New undergraduate Sustainability Certificate launching

May 14, 2014 | by Jill Sakai

A new certificate in sustainability will be available to undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin-Madison beginning this fall.

The Sustainability Certificate, offered through the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies with support from the Office of Sustainability, will allow students to diversify their major course of study with interdisciplinary coursework in sustainability principles and application to real-world challenges.

Paul Robbins
Paul Robbins

“What makes this generation of students revolutionary is their near-universal concern about the future of our world. Business majors, engineers, history students, and people who study music — they’re all interested in sustainability,” says Paul Robbins, director of the Nelson Institute. “This certificate helps unite the campus to train the next generation of leaders in how our decisions today will impact our collective tomorrow.”

Through the certificate program, students will learn about links between natural and human systems, life-cycle thinking, value-generation for energy and other natural resources, and the role of public policy. The curriculum focuses on providing a breadth of intra- and interdisciplinary perspectives with an emphasis on problem-solving and experiential learning.

“Some of these pieces existed previously, here and there. But with a cohesive program, students have a community of interest in which they can learn,” says Nelson Institute professor Cathy Middlecamp, who played a central role in creating the certificate program. “Plus, the certificate provides opportunities for some truly innovative approaches. The course I teach, Principles of Environmental Science, is place-based, using examples of energy, food, and waste right here on campus to understand sustainability. It’s new content, it’s timely content, and I think it’s groundbreaking for UW-Madison to integrate campus operations, research, and teaching.”

The program culminates in a “Sustainability in Practice” capstone course that challenges students to work with peers and sustainability professionals to identify and address an existing issue on the UW-Madison campus, such as energy use, waste management, food systems, or transportation.

Craig Benson
Craig Benson

“Solving society’s complex sustainability problems requires interdisciplinary teams. We will be drawing undergraduates from all across campus to learn together about sustainability principles and how to apply them by engaging in actual projects and activities on our campus,” says Office of Sustainability co-director Craig Benson. “This training will give our students a advantageous position in the job market with the breadth of employers who are looking for employees with unique knowledge and skills in sustainability.”

The 12-credit certificate can be added to any major except the environmental studies joint degree. It also cannot be earned with the Environmental Studies Certificate.

Students from any class year are eligible to apply for the program if they have an overall G.P.A of at least 3.0 and have completed one of the required courses with a grade of B or better. More information, curriculum, and criteria are available on the Nelson Institute website. Students interested in the certificate should fill out a survey to be notified when the application form is available in summer 2014.

See related media coverage:

Public News Service; June 16, 2014: Applying Sustainability Principles to Real-World Problems

Isthmus; June 24, 2014: A New Sustainability Certificate Will Use the UW–Madison Campus as a Laboratory