URB R PL  505 Urban Spatial Patterns and Theories3
ENVIR ST/​F&W ECOL  515 Natural Resources Policy3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  537 Culture and Environment4
GEOG 538 The Humid Tropics: Ecology, Subsistence, and Development4
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  557 Development and Environment in Southeast Asia3
ENVIR ST/​SOIL SCI  575 Assessment of Environmental Impact3
URB R PL 601 Site Planning3
ENVIR ST/​BOTANY/​F&W ECOL/​ZOOLOGY  651 Conservation Biology3
LAND ARC 666 Restoration Ecology *3
LAND ARC 667 Field Study: Native Plant Communities *3
LAND ARC 677 Cultural Resource Preservation and Landscape History3
ENVIR ST/​LAND ARC/​SOIL SCI  695 Applications of Geographic Information Systems in Natural Resources3
*

 Counts as a designated field course to fulfill Field Experience.

Policy

A A E/​ENVIR ST  244 The Environment and the Global Economy3
POLI SCI 272 Introduction to Public Policy3-4
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  309 People, Land and Food: Comparative Study of Agriculture Systems3
ENVIR ST/​M H R  310 Challenges & Solutions in Business Sustainability3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  339 Environmental Conservation4
ENVIR ST/​A A E/​ECON  343 Environmental Economics3-4
BSE/​DS/​LAND ARC  356 Sustainable Residential Construction3
ENVIR ST/​M&ENVTOX/​PL PATH  368 Environmental Law, Toxic Substances, and Conservation2
F&W ECOL 410 Principles of Silviculture3
ENVIR ST/​HISTORY/​LEGAL ST  430 Law and Environment: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  439 US Environmental Policy and Regulation3-4
ENVIR ST/​ECON/​POLI SCI/​URB R PL  449 Government and Natural Resources3-4
M E 466 Air Pollution Effects, Measurements and Control3
ENVIR ST/​F&W ECOL  515 Natural Resources Policy3
CIV ENGR 522 Hazardous Waste Management3
ENVIR ST/​PHILOS  523 Philosophical Problems of the Biological Sciences3
ECON/​A A E/​F&W ECOL  531 Natural Resource Economics3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  534 Environmental Governance: Markets, States and Nature3
ENVIR ST 539 Air Resources Science and Policy3
ENVIR ST/​C&E SOC/​SOC  540 Sociology of International Development, Environment, and Sustainability3
SOC/​C&E SOC  541 Environmental Stewardship and Social Justice3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  557 Development and Environment in Southeast Asia3
SOC/​C&E SOC  573 Community Organization and Change3
SOIL SCI/​CIV ENGR/​M&ENVTOX  631 Toxicants in the Environment: Sources, Distribution, Fate, & Effects3
R M I 650 Sustainability, Environmental and Social Risk Management3
SOC/​ECON  663 Population and Society3
ENVIR ST/​URB R PL  668 Green Politics: Global Experience, American Prospects3

Water

ATM OCN/​GEOSCI  105 Survey of Oceanography3-4
ATM OCN/​SOIL SCI  132 Earth's Water: Natural Science and Human Use3
CIV ENGR 311 Hydroscience3
ENVIR ST/​ZOOLOGY  315 Limnology-Conservation of Aquatic Resources2
ZOOLOGY 316 Laboratory for Limnology-Conservation of Aquatic Resources *2-3
CIV ENGR 320 Environmental Engineering3
CIV ENGR 322 Environmental Engineering Processes3
SOIL SCI 322 Physical Principles of Soil and Water Management3
ENVIR ST/​LAND ARC  361 Wetlands Ecology *3
ENVIR ST/​ZOOLOGY  510 Ecology of Fishes3
G L E/​GEOSCI  627 Hydrogeology3-4
G L E/​GEOSCI  629 Contaminant Hydrogeology3
*

 Counts as a designated field course to fulfill Field Experience.

FIELD EXPERIENCE

The field experience in the Environmental Studies major can be met in one of the following ways:

  • A designated field course selected from the curriculum above, indicated by an asterisk (*)
  • Participation in an environmental study abroad program where 50% or more of the contact hours are in an out-of-doors situation (see your advisor)
  • Participation in an environmental internship or similar experience where 50% or more of the contact hours are in an out-of-doors situation (field form summary must be submitted)

CAPSTONE requirement (3 Credits)

3 credits from:

ENVIR ST 600 Environmental Studies Major Capstone3
ENVIR ST/​SOIL SCI  575 Assessment of Environmental Impact3
ENVIR ST/​A A E/​F&W ECOL  652 Decision Methods for Natural Resource Managers3-4

In some cases, a 3-credit research project for a minimum that meets specific criteria of an environmental capstone course may be substituted for the Capstone requirement. If you and a faculty member believe that you have a suitable project, please contact undergrad@nelson.wisc.edu for more information.

Residence & Quality of Work in the major

2.000 GPA in all courses in the major

2.000 GPA on 15 upper-level major credits, taken in residence. Intermediate- and advanced-level courses in the major are considered upper level.

15 credits in the major, taken on campus (at UW–Madison)

Courses in the environmental studies major cannot be taken on a pass/fail basis.

Honors in the Major

Honors in the Major is not available in Environmental Studies.  

  1. Explain the social and historical processes that impact our current environments. Interpret the meanings, values, and aesthetics that are created, shaped, and revealed as humans interact with and modify the environments they inhabit.
  2. Explain ecological processes and fundamental principles of environmental sciences relating to humanity’s key environmental challenges of the past, present, and future.
  3. Apply perspectives and techniques drawn from a coordinate major to develop interdisciplinary responses to environmental questions.
  4. Recognize through critical thinking a diversity of viewpoints, ethical commitments, and disciplinary approaches to environmental concerns across various scales from the local to the global.
  5. Demonstrate excellent reading, writing, communication, and research skills, both individually and in interdisciplinary teams.

Environmental studies students are represented in majors all across campus and in most undergraduate schools and colleges. Environmental studies majors should utilize the career office for their home school as appropriate. All students, not just L&S students, can also benefit from the L&S Career Services office.

We encourage our majors to begin working on their career exploration and preparation soon after arriving on campus. We partner with the L&S Career Services office to help you leverage the academic skills learned in your major and liberal arts degree, explore and try out different career paths, participate in internships, prepare for the job search and/or graduate school applications, and network with professionals in the field (alumni and employers).

Letters & Science graduates are in high demand by employers and graduate programs. It is important to us that our students are career ready at the time of graduation, and we are committed to your success.

Career Resources: