Photo of Sifting and Winnowing Plaque

Credit: University Communications.

Mission & History

Our Focus

Interdisciplinary Studies focuses on education, community leadership, and action-oriented research. Our undergraduate majors are Teacher Certification in Family, Consumer, and Community Education and Community and Nonprofit Leadership. Graduate students can pursue advanced degrees in Human Ecology: Civil Society and Community Research.

Our Distinctiveness

The Interdisciplinary Studies Department fulfills a distinct niche on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Students interested in community education and leadership learn skills related to community organizing and participation, human and community development, civic engagement, action research, and evaluation. 

The Interdisciplinary Studies Department has strong connections in the community. Our students and faculty conduct research and service in collaboration with community and nonprofit organizations, and the initiatives that they pursue together are having a significant impact on the Madison community. The Interdisciplinary Studies Department houses the Center for Nonprofits, through which university and community stakeholders collaborate to understand and strengthen the nonprofit sector. The Department is also closely affiliated with the Morgridge Center for Public Service, the Center for Financial Security, and Wisconsin Extension, all of which strive to connect the University with the broader Madison and Wisconsin community.   

Within this context, students acquire broad-based interdisciplinary knowledge, perspectives, and skills for application as community leaders and educators focused on human issues and services within education, community, nonprofit, government, and advocacy settings and organizations. Faculty and students function as a learning community supporting each other's personal and professional growth.

Our History

The Interdisciplinary Studies Department, which currently houses the Family, Consumer and Community Education, Community and Nonprofit Leadership, and Human Ecology graduate majors, has a rich history. The UW-Madison has been offering academic training in these areas for over 100 years.

The history of Family, Consumer and Community Education at UW-Madison began with Caroline Hunt, who was the first professor and head of the newly established Home Economics Department at UW-Madison in 1903. In 1913, the Home Economics curriculum was revised to include a required "Teachers' course." The passage of the Smith-Hughes Act in 1917 provided federal funds for training vocational education teachers, and large number of students studied to become teachers.

Near the middle of the century, the Department of Home Economics became the School of Home Economics with five departments, including the Department of Home Economics Education. It later became the Department of Family and Consumer Education, and finally the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, housing the Family, Consumer, and Community Education major. This major has evolved to focus on education in formal secondary schools, as well as in informal post-secondary and adult settings.

In 2009, the Community and Nonprofit Leadership major was launched with the goal of creating leaders who would focus on strengthening communities and community organizations and empowering community members to identify and address critical issues.

2012 marked the beginning of the graduate program specialization in Interdisciplinary Studies. The M.S. and Ph.D. program offers students the opportunity for advanced study in Civil Society and Community Research.

For more on the history of the School of Human Ecology, visit Home Economics to Human Ecology: A One-Hundred Year History.

Our Mission

The Department of Interdisciplinary Studies applies interdisciplinary human ecological perspectives to the problems and concerns of today's families, consumers, and communities through research, teaching, and service. The department fulfills this mission through efforts that are grounded in an understanding of the complexity of human issues in the local community context and that involve community partnerships, when possible.