Science Hall on the UW Madison campus, home of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
Science Hall on the UW Madison campus, home of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies

2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the Nelson Institute and the 50th anniversary of Earth Day — both testaments to Wisconsin’s environmental leadership and legacy. In celebration of these monumental occasions, we have dubbed 2020 the Year of the Environment (pdf) and invite you to celebrate with us.

Paul Robbins, dean of the Nelson Institute, invites you to join our 50th anniversary celebration.

Join us for our special Nelson Institute Year of the Environment events
Read a story from Tommy Thompson and Russ Feingold that kicked off our Year of the Environment
Meet Gaylord Nelson — our namesake and founder of Earth Day

Virtual 50th Anniversary Celebration and 2020 Rendezvous

2016 Rendezvous on the Terrace

We invite you to join the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies on Friday, September 11 from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. CDT as we celebrate our history, the present, and the future at the virtual 50th Anniversary Celebration event and 2020 Rendezvous.

Thanks to everyone who participated!

In the Spotlight

Governor's Proclamation

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Nelson Institute, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has issued a proclamation recognizing February 6, 2020 as the birthday, and official 50th anniversary of the Nelson Institute.

Earth's Bright Future

On Wisconsin magazine caught up with six current and former Nelson faculty who share a hopeful outlook for the environment.

Join the Celebration

Earth Day 50th Anniversary Conference

More than just a celebration of a global civic-focused day of action, Earth Day holds special significance for us here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We are deeply invested in the Earth Day legacy, the responsibility that it bears, and the call to action that it continues to present.

Nelson 50th anniversary arts initiative

50th Anniversary Arts Initiative

The Nelson Institute is proud to partner with arts organizations at UW-Madison and in the greater community. These partnerships honor the past 50 years of environmental stewardship and the power of artistic expression in connecting people, transforming perspectives, and igniting action.

For questions about our 50th anniversary events, contact Emily Reynolds at

Honoring the Legacy, Empowering the Future

Paul Robbins and his son walking on a path in a park

We would like to thank all of the alumni and friends who have supported the Nelson Institute in myriad ways over the past half century. Your contributions have been deeply appreciated. On the eve of our historic anniversary, we also invite you to invest in our future. Imagine how much more we will be able to accomplish together over the next 50 years!

For questions about how you can invest in the Nelson Institute’s future, contact Ann Swenson at

Nelson Stories, in Words and Photos


Nelson Institute students and faculty are continuing the tradition of exploring, enhancing, and expanding innovative partnerships and collaborations, both locally and abroad.

Alumnus holding an #IAmNelson sign

Our Stories

The Nelson Institute’s rich history of excellence in education, research, and community engagement has been created and shaped by a number of visionaries over the past 50 years.

Stephen Born holding a rainbow trout

Get Your Nelson Gear

Jim Miller wearing a Nelson-branded button-down shirtVisit our online store to purchase Nelson-branded merchandise, including:

  • Special Earth Day@50 T-shirts
  • Button-down shirts
  • Fleece
  • Soft-shell vests and jackets
  • Hats, bags, and more

Shop now

“Protecting our natural heritage, defending the public's right to clean air and water, and halting catastrophic climate change are all critically important. But so is getting ready for what's next.”

Paul Robbins, Dean of the Nelson Institute