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Human Ecology

Administrative Unit:School of Human Ecology
College/School: School of Human Ecology
Admitting Plans:MFA, M.S., Ph.D.
Degrees Offered:MFA, M.S., Ph.D.
Minors and Certificates:Ph.D. Minors in Human Development and Family Studies, and in Human Ecology
Named Options: Civil Society and Community Research (Ph.D.); Consumer Behavior and Family Economics (M.S./Ph.D.); Design Studies (M.S./Ph.D./MFA); Human Development and Family Studies (M.S./Ph.D.);
Specializations: M.S., MFA, and Ph.D. degree options available in Consumer Behavior and Family Economics; Design Studies; or Human Development and Family Studies

Faculty: Consumer Behavior and Family Economics—Professors Hoyt (chair), Bartfeld, Jasper, Riportella, Zepeda; Associate Professor Wong; Assistant Professor Collins. Design Studies—Professors Dong (chair), Angus, Rengel, Sarmadi; Associate Professors Chopra (Languages and Cultures of Asia), Nelson; Assistant Professors Hark, Kallenborn, Penick, Shin. Human Development and Family Studies—Professors Poehlmann (chair), Bogenschneider, Brown (Educational Psychology), Riesch (Nursing), Riley, Robert (Social Work), Roberts, Small, Uttal; Associate Professor Barber, Assistant Professors Dilworth-Bart, Hartley, Kirkorian, Papp, Sparks. Interdisciplinary Studies—Professors Jasper (chair), Flanagan, Way, Zeldin; Associate Professor Bakken; Assistant Professor Christens


Human ecology is the study of the complex relationships between human beings and their environments. The school offers M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in four program specializations: civil society and community research; consumer behavior and family economics; design studies; and human development and family studies. The MFA degree in design studies is also offered. Each program option has its own faculty, curriculum, and requirements. Prospective graduate students apply for the human ecology degree, the umbrella degree under which the degree options described below are offered. Inquiries should be made to the individual department offering the desired program specialization.

All of the school's graduate programs provide opportunities for interdisciplinary, advanced course work with an intensive research or creative discovery experience. Faculty and students are also involved with institutes and centers across the campus such as the Arts Institute, Center for Excellence in Family Studies, the Institute on Aging, the Institute for Research and Poverty, the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs, the Waisman Center, the Women's Studies Program, and the Center for Demography and Ecology. With access to courses and resources in and beyond the School of Human Ecology, graduate students in human ecology's program options gain the skills and specialized expertise that will be required to be successful scholars, artists/designers, and workers in academic, service, government, and business settings worldwide.

General Admission Information

Applicants must apply online and pay the required application fee to the Graduate School. Applicants must meet all Graduate School requirements including a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher (on a 4.0 scale). Each of the three program areas sets additional minimum requirements and requires additional application material. See each program option for admission requirements.

Applicants to any one of the School of Human Ecology degree program options should list "Human Ecology (code 549)" as the graduate major on their application. Their individual statement of purpose should clearly indicate the degree option to which they are applying.

Civil Society and Community Research (CSCR)

The Department of Interdisciplinary Studies faculty areas of research include: civil society, civic engagement, developmental psychology, community development, education, inter-generational partnerships, evaluation, community-university partnerships.

The department offers a Ph.D. specializing in civil society and community research. Theoretically, the program focuses on grassroots institutions, nonprofit organizations, voluntary associations, and social networks that strive to benefit the common good. Methodologically, the program focuses on mixed method inquiries, with an emphasis on integrating participatory approaches with advanced quantitative and qualitative analysis. The program prepares students to use the processes of research and outreach to strengthen civil society.

The CSCR program is served by six full-time faculty members plus three additional affiliated faculty members. All faculty members are professionally active with strong records of national and international scholarship. They bring perspectives of many disciplines to their work, including community psychology, developmental psychology, sociology, education, and community action.

Reflecting the multidisciplinary orientation of the program, faculty possess expertise in areas as diverse as longitudinal modeling, interpretive interviewing, program evaluation, observational methods, survey methodology, community-based research, and ethnography.

The CSCR program is committed to collaborations between faculty and graduate students in the arenas of research, teaching, and outreach. Current areas of scholarly activity include youth civic engagement, community organizing, inter-generational partnerships, social trust, program evaluation, voluntary associations, adult learning, community development, and social change. Faculty and students not only conduct research in these areas, they affirmatively support policies and programs. The department maintains strong connections with Cooperative Extension's Divisions of Youth Development and Program Planning and Evaluation. 

Graduates of CSCR are prepared for careers as professors in academic departments including human ecology, community development, community research and action, nonprofit management, community sociology, and applied developmental science. Students will also be prepared for careers as senior staff in technical assistance organizations, foundations, public agencies and advocacy/public education units. Others will choose to use their research and consultation skills to support grassroots organizations.

Admission (CSCR)

To be considered for admission to the Civil Society and Community Research (CSCR) option, the department requires the following materials: completed online graduate application form indicating “Human Ecology” as the applicant’s program major and M.S. or Ph.D. as the applicant’s degree; statement describing the applicant's reasons and plans for graduate study and future professional goals; Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores; three letters of recommendation from former professors or others familiar with the applicant's ability to complete graduate studies; original transcripts from all post-high school institutions attended; list of awards, honors, and/or publications; and a writing sample. TOEFL or Melab scores are required for international applicants.

For more information about civil society and community research: Chair of Graduate Admissions, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, 1300 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706; isadmin@mail.sohe.wisc.edu; www.sohe.wisc.edu/is.

Consumer Behavior and Family Economics (CBFE)

The Department of Consumer Science develops and disseminates information on the ways in which the interactions among consumers, business, and government can enhance the interests and well-being of consumers, families, and communities. The program focuses on various dimensions of well-being including economic/financial security, consumer empowerment, health, food security, housing security, sustainability, and the public policy that affects those dimensions of well-being. The program is interdisciplinary; current faculty have degrees in diverse fields including economics, marketing, sociology, retailing, social work, and consumer science. Some faculty have joint appointments with Cooperative Extension, providing students with opportunities for training in outreach and applied research.

Both Ph.D. and M.S. thesis students work closely with faculty members, often collaborating on research and outreach programs. M.S. students can pursue a nonthesis option (not eligible for financial aid) but must complete a research thesis if they intend to pursue a Ph.D. (eligible for financial aid). Ph.D. concentrations include both consumer behavior and family economics; however all Ph.D. students must complete core courses in consumer behavior, family economics, and research methods.

Admission (CBFE)

In addition to the Graduate School requirements, applicants to the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in consumer behavior and family economics must submit Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores; three letters of recommendation, at least two of which should be from individuals familiar with the applicant's academic work and write about their reasons for and ability to complete graduate training; original transcripts from all post-high-school institutions attended; and a statement of interest describing the reasons for undertaking graduate study in this area and at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and research interests. Submission of a copy of a relevant research paper or thesis in English is encouraged of all applicants. International applicants whose native language is not English are required to submit scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). International students who hold degrees from U.S. institutions do not need to submit language test scores. All international students whose language is not English should submit a writing sample such as a research paper in English.

Admission to the Ph.D. requires a background in consumer behavior, family economics, or a related discipline, as well as specific course prerequisites outlined on the Ph.D. checksheet. Qualified applicants without a master's degree may request admission directly to the Ph.D. program. An interview by phone or in person may be required. Students may be admitted with deficiencies but will be required to complete any deficiencies before enrollment or during the first semester of study.

For more information about consumer behavior and family economics: Chair of Graduate Admissions, Department of Consumer Science, 1300 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706; csdept@mail.sohe.wisc.edu; www.sohe.wisc.edu/cs.

Design Studies (DS)

The Design Studies Graduate Program takes an integrated, interdisciplinary approach toward design and its relationship with human needs and environments, clothing, textiles, and other material objects. This perspective integrates aesthetic, cultural, historical, technical, and behavioral knowledge and methods. Students gain knowledge and insight through descriptive, analytical and creative activities.

The program's graduate faculty is comprised of interdisciplinary scholars, designers, scientists and artists who are equipped to mentor graduate students as they build individual programs of study based on personal goals and interests. Faculty and students use a variety of investigative methods, including creative performance as well as qualitative and quantitative research. Specific approaches might include design visualization, simulation, humanistic and scientific analysis, interpretive interviewing and ethnographic research, post-occupancy evaluation, survey research, historical investigation, material culture, and cultural analysis, critical analysis, and studio or laboratory experimentation. While the backgrounds and scholarship areas of the faculty are diverse, the program is tied together by an interest in the relationship between objects, individuals, culture and environments.

The program offers three degrees: an M.S., MFA, and Ph.D. On all degree levels, most students specialize in a general area of design, as listed below, and an integrative approach is increasingly encouraged. At the doctoral level, students focus on basic or applied research. At the master's level, students focus on research, applications of research, or studio performance. At the MFA level, students focus on studio work. All students work with an advisor and graduate committee to develop a focused course of study.

The Design Studies Graduate Program is especially appropriate for self-starting students who like the challenge of tailoring a graduate program to their needs and welcome the opportunity to draw from the excitement and resources of a large university, while still working closely with faculty mentors. The program may be less appropriate for those who are more comfortable with the structure of a predetermined course of study.

All students are encouraged to collaborate with other campus units, including departments such as art, art history, engineering, folklore, history, landscape architecture, theater and drama, and architecture (at UW–Milwaukee); groups or programs that link departments, such as area studies programs; interdisciplinary programs such as the Arts Institute or the Institute on Aging; or "clusters" such as those in material culture and visual culture. Within the department students have access to computer labs supporting design visualization, the Gallery of Design (sohe.wisc.edu/depts/gallery), the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection (sohe.wisc.edu/depts/hlatc), and the Ruth Ketterer Harris Library of textile and design-related materials (sohe.wisc.edu/depts/hlatc/library.html).


While many students focus primarily within a single topic area, we encourage applications from students whose interests combine two or more of the topic areas below.

  • Culture and material studies examines the relationships between culture, objects and individuals. The goal is to develop expertise and insights into the study of objects and environments in context, rather than as isolated entities.
  • Design communication explores how visual and sensory tools are used in the design, analysis and conceptualization of designed objects and environments. Students study the implications as well as the applications of a variety of approaches that include contemporary and traditional methods for image generation and manipulation, modeling and simulation, animation, and virtual reality. Knowledge and skills gained in this subject area equip students to utilize design visualization as a way to improve creativity, productivity and communication.
  • Design pedagogy focuses on how design studies and research as well as related topics such as creativity, conceptualization, and making are taught as an academic discipline. Students become familiar with teaching theories and methods, and test their ideas through classroom experience.
  • Historical aspects of designed objects and environments includes analysis of social, cultural, aesthetic, anthropological, geographical and temporal contexts. Knowledge gained may result in understanding of the past, or insights into contemporary design. Students may focus on particular designers and makers, design from a particular geographical area or time period, design of textiles, design of environments or analysis of meaning and value.
  • Interior environments addresses diverse aspects of design inquiry, focusing on design as a complex inter-relationship between people and the built environment. There are three primary areas of emphasis: (1) Studio based design inquiry emphasizes discovering new insights, processes and relationships through the creative process (2) Research based design inquiry emphasizes discovering new insights and relationships through the application of theories and methods drawn from the social sciences and humanities and then translated to the design practice (3) Integrated design inquiry emphasizes a melding of both studio based and research based design inquiry; this incorporates a framework of evidence (or research) based design, combining studio based inquiry with research strategies such as action research or post occupancy evaluation.
  • Textile/clothing forms, art and design is a studio-based approach that focuses on the conceptual, technical and aesthetic possibilities of textiles (an art, rather than industry focus). Students formulate a plan of study that may incorporate courses in textile history, textile science or courses in the Art Department while building on their previous academic and professional expertise.
  • Textiles in interiors: For those who want to combine the study of interiors with the study of textiles. Includes designing interior environments rich in textiles as well as in depth study of textile design and production.
  • Textile science provides in-depth understanding of the physical and chemical properties of natural and synthetic fibers and their interaction with dyes, finishes and plasma. Students become familiar with a variety of analytical tools such as Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), Electron Spectroscopy for Chemical Analysis (ESCA), Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), and Attenuated Total Reflectance, Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (ATR-FTIR).

Admission (DS)

In addition to meeting the Graduate School minimum requirements, the applicant to design studies must submit an essay of at least 600 words to the department stating the applicant's reason for pursuing a graduate degree, a specific topic of interest, and future professional goals. Students applying for specializations in research-based areas, including environment and behavior, material culture (history of interiors, history of textiles and clothing), and textile science must also submit a scholarly paper, written in English and authored solely by the applicant. This may be an undergraduate research paper, senior thesis or published article. Students applying for specialization in studio-based areas, including design visualization and application or textile art and design, must submit a portfolio of design work, consisting of 20 slides or equivalent images on PC-compatible disk or CD, with descriptive information. All applications must also include three letters of recommendation from former professors or others familiar with the applicant's ability to pursue graduate study and original transcripts from all post-high school institutions attended.

Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores are not required for the design studies option. TOEFL or IELTS test scores are required for all international applicants. Minimum test score requirements are set by the UW Graduate School.

For more information about Design Studies: Chair of Graduate Admissions, Department of Design Studies, 1300 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706; ds@mail.sohe.wisc.edu; www.sohe.wisc.edu/ds.

Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS)

Human development and family studies offers an interdisciplinary approach to the study of families and individuals across the lifespan with an emphasis on research and its application to practice, programs, and policy. Graduate study in this program leads to the M.S. or the Ph.D.

The HDFS program is served by 13 full-time faculty members plus four affiliated faculty members. Faculty members are professionally active with strong records of national and international scholarship. The faculty bring the perspectives of many different disciplines to their work, including psychology, sociology, education, and anthropology. Faculty members conduct basic research to understand families and their members and applied research and outreach to promote human development and family life.

Faculty and graduate students in HDFS collaborate on research and outreach projects in a wide variety of substantive areas. Current areas of scholarly activity include risk and resilience in childhood; child care; marital quality and family success; family policy; competent child rearing; risks and opportunities of adolescence; the effects of television on children; families and health; caregiving within families; development and adaptation in multicultural contexts; and adult development and relationships.

Reflecting the multidisciplinary orientation of the program, faculty and students employ a wide array of methods in their work. Faculty possess expertise in areas as diverse as longitudinal modeling, interpretive interviewing, program evaluation, observational methods, survey methodology, community-based research, and ethnography. The program explicitly values both qualitative and quantitative methods and encourages students to become proficient in both.

Central to the mission of the program is the dissemination and application of scientific knowledge to real world problems and issues. Applied work of current faculty and students includes public policy education, community building, outreach education, and prevention-intervention programs. Because of the department's affiliation with the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension, numerous opportunities are available for involvement in applied contexts throughout the state.

There is a demand for professionals trained in research, teaching, and service involving families and their members in higher education, government, and human and family service programs. Regardless of whether HDFS graduates pursue careers in academic or applied settings, they are prepared for a life of scholarship and service.

Admission (HDFS)

In addition to requiring an online application, the department requires the following additional materials: the HDFS supplemental application form including a 500-750 word statement describing the applicant's reasons and plans for graduate study and future professional goals; Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores; three letters of recommendation from former professors or others familiar with the applicant's ability to complete graduate studies; and original transcripts from all post-high school institutions attended. TOEFL or IELTS scores are required for international applicants.

For more information about Human Development and Family Studies: Chair of Graduate Admissions, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, 1300 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706; HDFSadmissions@mail.sohe.wisc.edu; www.sohe.wisc.edu/hdfs.


Consumer Science
Design Studies
Family and Consumer Communications
Human Development and Family Studies
Interdisciplinary Courses (SOHE)