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Saturday, February 28, 2015 |  Madison, WI: -2.0° F  Fair
The Daily
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A new sustainability certificate will use the UW-Madison campus as a laboratory
Creating environmentally conscious undergrads
Middlecamp predicts that sustainability will emerge as a 'robust field of inquiry.'

For Cathy Middlecamp, placing academic disciplines in the context of sustainability comes naturally.

Two years ago, Middlecamp decided to focus her introductory environmental studies course on issues specific to UW-Madison, using the campus as a living textbook to teach about energy use, food sources and waste management. It didn't take long for that course to inspire a new UW program: a sustainability certificate that can be added to any major.

“Working on local UW–Madison issues of sustainability, I am taking topics from environmental science and placing them into new and exciting contexts right here on campus,” says Middlecamp, a professor of environmental studies and one of the certificate's primary creators. "Thinking more broadly, students who study sustainability need viewpoints from many disciplines, including history, business, ethics, agriculture and consumer science."

Sustainability is defined by the university as a system of values and actions that display a commitment to stewardship of environmental resources and respect for the health of communities. In practice, it aims for a healthier, cleaner future and could entail coming up with solutions for better recycling programs or more responsible food choices.

Beginning this fall, the 12-credit certificate will allow students in disciplines from engineering to the social sciences to add an environmentally and socially conscious perspective to their area of study. It will be offered through the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies with support from the Office of Sustainability.

Coursework will initially draw from the environmental studies major and include such course work as "Socially Just Consumption" and "Resources and People." Middlecamp says students will investigate the science behind such hot media topics as clean energy and food health.

The curriculum will emphasize problem-solving skills and culminate in a capstone project, where students will work in teams to identify and address a sustainability concern on the UW campus. The teams will be drawn from different majors to ensure "a range of perspectives," says Middlecamp.

The sustainability certificate is different from the environmental studies certificate in that students must apply for it. The program is limited to 100 people.

Middlecamp says the certificate is "value-added" for an undergraduate. "The knowledge and skills obtained pair well with many future professions."

She predicts that sustainability will emerge as a "robust field of inquiry" on campuses across the country. "It's already starting to happen," she says. "Here at UW-Madison, I think our certificate will eventually lead to creating a new undergraduate major, with courses drawn from all schools and colleges."

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