Green therapy: CALS expertise helps redesign landscapes to heal body and soul

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

The teens in the rehab program can’t have drugs, so they use the waterfall instead.

That’s how Lily Mank BSLA’15 explains the fact that when patients first visit the healing garden at the Rosecrance Griffin Williamson adolescent substance abuse facility in Rockford, Ill., they choose to sit near the cascading water.

“I think the drugs numb their emotions, and when they don’t have access to drugs, they become very raw, very sensitive to their thoughts,” says Mank. “They need the stimulation of the waterfall, the white noise, to quiet themselves down.

“They move away from the waterfall as they become more comfortable with their thoughts and more able to be balanced within themselves,” she says. “That’s a sign that they’re getting ready to leave the program.”

Mank doesn’t know if her explanation is right, but she plans to find out in her ongoing research of nature restoration.

The five-acre garden, designed by master Japanese landscape designer Hoichi Kurisu, is incorporated into every part of the highly successful 12-step addiction treatment program at the Rosecrance facility. It’s a powerful tool for clearing the minds of the 12- to 18-year-old patients.

It was also powerful for Mank. Since working in the garden as an intern in her junior year of the CALS landscape architecture program, she has made healing landscapes her career focus. She went on to do a senior thesis focused on improving nature access at a Wisconsin mental health hospital. She also earned a certificate in health care garden design at the Chicago Botanical Gardens and interned at Ziegler Design Associates, a company owned by Steve Ziegler BS’83 and Joan Werner-Ziegler BS’78, CALS alums who specialize in designing healing spaces.

Lily Mank

Landscape architecture graduate student Lily Mank, pictured here on the Rosecrance campus in Rockford, is exploring how gardens help people heal. Photo: Joan Fischer. Banner photo: Feel the peace: A five-acre garden at the Rosecrance Griffin Williamson Campus in Rockford, Ill., helps teens recover from substance abuse. Photo: Rosecrance Health Network

Mank still thinks about the waterfall. How, exactly, she wonders, does spending time in the Rosecrance garden—or in any peaceful outdoor space—help settle an unsettled mind?

That’s a great question, says Sam Dennis. It’s right at the heart of what he studies as a professor and director of the Environmental Design Laboratory (EDL) in the CALS Department of Landscape Architecture (LA). While the LA department is best known for its work on environmental restoration—techniques people can use to heal damaged natural environments—Dennis and his team at the EDL flip that around. They’re finding ways to incorporate nature into human-made environments to restore the health of people. Dennis’s projects employ thoughtful outdoor design to help people eat better and get more exercise and to create safer, calmer and more cohesive neighborhoods.

Health-conscious design has always been on the department’s radar. In 1981, 10 years before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Steve Ziegler was encouraged to do his senior thesis on barrier-free design in elder care facilities. But today the topic is getting much more attention.

As one example, assistant professor Kristin Thorleifsdottir has been reworking the curriculum to make sure students get a good grounding in the burgeoning area of science that looks at connections between health and the built environment.

The native Icelander offers three classes on the topic, including a new sophomore-level design class in landscape architecture and a graduate seminar that attracts students from landscape architecture, interior architecture, urban and regional planning,health care and other disciplines. She touches on history—from the cities of the ancient Greeks to the urban squalor of the Industrial Revolution—but most of what she covers starts in the 1980s.

In a 1984 study, Texas A&M design professor Roger Ulrich found that postsurgical patients who had a view of trees from their hospital windows were released sooner, took less pain medication and experienced fewer complications than did patients who had a view of a blank wall.

“Ulrich’s study was the first that looked at health and design,” she says. “Since then there have been a lot more.” Those studies span diverse disciplines—urban planning, public health, pediatrics, psychology, gerontology, neurobiology, art, horticulture and forestry, to name a few—which means those who study the topic must learn several lexicons.

“The fields of public health and design speak very different languages,” Thorleifsdottir notes. “Design researchers tend to take a more qualitative approach—they look at how people experience the environment. Public health is very much into quantitative measures.”

Her own research focuses on health at the community level, including studies on neighborhood design and children’s outdoor physical activities. She’s embarking on two new studies, one of them on the quality of public city parks and the availability of settings for mental restoration, a collaborative project with research partners in Sweden and Serbia.

Sam Dennis

Landscape architect Sam Dennis relaxes for a moment in the just-opened Hilary Grace Healing Garden at UW Hospital, a peaceful place for patients to rest and rejuvenate. The garden was designed by Ken Saiki Design. Ken Saiki BS’79 employs many CALS alumni, including Joe Porter BS’02, who managed the project from conception through completion. Photo: Joan Fischer

Sam Dennis has become pretty fluent in the language of public health. As part of UW–Madison’s campus-wide Obesity Prevention Initiative, his partners include researchers in nutritional sciences and family medicine. Body mass index (BMI) is a common research metric, and a recent study involved drawing blood. That project, a collaboration with the Madison-based nonprofit Community Groundworks, used a garden-based curriculum to teach young people to eat better.

“Rather than ask how much the students eat, the researchers took a blood sample. You could tell by levels of serum carotenoids in blood whether they were eating fruits and vegetables,” Dennis explains.

Dennis doesn’t wield the syringes. While his collaborators collect data on human health, he assesses how well the urban landscape supports it. He works with residents of underserved urban neighborhoods to identify features that either facilitate or impede physical activity, healthy eating and safety.

To collect the data, the EDL team has developed an innovative (and now widely replicated) tool that they dubbed “participatory photo mapping.” The researchers ask neighborhood residents—often kids—to photograph things that they see as barriers to healthy living, and then ask them to write stories explaining the photos.

“They tell the stories, then we geo-locate the stories and photos with GIS, so we can overlay their stories and images with, say, traffic data, or data about pedestrians and bicyclists getting hit by cars, or crime rates.”

Often the stories lead to simple fixes, such as repainting crosswalks, adding pedestrian signals or hiring a playground supervisor so that parents feel reassured about their kids using a local park.

But residents also point out problems that are pretty surprising—and tough to solve. Dennis recounts what Latino kids in South Madison had to say about a nearby city bike path.

“They say they’re not welcome there because the bike path is for white people—that you’ve got to be rich and have a special kind of bike,” Dennis says. “The literature says the presence of a bike trail significantly reduces the body mass index of everyone around it, but the kids aren’t using it because they don’t see it as their space. Instead, they ride on busy streets.”

“They’re very sensitive to where they feel welcome,” Dennis notes. “Mapping that is part of mapping their well-being.”

Stories like these are important, Dennis says, because they point to health problems that can’t be diagnosed by calculating body mass or drawing blood.

“Physiological things like body mass index are important, but so is our mental well-being,” Dennis says. “There’s a lot of research suggesting that chronic stress experienced by people with low incomes helps explains disparities in health across different environments. As environmental design researchers, we try to figure out the source of that stress and then see what we can do to reduce it through changes in the built environment.”

Continue reading this story in the Fall 2016 issue of Grow magazine.

Gary Brown

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

As director of Campus Planning & Landscape Architecture at UW–Madison, Gary Brown BS’84 is in charge of places that hold cherished memories for just about every Badger alum. In addition to overseeing campus master planning activities on the 936-acre campus, Brown serves as director of the 300-acre Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Brown, a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, also serves as the chair of the UW–Madison Landscape Architecture Alumni Advisory Board.

Currently Brown is spearheading the latest Campus Master Plan, a vision for the physical campus that is updated every 10 years.

Is there an overarching goal you’re aiming for in this iteration of the Campus Master Plan?

This time around, rather than focus on the building capacity of the land, we are specifically looking at the spaces in between our buildings—the campus landscape. As a landscape architect, I find these spaces as important to me as the buildings, and in some cases, more so.

When we ask alumni about their favorite places on campus, they often mention Bascom Hill, the view from Observatory Hill out over Lake Mendota (and “traying” down that hill in the winter!), or the Memorial Union Terrace, some of our most iconic landscapes. We want to make sure all of our campus landscapes support the mission of the university and provide respite, rejuvenation and places for faculty, staff and students to gather outside in the warmer months. In winter, views out to great landscapes can help promote the wellness of our staff and the learning potential of our students. Landscapes and views to them are inherently important for our long-term health and well-being.

Can you offer any specifics yet?

The plan includes adding new courtyards and open spaces as redevelopment occurs in the south campus, south of University Avenue. We are also looking at significant changes to the area between North Charter Street and Henry Mall, north of University Avenue, as that area redevelops over time.

Where do you find inspiration for a task like this?

I rely on my landscape architecture colleagues around the country who provide inspiration in their work on campus landscapes. Some say the physical campus soon won’t be needed, with the expansion of online learning. I disagree. The physical campus and all that it stands for—the life of the campus, the heart and soul of the great universities—are in their campus landscapes. It’s what makes each university unique, offering a “sense of place” created by the university’s own history and its part of the world.

What’s the hardest thing about your job?

Getting people involved and excited. Facilities planning can be pretty dull for some people. I want people to feel free to share their ideas and concepts about how the campus should look, feel and function in 20 years. It’s nice to stop and gaze into the crystal ball every now and then to predict the future. You never know what actually can come true. Look at Alumni Park, the East Campus Mall, a reinvigorated Memorial Union Terrace and the new State Street Mall—all great examples of amazing ideas and visions for our campus landscape that have been, and will prove to be, iconic for years to come.

This story was originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of Grow magazine.

Cultivate Health initiative helps the school garden movement grow

Monday, May 9th, 2016
kids in garden

“We know that children are much more likely to both try and like fresh fruits or vegetables that they help grow or harvest in the garden,” says Nathan Larson, director of the Cultivate Health Initiative.

Spring is in the air and gardens are on our minds — specifically, school gardens aimed at improving the health and well-being of children.

The Wisconsin School Garden Network is a new program to grow and sustain the garden-based education movement throughout Wisconsin. It will provide technical assistance to 200 educational garden program sites as well as in-person and Web-based training, support and educational resources to more than 2,000 schoolteachers, early care and education providers, after-school teachers, community educators, and parents on best practices in garden-based education. Find educational gardens in your area here.

A growing body of research shows that educational garden programs improve not just the health and well-being of children, but the choices they make regarding fruits and vegetables.


Nathan Larson

“We know that children are much more likely to both try and like fresh fruits or vegetables that they help grow or harvest in the garden,” says UW–Madison’s Nathan Larson, director of the Cultivate Health Initiative, which launched the network. “Interest in school gardens continues to soar as more educators and parents recognize that a garden can be a core component of education during the school day. Beyond education about nutrition and food choices, the garden provides an opportunity to experience a physical, dynamic learning environment, where kids can actively participate in their education.”

The network will span five regions throughout Wisconsin to support teachers, administrators, parents and others who want to start or sustain educational gardens. Regional coordinators will work with local partners to promote garden-based education in urban and rural communities around the state.

“By building strong connections between educators, support networks and resources, we are much more likely to sustain the many wonderful educational gardens already in Wisconsin as well as the new gardens that continue to be installed,” says Sam Dennis, associate professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture at UW–Madison. “Because children spend a significant portion of their time in school, after-school and early childhood settings, these school-based garden interventions combined with nutrition education and physical activity have the potential to effectively promote healthy eating behaviors and prevent or reduce obesity in children.”


Sam Dennis

To further support garden-based education, Larson has authored a new free book, Teaching in Nature’s Classroom: Core Principles of Garden-Based Education. He shares his philosophy of teaching in the garden and presents 15 guiding principles. To download or order a free copy of the book, visit the Wisconsin School Garden Network at

The Cultivate Health initiative is funded by a $1 million, five-year grant from the Wisconsin Partnership Program at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. The initiative is run by Community GroundWorks and the UW Environmental Design Lab.

Established in 2004, the Wisconsin Partnership Program has awarded more than 400 research, education and community partnership grants totaling more than $180 million, aimed at improving the health and well-being of the people of Wisconsin.

Tips for Starting a School Garden

Beth Hanna, outreach manager of the Cultivate Health initiative, offers these tips for parents, teachers and administrators interested in starting a ­­­school garden:

  • Form a team. Whether through the school wellness committee, green team, or a brand new garden committee, bringing together the many stakeholders of a school garden (teachers, students, administrators, facilities, parents and more) will help mold your school garden program into one that lasts for years to come.
  • Focus on the kids. Involve your students in every aspect of the gardening process — from planning to planting to harvesting. Help them to feel that it is their garden.
  • Enjoy! A garden is a place to explore, learn, munch and play all in one setting. Enjoy the many gifts of the garden, be it a wriggling worm, a juicy tomato or a newly-sprouted plant.

This story was originally published on the UW-Madison News site.

Lily Mank

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

Class-Act-MankSome gardens are created to cultivate or showcase particular kinds of plants, others to grow food. But landscape architecture student Lily Mank is most interested in gardens designed to aid healing.

Last summer Mank had an opportunity to learn with a master: Hoichi Kurisu, an international leader in Japanese gardening who counts the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Ill., among his works. Under his tutelage, Mank completed an internship there allowing her to participate in all aspects of garden maintenance and management— the first time the facility had ever offered one. She also worked at the nearby Rosecrance Griffin Williamson teen substance abuse rehabilitation center, which features a healing garden designed by Kurisu. The garden is an integral part of the facility’s treatment program.

“Seeing the benefits of the therapeutic garden firsthand was incredible,” she says. “It was probably my favorite experience.”

Mank, who holds a certificate in healthcare garden design from the Chicago Botanic Garden, wrapped up her internship with a report on therapeutic gardens. For her senior capstone project she’s taking what she’s learned to Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, which offers treatment for people with eating disorders, OCD and anxiety, depression and addiction.

When first-timers visit a Japanese-style therapeutic garden, one feature stands out: it’s primarily green. “A frequent comment is that there aren’t a lot of flowers, that everything is monochromatic green,” says Mank.

Yet most people feel the tranquility. It’s the special way that plants and other elements—paths, rocks, bodies of water, resting places—are brought together, and the emotions these landscapes evoke, Mank says.

A growing body of research about the benefits of therapeutic landscapes has changed how we look at healthcare, much of it stemming from a study decades ago showing that patients recovered from surgery faster and required less pain medication if they were placed in rooms with a view of nature, Mank says.

She hopes to hone her craft in the realm of therapeutic landscape architecture after she graduates this month.

Bridging the gap: Helping students reach across borders

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Food science major Hannah Fenton gratefully recalls the kindness shown to her during the three years she and her family spent in Thailand. “I know what it’s like to live in a foreign place and to feel lonely and in need of a friend,” she says.

That’s why Fenton joined BRIDGE—short for “Building Relationships in Diverse Global Environments”—a campus program that matches U.S.-born Badgers with students from around the world. “I wanted to give international students the love, support and guidance that I had when I was in Thailand,” says Fenton.

Bridging gap crop

Bridging gap crop Food science major Hannah Fenton (bottom left) carrying BRIDGE partner Kanokwan Duangkunarat, of Thailand; and Jenny Falt, from Sweden (bottom right), carrying her fellow landscape architecture student Sherry Yang.

Last fall Fenton was paired with Bangkok native Kanokwan “Kim” Duangkunarat, who credits BRIDGE with helping her make the most of her five months in Madison. “Before I came here, I thought that the international students would be treated differently,” Duangkunarat says. “However, I was wrong.”

The feeling of “fitting in” she describes is at the heart of BRIDGE’s mission. Offered through International Student Services (ISS), BRIDGE seeks to ease the transition of foreign students to campus while giving U.S. students the opportunity to connect as cultural ambassadors. Each semester an interview process matches international and domestic students according to their interests and gathers these pairs into teams of 14 to 20 students.

To cultivate participants’ leadership and cross-cultural communication skills, each BRIDGE team is assigned to design and host a special event for the others. Past activities have included tours of research labs, visits to a traditional Wisconsin farm, a trip to a corn maze, and even a tailgate party at Miller Park.

After a focus group of CALS undergraduates revealed that many students appreciated the diverse origins of their peers in the classroom but were unsure how to connect socially, CALS administrators reached out to ISS to sponsor a college-specific BRIDGE team.

Now in its fourth semester, the CALS team has attracted students from all corners of the globe, including Germany, Brazil, Malaysia, Singapore and China. Participants have included majors in biochemistry, animal sciences, microbiology, and community and environmental sociology, though the program welcomes international students from non-CALS majors as well. Inspired by CALS’ success, two other colleges on campus are sponsoring college-specific teams this year.

“Now I have many good friends from different countries,” says Duangkunarat. “I have learned that UW–Madison is a really great place to study and live.”

Meanwhile, Fenton has enjoyed seeing her campus through the eyes of students for whom their time here is study abroad. “My favorite question to ask them is, ‘How do you like Madison?’” she says. “I enjoy showing them my favorite things and hearing about their new adventures as well.”

This story was originally published in the Spring 2015 issue of Grow magazine.

Costa Rica: New trail in paradise

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015
costa rica trail

CALS students blaze a trail for the Cloud Forest School in Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Sam Dennis.

This past January a group of CALS students found themselves bushwhacking through a dense mountain forest in Costa Rica, crossing paths with monkeys, colorful birds, snakes and strange-looking frogs along the way.

But no worries: They weren’t lost.

As part of a service-learning course offered by the Department of Landscape Architecture, they were scouting out a new hiking trail for the Cloud Forest School, a bilingual, environmentally focused K–11 school located just outside the majestic, fog-shrouded cloud forest reserves of Monteverde and Santa Elena. The reserves are among the most biologically diverse places on Earth, serving as home to more than 2,500 plant species, 400 kinds of birds, more than 200 species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians—and thousands of insects.

“We hiked through the most wild parts of the mountain to collect GPS points of potential new trails,” says Lyn Kim, a landscape architecture senior who spent two weeks in Costa Rica as part of the Cloud Forest Studio course, as it’s called.

CALS students helped plan, map and build a five-kilometer trail through the school’s extensive grounds, which include both pristine and previously harvested cloud forest. The path, which includes resting points of special ecological interest, was designed for Cloud Forest School field trips as well as for the school’s annual fundraiser run. Creating it, however, was just one piece of a much larger effort.

“The long-term goal is to help develop some kind of meaningful forest restoration plan for the property,” says landscape architecture professor Sam Dennis, who co-leads the course along with department chair and professor John Harrington.

“We also want to help support the school’s environmental education efforts so their students can go on to jobs in the local ecotourism industry,” he adds.

Dennis and Harrington made a five-year commit- ment to the school and so far have led two groups of CALS students to conduct work there. In addition to building the trail, students have also started developing classroom curriculum materials, nature guides for the property and interpretive trail signage.

The trips expose CALS students to landscape architecture’s vocational variety. “People tend to think of landscape architecture as putting plants onto landscapes, but that’s very little of what we actually do,” explains Harrington. The course gives students
a taste of environmental restoration work, community development work, and the creation of outdoor educational spaces with community input.

Kim, for one, was thrilled with her experience last January, and not just because she got to see an active volcano and zipline down the side of a mountain on her day off.

“At school we always design on trace paper and in the computer, but we never get to see our designs built,” she notes. “During our trail-building project, we got to see our work come to life.”

This story was originally published in the Fall 2014 issue of Grow magazine.

CALS landscape architecture alum and his Chicago firm are influencing popular urban landscapes across the country

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014
Collage of city planning images

Images courtesy of The Lakota Group

In a loft space overlooking popular bars, restaurants, and a doughnut shop where people line up for blocks in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, Scott Freres ’86 glances at a collection of urban development plans that have created similar buzz.

There’s a sketch of the Irish Green lawn at the University of Notre Dame, a new beloved gathering space. There are renderings of a reinvigorated Main Street in downtown Kenosha, Wisconsin. And there are plans from ten former industrial towns in Oregon that are starting to bustle again after years of struggle.

The designs are tacked to his bulletin board to remind Freres of the projects he has been a part of since he co-founded The Lakota Group, an urban planning and landscape architecture firm, twenty-one years ago. One of the thumbtacks has special significance: it’s a Motion W, the iconic athletics logo from his alma mater, a place Freres credits with setting him on his path. Today he’s at the forefront of change as urban planning and landscape architecture have evolved into a blended industry.

“[The university] gave me a fundamental platform that I built my career around,” says Freres, who shows his appreciation by returning to campus for guest lectures and sitting on the content and design committee for Alumni Park, a green space that the Wisconsin Alumni Association is developing next to the Memorial Union.

Freres has made it a priority to hire UW graduates at his firm, where today five of the sixteen full-time employees are alumni, and others have passed through over the years.

“There are other Wisconsin alumni looking out for fellow Badgers. … It’s good to know these kinds of employers exist,” says Sarah White ’04, a senior planner and landscape architect at the firm.

Freres, who grew up in suburban Chicago, knew by the time he turned eighteen that he wanted to bring people together with architectural designs that respect the environment. While touring the UW, the view looking down Bascom Hill to State Street convinced him that Madison — where nature seemed harmoniously paired with development — would be the ideal place to study.

But when he enrolled in the 1980s, landscape architecture was not the trendy, almost assumed aspect of urban planning that it is today. Freres’s courses focused on wholly environmental topics such as natural resources, wildlife, and resource protection, with less attention paid to the urban environment. People commonly confused his career choice with wanting to be a gardener.

“If you called yourself a landscape architect twenty-five years ago, the first question from your mom was, ‘Do you get your name on the side of the truck?’ ” he recalls. “[People think] you’re the guy putting the bushes in when they’re done designing the building.”

In those days, Freres explains, landscape architects were an afterthought in major development projects, brought in to help think through site-specific issues, or to choose plants.

But changes in the way society now thinks — with a new awareness of the environment, a focus on quality-of-life issues, and an interest in learning from examples around the world — have allowed landscape architects to become key members of the design and planning process.

“Today, the landscape architecture world can be much broader,” he says. “It can be much more at the macro level of addressing community-planning issues, addressing policy issues, and community engagement. Twenty years ago, that was not part of our role at all.”

To broaden his experience while still a student, Freres took a full-time job with campus facilities planning, where he helped with a renovation of the Memorial Union Terrace. Upon graduating, he spent several years at major Chicago architectural firms — often as one of the only landscape architects on staff — working on making architectural projects more sustainable.

As green concepts became more en vogue, Freres and colleague John LaMotte ’80 were inspired to start their own company, The Lakota Group. Choosing a Native American term that means “allies” as a nod to its respect for the environment and community building, the firm offers public and private urban planning and design, landscape architecture, and historic preservation. A sampling of the firm’s projects is featured here.

A trailblazer for merging urban design and landscape architecture, Freres says he’s heartened to see dozens of firms across the region enter the arena. He welcomes the competition, and notes that the growth is also inspiring universities to retool their courses to better reflect the shift.

Broadening his industry means good things for generations to come, he says, adding, “Landscape in the world I live in is about designing people spaces.”

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 11.37.57 AM

More examples and descriptions of The Lakota Group’s work are available on the On Wisconsin website.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of On Wisconsin magazine.

New UW-Madison MOOCs to focus on environmental and community themes

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014
Photo: Aldo Leopold

Famed UW conservationist Aldo Leopold provides inspiration for the next wave of UW-Madison Massive Open Online Courses to be launched in 2015, including “Understanding Aldo Leopold’s Legacy.” Photo: UW Digital Archives

It was Aldo Leopold — the 20th century conservationist, father of wildlife management and former University of Wisconsin faculty member, who once said, “There are two things that interest me: the relation of people to each other and the relation of people to the land.”

Beginning in 2015, UW-Madison will take Leopold’s words to heart by offering six Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on topics ranging from Shakespeare’s dramas and the digital humanities, to understanding Leopold’s land ethic, to the relationship between climate change and public health. A shared theme of sustainability and the environment will connect the six courses, including the course on Virtual Shakespeare, which will explore four Shakespearean dramas and incorporate environmental readings of the plays.

MOOCs are unique, online delivery systems that allow people from around the globe to participate in free, noncredit learning experiences. Building on the momentum of UW-Madison’s phase one pilot of four courses, which reached more than 135,600 registrants from approximately 141 countries and all 50 states, the university will continue its partnership with the online learning company Coursera.

The six new courses — two of which will be taught by CALS faculty — will share a variety of common threads and will explore the connections, challenges and tradeoffs that underlie our relationships to the natural world, to one another, and to communities across Wisconsin and abroad.

MOOC participants’ desire for access to continuing education, career development and personal enrichment — which became apparent in the first pilots — will inform the direction of UW-Madison MOOCs moving forward, says Jeffrey Russell, vice provost for lifelong learning and dean of the Division of Continuing Studies.

“This year our MOOCs extended the Wisconsin Idea to learners around the world,” Russell says. “In 2015, we are continuing in that spirit to make the UW-Madison experience more accessible. We hope that by making MOOCs a free and easy point of entry for participants interested in a UW-Madison educational experience, we can help direct them to our credit-bearing online and residential postgraduate degree programs, certificates and professional development opportunities.”

The six upcoming MOOCs will launch in 2015-16, led by 10 UW-Madison faculty and staff members joined by one faculty partner from the University of Colorado Boulder.

“Very impressive teams of faculty and staff have volunteered to work on the design and delivery of these MOOCs,” says Mark Johnson, UW-Madison’s director of educational innovation. “UW faculty, academic staff, instructional designers, librarians and academic technology specialists are all connecting to make this happen.”

The new courses are:

  • Understanding Aldo Leopold’s Legacy, taught by Timothy Van Deelen, associate professor in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, Janet Silbernagel, professional programs director and professor of landscape architecture and environmental studies, and Paul Robbins, professor and director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
Photo: Tim Van Deelen

Van Deelen

Photo: Janet Silbernagel


Photo: Paul Robbins


  • Changing Weather and Climate in the Great Lakes Region, taught by Steven Ackerman, professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, and Margaret Mooney, senior outreach specialist for the Space Science and Engineering Center.
  • Energy and the Earth, taught by Alan Carroll, professor of geoscience.
  • Forests and Humans, taught by Tom Gower, professor, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology.
Photo: S. Thompson Gower


  • Virtual Shakespeare, taught by Jesse Stommel, assistant professor, Department of Liberal Studies and the Arts, Sarah Marty, faculty associate, Department of Liberal Studies and the Arts, and R L Widmann, associate professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder.
  • Climate Change and Public Health, taught by Jonathan Patz, professor and director of the Global Health Institute.

“Faculty and instructional staff are exchanging ideas about how their MOOCs may complement one another, as well as how some of the content and learning activities might be used and inform the way they are designing other courses,” says Linda Jorn, associate vice provost for learning technologies and director of DoIT Academic Technology.

“This creative design process is definitely a reflection of the collaborative and interdisciplinary thinking happening at UW. I think this second suite of MOOCs also offers very rich opportunities to engage with new professional networks and community partners and citizens across Wisconsin.”

In keeping with the Wisconsin Idea, this collaborative approach to MOOCs will engage learners and citizens beyond the campus in many ways. Through partnerships with community organizations such as the American Players Theater and local libraries, UW-Madison plans to highlight the creativity of Wisconsin, sharing the state’s wealth of intellectual resources with a global audience. MOOCs are also an opportunity for UW-Madison to act as a convener of public discourse both digitally and in face-to-face community forums.

“I am delighted to move into the second and an increasingly important phase of our MOOC program,” says Provost Paul DeLuca. “This new program will be thematic in nature and clearly display the Madison campus intellectual breadth and scholarship.

“Sustainability and environmental stewardship are subjects of great importance and we are uniquely positioned to enlist science and the humanities to address complex challenges while connecting to our communities around the state. I look forward to this next phase and continuing to watch the development of MOOCs on our campus.”

The phase two pilot MOOCs were selected through a campuswide call for proposals. Proposed MOOCs were reviewed and recommended to the campus’s Educational Innovation Core Team by a committee consisting of faculty, staff and a graduate student representative.

MOOCs are an example of Educational Innovation (EI), an initiative of the provost’s office that aims to provide better learning experiences for students. More information about UW-Madison’s pilot MOOCs can be found on the Educational Innovation website.

Two CALS scientists awarded Morgridge grants for engaged scholarship efforts

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Two CALS scientists were among eight from campus to receive matching grants from the Morgridge Center for Public Service to support service learning and community-based research.

The CALS recipients include:

  • Sam Dennis, associate professor, Department of Landscape Architecture.Healthy Activities Partnership Program for Youth (Happy II). Funded at $42,450 for two years.
  • Erin Silva, associate scientist, Department of Agronomy. Engaging Students with Community Food Production and Distribution through Urban Farming. Funded at $44,735 for two years.

John Harrington: Goats for brush control

Friday, September 16th, 2011
[audio:|titles=John Harrington on goats for brush control]

John Harrington, Professor
Department of Landscape Architecture
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
(608) 263-4587

Goats for brush control


3:11 – Total Time

0:19 – What the goats are used for
0:53 – How goats become brush clearing machines
1:25 – Stocking rates for brush control
1:52 – Goat management
2:28 – How to acquire goats for brush
3:01 – Lead out


Putting goats to work on the landscape. We’re visiting today with John Harrington. Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Wisconsin in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, Wisconsin, and I’m Sevie Kenyon.

Sevie Kenyon: John, welcome to our microphone. Tell us a little bit about how goats are going to work on our landscapes.

John Harrington: One thing I might start out by saying is what we’re looking at the goats in doing is removing brush on what we would call oak woodlands, oak savannah areas. These are areas that were very common in southwestern Wisconsin, in fact all southern Wisconsin. These are also probably our rarest natural communities left. However, we know that a lot of these oak savannahs occur on private properties. Typically we would want to burn these areas or mechanically remove brush, but that really isn’t something that private landowners are going to want to do most of the time.

Sevie Kenyon: How do the goats enter the picture?

John Harrington: We can’t get fire to go through these areas and mechanically brushing is too intense. But goats, which are about 60 percent browse animal, which means they eat woody material, particularly the leaves of woody plants and they start at the top and move downward. By repeated browsing, where we’re going to move them through an area several times, slowly they will reduce the vigor of those shrubs and help remove those shrubs from the system, particularly above-ground growth.

Sevie Kenyon: How many goats per acre, how many acres can goats manage for you, and how long does it take?

John Harrington: Typically we know they recommend eight goats per acre on a thirty day browse regime, but we’re doing this much more intensively. So, what we started out with was about eighty goats on an acre, an acre and one quarter, and we’re doing this for two days and four days. So, we’re comparing those. The two days, they’re making some progress. The four day we’re starting to see some reduction of shrubs.

Sevie Kenyon: How much management do these animals take?

John Harrington: They need to be checked for water. We fence them. What we’re using is fencing that’s very removable and can be moved, because we’re doing rotational grazing, so we’re putting in a paddock and moving the fence and the goats, but largely it’s just checking to see that none of the goats are sick and that there’s water available for them. If the food is out there, the shrubs are out there for them to eat. And we are also measuring body weight of the goats before they go out there and when they come off. Not only do you want to know what it’s doing for vegetation, but we do want to make sure there’s incentive enough for private land owners to put goats on these areas, where and that the goats are going to bulk up in weight and stay healthy, which is a big concern obviously for someone who owns goats.

Sevie Kenyon: John, if a landowner is interested in clearing brush on their property, what steps should they take if they’re interested in goats?

John Harrington: Goats may be a good answer, but goats aren’t always the answer. So, you need to have someone who deals with land management come out and look at your property. I really, really would recommend that, first of all.  But if there’s intensive brush, if there’s enough brush to support goats, then you have a couple of options. You could call a natural land management company that uses goats, or you could be looking into people who raise goats in the area.

Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with John Harrington, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Wisconsin in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, Wisconsin, and I’m Sevie Kenyon.