Constellations is a new program launching in the Fall of 2018 that invites undergraduates to grapple with enduring puzzles that have implications beyond the college classroom, critically exploring what it means to be human.

Just as celestial constellations provide a framework to understand the patterns and relationships between the stars, the Constellations program helps you trace connections between the universe of ideas and your aspirations.

  • Gain a broader understanding of your education
  • Join a diverse community of curious, like-minded peers
  • Interact with committed, quality instructors 
  • Push academic boundaries 
  • Make sense of your college experience 
  • Envision your future career in surprising, creative ways
How does the Constellations program work?

Each Constellation is a cluster of related courses that revolve around a core theme:

  • The main Constellations course is a small, seminar-style class designed around pressing, contemporary questions that transcend disciplinary boundaries.
  • This main seminar is complemented by linked classes relevant to your major, certificate program, and academic goals.
Why Enroll?

Constellations offers a unique curriculum with both intellectual and practical rewards. Our students benefit from: 

  • Priority enrollment in high-demand classes
  • Opportunities to develop closer relationships with faculty
  • Options to participate in your own research and projects

As a Constellations scholar, you will also learn how to better succeed in your professional life. Our program is designed to develop the kinds of skills and abilities that employers want from college graduates, such as:

  • Effective, persuasive, and powerful written and spoken communication
  • A capacity to confront and analyze complex problems
  • An appreciation and ability to recognize broader cultural and social contexts
  • Creativity  

Current Questions

Starting in the Fall of 2018, the Constellations program will be offering the following question-driven classes:

Animal Studies

What is an animal? How should we treat animals? Led by Professor Mario Ortiz-Robles, this Constellation will draw on the emerging interdisciplinary field of animal studies to explore our current and past relationships with animals. Courses in this Constellation will make connections between our encounters with animals in laboratories, animals in our backyards, animals on our plate, and animals in our favorite books and films.

Drawing the line between humans and animals is how we define who we are as humans. The field of animal studies aims to investigate how and why we make distinctions between humans and animals and to compare how animals are understood across disciplines, countries, and centuries. In recent years, scientific advancements have opened up new frontiers of knowledge about animals. At the same time, ethical and environmental concerns about the future of the natural world have compelled us to rethink our current relationships with animals. Animal studies help us to understand these relationships and imagine new possibilities.

Body, Gender & Society

How do our bodies determine identity? What does it mean to be ‘male’ or ‘female’? Are gender identities stable or do they change over time? Led by Professor Laura McClure, the Body and Society constellation invites students to investigate the various ways in which “body image” has been formed, reinforced, and represented across time and through various media. In comparing past concepts of sexuality and the body alongside modern notions of gender and identity, these courses will demonstrate how ideas surrounding the body have changed and persevered across societies and time periods. Students in this Constellation will observe how different fields address the topic, considering the various perspectives from which the body is viewed and discussed. By bringing multiple approaches into dialogue with one another, this Constellation will not only frame contemporary debates about gender and sexuality but also inform students’ sense of themselves as individuals in society. 


Animated by the enduring question, “What does health mean?” this Constellation invites students from a variety of disciplines—from the biological and social sciences to the humanities and the arts—to investigate how meanings of health circulate broadly through cultures, to help construct these meanings in creative ways, and to understand how these meanings impact people differently in different social positions, at different times, and in different locations. Ultimately, students will leave these classes with understanding not so much of what health is, but what it means, and why these meanings matter. While students can expect significant methodological variation based on the particular course sequence they choose, they are likely to utilize textual analysis and other interpretive methods (such as rhetorical criticism), qualitative methods (possibly interviewing or ethnography) and historical methods.

Mario Ortiz-Robles

Professor Ortiz-Robles is a leader in the emerging field of Animal Studies. He is the author of Literature and Animal Studies (2016) and The Novel as Event (2010).

Laura McClure

Professor McClure is an internationally-recognized scholar of gender and women in the ancient world, and an award-winning teacher. McClure is the author of Spoken Like a Woman: Speech and Gender in Athenian Drama and Courtesans at Table: Gender and Greek Literary Culture in Athenaeus, among other monographs.

Jenell Johnson

Professor Johnson has developed an international reputation as a scholar whose work is reshaping our understanding of science and medicine in the field of Rhetoric and Communications as well as in Science and Technology Studies. Johnson is the author of American Lobotomy: A Rhetorical History.

Meridith Beck Mink

Dr. Meridith Beck Mink is the Constellations Program Coordinator. She received her doctorate in history of science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2014. Since then, she has taught at a small liberal arts college, worked on one of the longest standing digital humanities projects through a postdoc at Indiana University, and consulted for the Council on Library and Information Resources.

Email Meridith for more information about Constellations:

Laura Perry

Laura Perry is a graduate fellow and PhD candidate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison. In addition to her work with the Constellations program, she is currently a Public Humanities Exchange (HEX) Fellow in partnership with the Dane County Humane Society. 

Caelyn Randall

Caelyn Randall is a graduate fellow and PhD candidate in the Department of Communication Arts. 

Amy Hendricks

Amy Hendricks is a graduate fellow and PhD candidate in Classics. Her research focuses on gender and the intersections of genre in Greek poetry.