Creating EcoYou

EcoYou: How to Create a Research-Based Course on the Ecology of Happiness

For years, SoHE professor Linda Roberts, Ph.D. taught a course for first year students that focused on drinking in ecological perspective. It examined alcohol use from multiple disciplinary perspectives and integrated academic content with a topic that directly touched student lives, promoting “critical thinking about drinking” during the years of transition to adulthood. Over time she found herself investigating ways to develop a course with a wider focus, one that examined multiple core issues in students’ lives with a scientific and ecological lens. What are the important issues that first year students face as they navigate the transition to college? Her answer kept coming back to the themes of purpose, relationships and the greater good.

With support from the UW-Madison Educational Innovation funding, Professor Roberts and instructors from all four of the School’s departments collaboratively developed a new freshman-level course grounded in the science of human ecology. The theme of finding happiness — or more specifically, “personal and collective flourishing” fir the parameters, filled a student need, and incorporated a significant quantity of SoHE faculty research. Human Ecology 201, Belonging, Purpose & the Ecology of Human Happiness, aka “EcoYou,” launched in fall 2015.

A Real and Relevant Course

Today, EcoYou is a growing, campus-wide course that orients first-year students to concepts of identity, purpose and belonging, financial skills, personal presentation, romantic, peer and family relationship dynamics, and power and privilege — all in a way that’s real and relevant to their lives. As part of the blended learning structure, instructors use online self-directed modules, videos, interactive lectures, audio files and even a graphic novel to promote active learning and engagement. This frees up classroom time for in-depth discussions and peer-to-peer learning.

Roberts explains that emerging adults today are eager to engage in self-exploration. Consistent with a growing interest in the science of mindfulness among SoHE faculty, the hands-on elements of the course include “mindfulness” activities. Engaging in meditation and other empirically supported practices help students develop both self and other awareness. “An ability to effectively modulate one’s behavior — self-regulation — and a positive relationship between self and other work against purely self-focused needs and biases and increase pro-social characteristics.” In summary, EcoYou helps emerging adults understand “who” they are within something that is bigger than themselves.

The course lets the students explore a variety of different scientific disciplines at the same time as they explore their own identity and place in the world.

Professor Linda Roberts, Ph.D

EcoYou Development Primary Team Members

Professor Linda Roberts, Ph.D

Linda J Roberts, Ph.D., Rothermel-Bascom Professor of Human Ecology, Human Development & Family Studies Professor, EcoYou Instructor Fall 2015 and Spring 2017



Professor Connie Flanagan, Ph.D.

Connie Flanagan, Ph.D., Associate Dean and Civil Society and Community Studies Professor




Professor Roberto Renegel

Roberto Renegel, Interior Architecture Professor, Design Studies Department Chair, M.IARC, M.ARCH.




Christine Whelan

Christine B. Whelan, Ph.D., Consumer Science Faculty Associate and Director, Relationships, Finance & Life Fulfillment Initiative, EcoYou Instructor Spring and Fall 2016



Professor Michael Maguire

Michael Maguire, Community and Nonprofit Leadership Faculty Associate, EcoYou Co-Instructor Fall 2015




Female Avatar

Kristy Burkholder, Ph.D., Human Development and Family Studies Faculty Associate, EcoYou Co-Instructor Fall 2015