Case studies are often used to give students a taste of the real world. But Kathleen Falk's Environmental Studies 402 class at UW-Madison's Nelson Institute takes it to another level. This semester, her students were tasked with figuring out how to build community support for ongoing lake cleanup efforts. On Monday, they presented their plans to the Dane County Lakes and Watershed Commission.
The name of the course is "Making Change Happen - The Politics of Environmental Decision-Making." Falk says she didn't want it to be just an intellectual exercise. "I wanted to do something that is useful to the real world."
Falk served as Dane County executive from 1997 to 2011 and has worked on environmental issues for much of her career. She also ran twice unsuccessfully for governor. Aside from many guest-lecturing gigs, this is the first course she has taught in decades.
Falk says she consulted the lakes commission and county executive's office on what information would be helpful to them as lake cleanup efforts proceed. As a result, the students worked on plans to engage citizens on how best to collect leaves and how to do public education around new initiatives, among other plans.
Falk says her schedule has lightened up since she worked "morning, noon and night, seven days a week" as county exec, but she is not interested in slowing down yet.
"I have one more big challenge in me," says Falk.
That's unlikely to be another run for office, though.
"I don't see that on the horizon," she says.