The Environmental Soil Science Certificate is a gateway to understanding the dynamics of Earth’s thin living skin. Soil is where the atmosphere, lithosphere, and hydrosphere connect and is pivotal in shaping ecosystems’ biodiversity, health, and resilience. Mastery of soil properties, processes, and distribution is necessary for addressing pressing environmental challenges, including food and energy security, water quality protection, climate change, and ecosystem health.

This certificate equips students with a holistic understanding of soil and its intersection with environmental issues. Rooted in a foundational soil science course, students delve into thematic areas, forming connections between soils and various environmental domains.

Designed as a launchpad, this certificate empowers students to pursue careers and certification in the field of soil science, opening doors for employment in the public and private sectors. Our dedicated advisors will guide students in selecting courses tailored to prepare them for their journey toward expertise in soil science and environmental stewardship.

How to Get in

The Certificate in Environmental Soil Science is open to all undergraduate students. Students pursuing the program are encouraged to declare as early as possible so that they can best align the coursework with their interests and plan their field experience.

Preparatory Coursework

No courses are required to declare the certificate; however, general chemistry is a prerequisite to complete required courses in the certificate.

CHEM 103 General Chemistry I4
CHEM 109 Advanced General Chemistry5
CHEM 115 Chemical Principles I5


Soil Science Foundation4
Soil Science Themes9
Allied Sciences2-4
Total Credits16
  • The certificate requires a minimum of 16 credits.
  • A minimum grade of C is required in all certificate coursework.
  • Courses taken on a pass/fail (satisfactory/unsatisfactory) basis will not count toward the certificate.
  • All certificate coursework must be completed in residence at the UW-Madison.

Soil Science Foundation

Complete the following courses for a total of 4 credits:

SOIL SCI 301 General Soil Science3
or SOIL SCI/​ENVIR ST/​GEOG  230 Soil: Ecosystem and Resource
SOIL SCI 302 Meet Your Soil: Soil Analysis and Interpretation Laboratory1
Total Credits4

Soil Science Themes

Complete at least one course from three of the four thematic areas for a minimum of 9 credits. Courses may only count towards one thematic area. Additional courses from this section may be completed to meet the overall minimum credits for the certificate.

Soil Fertility & Chemistry

SOIL SCI 321 Soils and Environmental Chemistry3
SOIL SCI/​AGRONOMY/​HORT  326 Plant Nutrition Management3
SOIL SCI/​BSE/​CIV ENGR  372 On-Site Waste Water Treatment and Dispersal2
SOIL SCI 430 Environmental Soil Contamination3
SOIL SCI/​F&W ECOL  451 Environmental Biogeochemistry3
SOIL SCI 621 Soil Chemistry3
SOIL SCI/​CIV ENGR/​M&ENVTOX  631 Toxicants in the Environment: Sources, Distribution, Fate, & Effects3

Soil Physics & Development

SOIL SCI 327 Environmental Monitoring and Soil Characterization for Earth's Critical Zone4
SOIL SCI/​GEOG  525 Soil Geomorphology3
SOIL SCI/​GEOG  526 Human Transformations of Earth Surface Processes3
SOIL SCI/​AGRONOMY/​ATM OCN  532 Environmental Biophysics3
SOIL SCI 622 Soil Physics3

Soil Biology & Ecology

SOIL SCI/​PL PATH  323 Soil Biology3
SOIL SCI/​AGRONOMY/​BOTANY  370 Grassland Ecology3
SOIL SCI/​MICROBIO  425 Environmental Microbiology3
SOIL SCI/​F&W ECOL  451 Environmental Biogeochemistry3
SOIL SCI/​CIV ENGR  623 Microbiology of Waterborne Pathogens and Indicator Organisms3

Soils and the Environment

SOIL SCI 211 Soils and Climate Change2
SOIL SCI 250 Introduction to Environmental Science3
SOIL SCI/​ENVIR ST  324 Soils and Environmental Quality3
SOIL SCI 327 Environmental Monitoring and Soil Characterization for Earth's Critical Zone4
SOIL SCI 430 Environmental Soil Contamination3
SOIL SCI 499 Soil Management3
SOIL SCI/​F&W ECOL/​HORT  524 Urban Soil and Environment3
SOIL SCI/​ENVIR ST  575 Assessment of Environmental Impact3
SOIL SCI 585 Using R for Soil and Environmental Sciences3

Allied Sciences

Complete one course from the following for a minimum of 2 credits:

Course List

A A E 101 Introduction to Agricultural and Applied Economics4
A A E/​ENVIR ST  244 The Environment and the Global Economy4
A A E 352 Global Health: Economics, Natural Systems, and Policy4
AGRONOMY 100 Principles and Practices in Crop Production4
AGROECOL/​AGRONOMY/​C&E SOC/​ENTOM/​ENVIR ST  103 Agroecology: An Introduction to the Ecology of Food and Agriculture3
AGRONOMY/​BOTANY/​SOIL SCI  370 Grassland Ecology3
AGRONOMY 377 Global Food Production and Health3
BSE 301 Land Information Management3
BSE/​CIV ENGR/​SOIL SCI  372 On-Site Waste Water Treatment and Dispersal2
BSE 473 Water Management Systems3
C&E SOC/​SOC  140 Introduction to Community and Environmental Sociology4
C&E SOC/​SOC  222 Food, Culture, and Society3
C&E SOC/​F&W ECOL/​SOC  248 Environment, Natural Resources, and Society3
C&E SOC/​A A E/​SOC  340 Issues in Food Systems3-4
ENTOM/​AGRONOMY/​NUTR SCI  203 Introduction to Global Health3
ENTOM 570 Systems Thinking in Global Health3
HORT 120 Survey of Horticulture3
HORT 227 Propagation of Horticultural Plants3
HORT/​PL PATH  261 Sustainable Turfgrass Use and Management2
HORT 370 World Vegetable Crops3
LSC 212 Introduction to Scientific Communication3
LSC 251 Science, Media and Society3
LSC 430 Communicating Science with Narrative3
PL PATH 311 Global Food Security3

Certificate Completion Requirement

This undergraduate certificate must be completed concurrently with the student’s undergraduate degree. Students cannot delay degree completion to complete the certificate.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Discuss, debate, and communicate those aspects of soil science pertinent to their primary major, specialization, and career goals.
  2. Describe how soil integrates into larger environmental issues using its properties, processes, and distribution from local to global scales and natural to anthropogenic environments.
  3. Identify potential solutions to issues related to soil that promote the ecosystem services soil provides.
  4. Communicate, in written or oral form, potential environmental impacts of land-use practices involving soil.

Advising and Careers


Each certificate student is assigned an advisor who works to understand student goals and help students shape their path through the certificate. Advisors also provide support for post-graduation plans such as jobs, fellowships, or graduate school.

There may be additional requirements for students seeking a Professional Soil Scientist certification beyond the Certificate requirements. The certificate advisor can help you identify courses that will meet requirements for the Professional Soil Scientist Certification through The Soil Science Society of America.

Career Opportunities

The Certificate in Environmental Soil Science provides an attractive addition to a science, engineering, or allied science major for students interested in careers in environmental sciences, agricultural science, natural resources, and other related industries. Students in majors across campus can also use the certificate to diversify their skills and knowledge to be better informed citizens.

Questions about advising or careers may be directed to the certificate advisor listed in the contact box.



Dr. Francisco Arriaga

Applied Soil Physics, Soil and Water Management and Conservation: Conservation agriculture systems; development of conservation tillage practices that enhance soil quality, soil hydraulic properties, and plant water use through the adoption of cover crops and non-inversion tillage for traditional cropping systems.

Dr. Nicholas Balster

Soil Ecology, Plant Physiological Ecology, and Education: Energy and material cycling in natural and anthropogenic soils including forests, grasslands, and urban ecosystems; stable isotope ecology; environmental education; nutrition management of nursery soils; tree physiology, production and response; ecosystem response to global change; urban ecosystem processes; invasive plant ecology; biodiversity.

Dr. Phillip Barak

Soil Chemistry and Plant Nutrition: Nutrient cycling; nutrient recovery from wastewater; molecular visualization of soil minerals and molecules; soil acidification.

Dr. Zachary Freedman

Soil microbiology, ecology and sustainability: Effects of environmental change on biogeochemical cycles; community ecology and trophic dynamics; forest soil ecology; soil organic matter dynamics; sustainable agroecosystems; bio-based product crop production on marginal lands.  

Dr. Alfred Hartemink

Pedology, Digital Soil Mapping: Pedology; soil carbon; digital soil mapping; tropical soils; history and philosophy of soil science.

Dr. Jingyi Huang

Soil Physics, Proximal and Remote Sensing, Soil Monitoring and Management, Digital Soil Mapping: Application of proximal and remote sensing technologies for understanding the movement of water, heat, gas, and solutes in soils across different spatial and temporal scales; application of physical and empirical models for monitoring, mapping, and managing soil changes due to natural processes and human activities.

Dr. Inna Popova

Environmental soil chemistry; understanding and mitigating the response of soil systems to the increased pressure of organic contaminants; application of biopesticides; development of novel separation and analyses methods for contaminants in environmental matrices.

Dr. Natasha Rayne

Soil Fertility and Nutrient Management: Manure placement, timing, and nitrogen credits; Organic soil amendments and nutrient cycling; Climate-smart and site-specific nitrogen management; Improvement of nitrogen use efficiency in cereal crop production.

Dr. Matthew Ruark

Soil Fertility and Nutrient Management: Soil fertility and management of grain biofuel, and vegetable crops; cover crop management; agricultural production and water quality; sustainability of dairy cropping systems; soil organic matter management.

Dr. Douglas Soldat

Turfgrass and Urban Soils: Turfgrass, urban soils, nutrient management, water resources, soil testing, landscape irrigation; soil contamination.

Dr. Thea Whitman

Soil Ecology, Microbiology, and Biogeochemistry: Soil microbial ecology; organic matter decomposition and carbon stabilization; global environmental change; stable isotopes; linking functional significance of microbial communities with ecosystem processes; fire effects on soil carbon and microbes; management and policy.

Dr. Xia Zhu-Barker

Soil Biogeochemistry, Land Management, and Environmental Sustainability:  Nitrogen and carbon biogeochemical cycles; greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions; nitrate leaching and runoff; innovative manure and nutrient utilization; composting; climate change mitigation and adaptation; ecosystem services and carbon markets; dairy environmental sustainability; novel methods in isotopic techniques; mechanistic exploration of soil-plant-microbe interactions; process-based modelling. The specific research topics include:

  • Microbial and abiotic processes involved in the production and consumption of nitrogen and carbon gases (N2O, NOX, NH3, CO2, CH4)
  • Land management practices (e.g., compost, fertilizer, cover crops, irrigation, and tillage) that change soil health, nitrogen use efficiency, crop productivity, nitrogen losses, carbon turnover.
  • Process oriented modelling of carbon/nitrogen turnover in agricultural ecosystems.
  • Environmental changes on the sustainability and resilience of agricultural ecosystems especially dairy production systems.

Wisconsin Experience

Students in the Certificate in Environmental Soil Science are involved in an array of opportunities across campus. Students are highly encouraged to complement their coursework with out-of-classroom experiences such as researchvolunteeringinternships, and study abroad.

Students in the certificate can participate in the UW-Madison Soil Judging Team.


Certified Professional Soil Scientist

There may be additional requirements for students seeking a Professional Soil Scientist certification beyond the Certificate requirements. Work with your advisor to ensure that you complete courses that will meet requirements for the Professional Soil Scientist Certification through The Soil Science Society of America.

Please refer to https://www.soils.org/certifications/become-certified/ for current requirements.

Resources and Scholarships

Financial support in the form of scholarships, part-time employment, paid internships, and work-study programs is available to qualified undergraduate students. Students with a primary major in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences receive more than $1.25 million in scholarships annually. Additionally, the Department of Soil and Environmental Sciences is proud to offer numerous scholarships annually to students pursuing the Certificate in Environmental Soil Science.