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Nelson Institute Strategic Plan

The strategic plan establishes a framework that guides the Nelson Institute's path forward, with a focus on community, partnerships, inclusivity, education and student experience, research, and visibility.


The Nelson Institute advances education, research, decision-making, and public engagement. We foster the next generation of leaders in sustainability and engage in scholarship to protect and preserve the environment. We are an interdisciplinary community of knowledge and practice: artists and engineers, historians and chemists, sociologists and climate scientists, ecologists and hydrologists.


We will be leaders in helping stem the tide of global species extinction, reversing runaway climate change, and adapting to a changing planet. We will address these challenges by bringing justice, equity, and inclusivity to the forefront of environmental problem-solving.

Institutional Values


  • We foster an open, exciting, welcoming, and disruptive setting to help faculty, staff, and students thrive, invent, learn, and engage diverse publics in whole new ways.
  • We make the Nelson Institute the premier destination for thinkers and doers, as well as the go-to site for communities and partners who need new ideas and solutions for problems.


  • We create partnerships that connect our campus with Indigenous, local, national, and global communities, organizations, and businesses, and other institutions of higher learning.
  • We invest in units and knowledge communities across our campus to make the University of Wisconsin–Madison a stronger, more innovative, and more effective place for environmental scholarship and action.


  • We seek to make environmental education and problem-solving available to everyone, from the sovereign Native Nations of our region to the small towns of our state, by starting from community needs, learning from diverse experiences, and listening to disparate voices.
  • We foster encounters between wide-ranging ideas, communities, and practices that would otherwise remain isolated.


  • We build and maintain a welcoming campus space for students, staff, and faculty to convene around a common concern for environment and sustainability.
  • We create positive learning and working environments; we respect and support each other; we listen and learn from each other.

Strategic Directions and Investments



Establish the Nelson Institute as an inclusive, cohesive, and purpose- centered community.

Summary: The Nelson Institute is an academically diverse division with a presence across numerous departments and locations within UW–Madison. In the past decade, each one of its component programs, centers, and units has grown, but independently and not cohesively. To build a cohesive community, we will expand connections and foster a sense of common purpose, understanding, trust, and unity. Our projects and programs will create a strong and welcoming “neighborhood” at UW–Madison.


Launch and maintain extensive, successful, and widespread community, government, and corporate partnerships.

Summary: The Nelson Institute, an education and research division of UW–Madison, serves its internal constituencies through instruction, grant-writing, and scholarly applications. However, our parallel purpose is to function as a problem-solving, integrative unit across the campus, serving as the “environmental front door” to the university for diverse campus and public audiences interested in environmental and sustainability issues. Given our recent, significant growth as a campus unit, we must now significantly improve access to UW–Madison resources in sustainability and environmental studies to new partners, especially in the private sector, by expanding programs and overall communication, while continuing to coordinate and maintain existing partnerships.


Create an inclusive environment where all members of our diverse Nelson community feel valued, respected, supported, and celebrated.

Summary: The Nelson Institute acknowledges the diverse experiences, commitments, and influences individuals have on the environment. We recognize that inclusive solutions are essential to tackle challenges related to climate change, biodiversity preservation, water and air quality, and natural resource stewardship. In line with this, we will broaden opportunities for environmental education and engagement, fostering participation both on campus and through partnerships. Additionally, we will introduce new programs that intentionally recruit diverse students. We will also reinforce efforts in areas where we have demonstrated success, with a special focus on ongoing collaborating with the sovereign Native Nations of the state now known as Wisconsin.

Education and Student Experience

Provide superlative interdisciplinary teaching and learning, experience, and training for Nelson students.

Summary: The Nelson Institute’s educational programs serve the entire campus, touching nearly every school, college and unit, with undergraduate and graduate education. This meets critical needs for coherence and depth as climate, environment, and sustainability grow as top-level priorities. Programs are also marked by their unusually high level of commitment to hands-on and experiential learning, from our undergraduate capstones to our graduate project matches in water resources management, energy analysis and policy, and professional programs. Maintaining flexibility as the cornerstone of interdisciplinary programs, the Nelson Institute will seek to build more cohesive student communities, more reliable professional development and internship resources, and a more reliable flow of funding, especially for undergraduate courses and capstones, such as sustainability, and prospective graduate students.


Generate high-impact scholarship — supported by external grants and gifts — with relevance and value to the public and external stakeholders. 

Summary: The Nelson Institute has experienced a remarkable expansion in the number and scale of its educational programs and outreach platforms. Research efforts over the past decade, however, have not grown at the same rate, and the availability of resources to take on these efforts effectively and inclusively remains limited. To address this challenge, we are committed to making strategic investments in staffing, time, and institutional resources. We are focused on significantly increasing research revenue without diminishing the quality of intellectual outputs.


Enhance and focus Nelson’s brand and identity.

Summary: The establishment of the Nelson Institute as an independent school at the dean-level within UW–Madison has forged significant partnerships and fostered a growing student base who rely on us for exceptional educational programs, robust research support, and unbiased convening. However, we recognize our opportunity to clarify our identity, purpose, and contributions to both the university and the public. We will prioritize developing a cohesive and well-articulated set of talking points that faculty, staff, and students can use to effectively communicate our identity and mission. We will create, organize, and distribute materials that deliver a clear, impactful, and consistent message, showcasing the purpose and outstanding excellence of our programs.

Strategic Plan Dashboard

Nelson Institute staff can use the strategic plan dashboard to check the status of all action items. The dashboard offers multiple views and filtering/sorting options, providing multiple ways to keep track of our progress.

Keywordsstrategic planning mission vision values   Doc ID136970
OwnerEric K.GroupNelson Administrative Hub
Created2024-04-25 12:54:31Updated2024-05-14 06:58:26
SitesNelson Administrative Hub
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