Stephen Born

Faculty Emeritus, Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture

Stephen Born

As one of the earliest graduates of the UW-Madison Water Resources Management (WRM) program, Stephen Born has dedicated his career to the interdisciplinary field of sustainable resource management.

From his time as the Wisconsin State Planning and Energy Director to the 35 years he spent at UW-Madison working with the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and the WRM Program, Born’s efforts have helped to expand the conversation around natural resource planning and watershed management.

Born’s journey began in the late 1960s, when he attended the WRM graduate program and became increasingly interested in the many dimensions of water resources. At the time, Born says that there was a great deal of interest in learning about water pollution and graduate student grants were plentiful. With ample support, Born decided to expand his interest areas into economics, engineering, law, and planning, while completing his PhD.

Born eventually moved west to work for the University of Nevada’s Desert Research Institute, where he studied arid land resources and management. It was during his time there that, Bud Jordahl, an environmental leader and UW-Madison Professor of Urban and Regional Planning, Cooperative Extension, and Environmental Studies contacted Born and encouraged him to consider returning to UW-Madison for an exciting opportunity.

This new opportunity involved working with the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, a role Born was happy to accept. Soon after returning to UW-Madison, Born joined the WRM faculty and served as a course instructor for several WRM workshops. These workshops are completed as capstone projects for WRM students, who work with faculty to tackle a real-world project related to a contemporary problem in water resources.

“For me, the WRM workshops were my favorite,” said Born. “They brought faculty and students together to work on real, applied problems for a client.  The assorted work products over time had profound effects on the ground in Wisconsin — new laws, administrative rules, projects, etc.  The WRM workshops represented the best of the Wisconsin Idea, and provided grounding for many students throughout their careers.”

In the early years, the WRM program was an independent UW-Madison program, but as funding changed, WRM decided to partner with the Nelson Institute, then called the Institute for Environmental Studies (IES). This partnership has stood the test of time with WRM celebrating its 54th anniversary this year. Born says he is proud to have been a part of the Institute and its interdisciplinary model and mission.

“The greatest benefit of the Nelson Institute is its ability to bring environmental interdisciplinary work to the campus through a collaborative model, working with other units and colleges and stretching its geographic reach internationally to address social and economic dimensions of environmental studies and research,” Born said.

As Born continued to work to expand the reach of the WRM program and the Nelson Institute, he was offered a role as Director of the State Planning Agency with Wisconsin Governor Patrick Lucey’s administration. While Born found it hard to take a leave of absence from the WRM program, he was intrigued by the opportunity to impact sustainability and water resource management in a very different role.

So, beginning in 1974, Born served the Wisconsin state government, first as Director of the State Planning Agency and later as the State Energy Director. During this time, he worked on several projects, but he is particularly proud to say he had a hand in supporting the establishment of the UW-Madison and Nelson Institute Energy Analysis and Policy (EAP) program, a graduate-level certificate program that provides students with the knowledge needed to become leaders in industry, government, consulting, non-profits, and other roles in the energy field.

After completing his term with the Wisconsin state government, Born returned to UW-Madison and continued working with the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and the WRM Program. In particular, he led several WRM workshops including one in Black Earth Creek, which served as a template for watershed management approaches and civic engagement, and eventually led to the formation of the Black Earth Creek Watershed Association.

An avid flyfisher and the co-author of Exploring Wisconsin Trout Streams as well as a past chairman of the National Resources Board of Trout Unlimited USA, Born is proud to have contributed to projects that continue to aid in the health and sustainability of America’s watersheds.

“The legacy of the Nelson Institute and the WRM program is most about integrating the multiple physical and social dimensions of the environment,” said Born. “It’s always about an eye to sustainability and providing a home for faculty with interdisciplinary interests that go beyond their home departments.  The Nelson Institute is in a unique position to coordinate teaching, research, and Wisconsin Idea engagement in the big problems facing society.”