MS in Environmental Science and Policy

The Master of Science (MS) in Environmental Science and Policy is designed to expand students’ understanding of the natural, social and physical dimensions of environmental issues. Students work with faculty members in areas such as forest ecosystems, hydrology, climate change, environmental economics, and land use planning to learn about the relationship between science and policy. The program’s multidisciplinary approach helps students develop the ability to think analytically and creatively about environmental issues in order to understand the scientific basis of environmental problems, as well as the social, political and economic factors that shape appropriate management and policy responses.

The 30-credit program has two core courses, Watershed Systems and Environmental Law, Policy and Management, providing students with a comprehen­sive foundation in environmental science. In addition, students take either Research Design and Data Analysis or Environmental Communication and Outreach. A six-credit thesis or a three-credit research project is also required. Students work with their advisors to develop and conduct their research project.

The program is intended to be flexible to meet the varied needs of individual students. Although most students are full time, our program is designed to accommodate part time students and students interested in taking courses for professional development. Up to 12 credits can be taken without matriculating in the program. Depending on availability, full-time graduate students may be eligible to receive graduate assistantships, which include a stipend and tuition benefits. Contact the program coordinator for more information about funding opportunities.

The Center for the Environment helps facilitate this degree program along with PSU’s Department of Environmental Science and Policy. The department oversees the curriculum and offers student support. Center lends its expertise and knowledge in engaging on- and off-campus partners, providing oppor­tunities for students to work on research projects.

Students are encouraged to apply by January 15 for enrollment in the fall. Students seeking admission should have at least a 3.0 under­graduate GPA and training in the basic sciences, social sciences, and calculus and/or statistics. Our strongest students have course work in multiple areas including general biology, ecology or biogeography, physical geography or geology, physics, chemistry, sociology or anthropology, calculus, and statistics. Applicants are encouraged to contact faculty and the program coordinator to identify a prospective advisor during the applica­tion phase.

Program of Study

  • ESP Core Component – 6 credits
  • 3
    This introductory level course will help students understand the key ?human? relationships in coupled natural and human systems. This will include understanding how the environment is affected by relationships among legal, political, and management players ? including legislatures, administrative agencies, courts, federal, state, and local governments, nonprofit, private, and public stakeholders. We will explore key events and issues in the history of U.S. environmental law and policy and then analyze how those have impacted management practices. With historical perspective in context, we will explore current issues and project what the future landscape of environmental law, policy, and management might look like. Frequent case studies of varying scale (local, regional, international) will be used to examine the major theme and questions.
  • 3
    This course is dedicated to integrated environmental analysis of watersheds, but it is not the study of water, per se, but rather the spatial unit defined by the flow of water, and the dynamics within these environmental systems. Watersheds are a microcosm of global ecosystems, containing the same dynamic relationships between land, water, and air but on a scale more accessible to study. This course provides students with a detailed overview combined with specific, high-impact examples of complex earth systems. It uses the watershed concept as a tool for analyzing water, energy, element, and sediment budgets, including biogeochemical cycles with important feedbacks to larger systems. It includes human impacts and reliance on these budgets and prepares students to see how global-scale ecosystems are integrated with each other and with society. Students should be prepared to read, comprehend and analyze several scientific papers each week, and to discuss them in class.
  • Integrative Skills Component (choose one course) – 3 credits
  • 3
    Communicating about environmental science is an important skill and helps in linking environmental science and policy. This course will provide an introduction to environmental science communication concepts, explore historical and theoretical aspects of environmental communication, and develop communication and outreach skills through a variety of activities and projects. Connections will be made to students? research interests and projects to assist them in conveying their work to multiple audiences.
  • 3
    This course will focus on data analysis techniques in environmental science. Topics will include exploratory analysis, research design, univariate and multivariate statistical approaches, a few basic machine learning algorithms, and Monte Carlo propagation of uncertainty. The course is project based, so students will work with a large data set of their choice throughout the semester.
  • Elective Component (choose from the list below) – 15-18 credits
  • 3
    This course is designed to train students on scientific degree tracks in becoming valuable employees in the environmental consulting industry by introducing students to the technical skills, project planning, and business management skills in demand by environmental consulting firms. The course focuses on the technical aspects in areas such as brownfield redevelopment, natural resources and environmental permitting, environmental compliance, sustainable development planning, etc. Course elements stress the use of industry standard procedures and state regulations, data and information management, report preparation, development of findings and opinions, and verbal presentations.
  • 3
    The Earth's near-surface environment, its so-called critical zone, supports almost all known life, holds most of the geologic record, and is the region where all of earth's dynamic symstems intersect. Changes in climate, land use, water resources and ecosystems alter the form and function of its critical zone, creating landforms such as river deltas, lakes, beaches, gullies, bogs, dune fields, salt flats and dried lake beds. This course examines recent trends and changes in Earth's most dynamic system, its critical zone, with emphasis on how these changes affect the very shape of our environment, including both terrestrial and sub-surface features. Although this course incorporates many aspects of glacial and periglacial geology, it goes beyond those remnants of past climate regimes to look at future earth scenarios. Topics range across many disciplines but all are, in essense, geomorphic responses to a dynamic earth. Potential topics: the impacts of changing sea level on river sediment and dissolved loads; ecological and water quality consequences of infilled dams/lakes, soil erosion and land conversion; climate-induced changes in floodplains, permafrost and Artctic shorelines; heightened storm surge from changes in terrestrial sediment budgets and marine currents; consequences of newly deglaciated land on Greenland, Antarctica and high mountain regions.
  • 3
    Ecological Economics (EE) is not a traditional discipline. Often referred to as a "transdiscipline" because it crosses the boundaries of several subjects, many say that ecological economics is the science of sustainability. In this introductory, graduate level course we will explore EE as a young and evolving field of inquiry. Standard and non-standard economic concepts will be explained along with ecological understanding to describe the challenges that arise in coupled natural-human systems. We will use problem and solution based inquiry to test out some of the methods advocated by ecological economists. This will include participatory research on ecosystem services in local communities. Specific topics to be covered may include: Abiotic and biotic resources; supply and demand; market failures; economic growth and human well-being; policy instruments; efficient allocation of resources; pricing and valuation of non-market goods; ecological economics case studies around biodiversity.
  • 3
    Managing natural resources for multiple objectives, in a sustainable manner, is a challenge that both practitioners and researchers face in today's highly complex socio-political environment. Decision analysis skills are highly valued in the field of environmental science. This course will present current theories and applications related to decision making for natural resource management. Students will have the chance to work through local and regional decision making scenarios and compare different tools and theories on the ground.
  • 3
    The purpose of this course is to introduce soil science to environmental science, geology, geography and biology majors. The course's multidisciplinary topics inform students about the relevance of soil studies across a broad spectrum of modern issues. Students will learn the geologic, geographic and climatologic aspects of soil formation, the structural components of soil that impact diverse aspects of soil fertility, drought, and tendency to landslide or erode, the dynamical aspects of soil hydrology and geochemistry, and the biological aspects of soil nutrient availability, nitrification, carbon cycling and biodiversity. A detailed list of topics, together with a tentative schedule, is included at the end of this document. This class is integrated with a laboratory that allows exploration of soil science topics through field and laboratory exercises.
  • 3
    This course covers the chemistry of Earth's environment, including the natural chemical processes as well as anthropogenic contributions. The environment in this context is divided into the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the lithosphere, and the anthrosphere. Particular emphasis is given to human influences in each of these "spheres," including the causes, effects, detection, prevention, and mitigation of pollution. Environmental pollution is a global problem, with many technological and cultural causes, and as such requires an understanding of numerous disciplines in order to solve. This course thus involves the integration of concepts from chemistry, biology, geology, ecology, atmospheric sciences, hydrology, toxicology, political science, and others. Major topics to be covered include stratospheric ozone depletion, global climate change and energy, acid rain, waste disposal, organic and inorganic pollutants, and environmental regulation in the United States. The lab component will focus primarily on detection of pollutants in air and water and will include a class research project.
  • 3
    The course will be structured around the advanced methods that have enhanced our understating of forest ecosystems. The course will explore concepts and techniques to address the changes in climatic cycles, the implications of wide-scale pollution, fire and other ecological disturbances that have an effect on forests ecosystems. Topics to be covered include forest water and biogeochemical cycles, forest ecology, forest diversity and global forest ecology. A field trip to the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest or another location in the White Mountain National Forest is included. Prerequisite: demonstration of competency in biogeochemistry, chemistry, ecology and quantitative analysis; or permission of instructor.
  • 3
    This course will provide a qualitative and quantitative understanding of concepts and physical principles governing the occurrence, distribution, and circulation of water near the Earth's surface. Emphasis will be on the physical understanding and parameterization of hydrologic processes such as how rainfall and snowmelt become streamflow, evapotranspiration, and groundwater. This course is expected to serve as prerequisite to Watershed Management and Snow Hydrology, and co- or pre-requisite to Field Methods in Water Resources.
  • 3
    An in-depth study of a particular topic, contemporary issue or concern. The course will be taught by a specialist within the field being studied or, as an alternative methodology, a faculty member will coordinate a series of guest speakers who will meaningfully address the topic. Since topics vary, the course may be repeated with permission of the instructor.
  • 3
    This course will examine the structure and function of freshwater ecosystems. Topics to be covered will include the geology, chemistry, physics and biology of such systems. Special emphasis will be given to biogeochemical cycles, energy flow and productivity, and relationships of freshwater systems to human existence. Lab work will include studies of both lotic and lentic systems.
  • 3
    This combined lecture and discussion course examines Earth's climate system and the feedbacks that affect it over annual to millennial (thousands of years) timescales. It is a highly interdisciplinary course that integrates information on climate from atmospheric, oceanographic and geologic sciences, and broadens overall comprehension of natural and human-invoked changes in earth's critical zone systems. Students from meteorology, environmental science and policy, and ecology should find this course highly informative and useful. Topics include past and present records of climate change, the various fields of study that contribute to climate knowledge, the effects of scale and frequency on the quality and reliability of climate records, and the state-of-the-art in climate assessment and prediction. Lecture sessions will provide fundamental information, especially with regard to the scientific basis for our current understanding of climate, and will introduce "hot" topics for discussion. Discussion sessions will focus on the most-recent status of these "hot" topics using recently published scientific papers and also online professional-level discussion forums. The role of science in politics and society will be an integral part of many of these discussions, including the obstacles created by declining public proficiencies in science and math and varying perceptions of risk.
  • 3
    This course introduces students to the basic principles and practices of the art and profession of interpretation. After completing this course students will be able to: understand and relate a working definition of interpretation; discuss the history, principles, and philosophy of interpretation as it is practiced in natural resource settings; describe the basics of visitor evaluation; illustrate basic skills in interpretive research, oral presentation development and exhibit development; demonstrate development of interpretive themes, goals, and objectives; and demonstrate competency in making thematic oral presentations and producing interpretive exhibits. For an additional fee to the National Association for Interpretation, students will have an opportunity to become a Certified Interpretive Guide (CIG). This option will be explained in class at the beginning of the semester.
  • 3
    This graduate seminar focuses on how ecological concepts and studies inform scientists, managers, and decision makers about the nature of and solutions to environmental problems. Specific topics, each will clearly demonstrate the central role of ecology in understanding ecosystem function and how ecosystems respond to disturbances at multiple scales. Through readings and discussion, students become knowledgeable and critical of ecological theory and practice. The concepts are fleshed out through case studies taken directly from peer-reviewed literature. Prerequisite: Demonstrated competency in the principles of ecology, including ecosystem ecology, landscape ecology and/or community ecology; or permission of the instructor.
  • 3
    Land use planning is a dynamic field that involves the integration of a variety of components to improve communities and places. This graduate seminar will focus on furthering knowledge on specific topics related to planning and explore interrelationships between topics. Topics might include smart growth, low impact design, transportation, energy, sustainable design, drinking water protection, housing, economic development, and community involvement.
  • 3
    This course expands on Watershed Hydrology (ESP 5320) by taking a closer look at the contaminants carried by water as it moves through the hydrologic cycle. Studied contaminants will include water temperature (an EPA recognized contaminant), pH, nutrients, metals, and organic toxics such as pesticides. We will study the distribution of these contaminants and the theories necessary to understand their fate and transport in watersheds.
  • 3
    The course will be structured around two major themes in ecosystem management: principles and applications. The theoretical background and current status of science-based knowledge and applications will be studied based on readings from the primary literature and understanding of selected case studies. The objectives of this course are to introduce the basic conceptual and theoretical framework of ecosystem management; the important biological, ecological, and socio-economic components of ecosystem management; and the challenges of implementing ecosystem management in real landscapes. The course intends to provide an interdisciplinary environment, an opportunity to develop open-mindedness and appreciation for diverse viewpoints regarding integrated resource management, and a chance to refine communication skills. Prerequisite: Demonstrated competency in social sciences, ecology and Geographic Information Systems; or permission of the instructor.
  • 3
    Ethics help us understand what constitutes a good life and how to live one, as well as address questions of right and wrong. Science can provide us with data, information, and knowledge, but it does not tell us how to live a good life. Environmental ethics apply ethical thinking to our understanding of the natural world and the relationship between humans and the earth. It can help us bridge science and our personal and organizational responsibilities in life. This course will help students develop the skills necessary to recognize the ethics behind environmental problems and issues and the role of these ethics in leadership positions in environmental fields.
  • 3
    The modern world is characterized by an accelerating fragmentation and specialization of research-based information that hinders linking scientific knowledge and action to offer solutions to environmental problems. Scientists must bring together an understanding of the many components of the environment (ecological, economic, social, geophysical, etc.). This class outlines a framework that explicitly integrates social, ecological, and geological disciplines to address specific, fundamental questions related to biophysical systems, ecosystem services, and human responses and outcomes. This framework is iterative with linkages and feedbacks between biophysical and social sciences. The class will explore under which conditions an environmental system may shift from simple to complex (e.g., exhibiting surprising responses) by relying on theoretical, empirical, and methodological contributions from ecological, biophysical and social science disciplines. Prerequisite: Demonstrated competency in social and biophysical sciences, and quantitative analysis; or permission of the instructor.
  • 3
    This is an introductory course designed for students with little or no experience using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The course is hands-on and will progressively build on a series of GIS skills in preparation for completing a natural resources project utilizing GIS. The course includes 5 "learning" sessions during the term which will include extensive instruction and repetitive performance of key GIS tasks. The course will meet once a week for the remainder of the term where students will focus on and receive assistance with individual projects.
  • 3
    Independent study provides enrichment of the background of students through the pursuit of a special topic pertinent to their interests and abilities. It is an opportunity for an in-depth study of a problem in environmental science or policy. Consent of a faculty supervisor and the student's advisor is required.
  • Research Component – 3-6 credits
  • 6
    Students select a topic in consultation with their advisor and committee. A timeline, proposal, and defense are outlined. A final thesis is prepared in accordance with program thesis guidelines.
  • - OR -
  • 3
    Students select a topic and project in consultation with their advisor and committee. Collaboration with external organizations and partners is encouraged. A timeline, goals, deliverables, credits and expected outcomes are outlined for each project.
  • Minimum Total for MS in Environmental Science and Policy – 30 credits

Getting started is easy!

Apply today or request more info.

To begin planning your program, contact:

Get started now!

Experience a great career at Plymouth State University

Current Students

Register for classes, check grades, apply for financial aid, find campus events, and more!
Visit myPlymouth

Make a gift to Plymouth State University