The MS in Environmental Science and Policy curriculum is intended to be highly flexible to meet the needs of individual students. The degree requires a minimum of 30 total credits with 6 credits for a thesis or research project and 24 course credits, including 6 credits of field courses.
Working with your advisor, you’ll develop a program of study to be approved by a thesis committee. Your program of study will include at least one course in each of the following four categories: social science, communications, terrestrial science, and aquatic science. All students are required to take the Environmental Science Colloquium.
You’ll be expected to develop a thesis or research project focusing on an issue important to you and the regional environment. Student research projects are varied and applied, and outreach components are encouraged to provide communication experience. Recent research projects include:
- Understanding the hydrology of a forested watershed
- Studying vegetation changes along an altitudinal transect
- Designing effective methods to influence lawn care practices that are better for the environment
- The development of outreach materials to explain recent policy changes on shorefront land use
- Exploring conflicts in managing for different land uses in the White Mountain National Forest
- Investigating the social and ecological consequences of land use and policy in Squam Lake watershed
- The relationship between water quality and impervious surfaces
- Evaluating the effectiveness of the reclamation of a New Hampshire mine
- The impacts of acid rain on New Hampshire lakes
To expand the field courses offered, Plymouth State University has a partnership with the Humboldt Field Research Institute (HFRI) in Steuben, Maine. HFRI offers week-long, intensive field courses which are taught by a diverse and revolving international faculty. You can take up to six pass-fail graduate credits at HFRI.
Program of Study
- ESP Core Component – 10 credits
3ESP 5210 Forest EcosystemsThe 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.
3ESP 5620 Environmental Law & PolicyThis course reflects the legal and political aspects of major environmental issues as embodied in environmental laws. The course will teach learners about the law and the policies that are the basis for environmental laws. Concurrent examination is proposed in order to provide linkage between policy and law as we will discuss real world events and issues. The course will be presented in a form to convey a robust understanding of the bigger procedural and theoretical picture in the formation, implementation, and facets for each topic. Topics include the legal process, the policy process, ownership and property rights, and how these relate to major environmental issues; water, air, waste, wildlife, and forestry. Emerging new issues will also be discussed.
1ESP 5710 Science Colloquium SeriesThis graduate seminar is designed to be a core course in the Environmental Science and Policy program. It will focus on the analysis of contemporary issues in environmental science. Specific topics will vary from year to year and will be tailored to the interests of the students enrolled and faculty interests. The course will create a foundation of knowledge of contemporary issues. It is also expected that it will help students refine their research interests as well as be exposed to new ideas through interaction with others in the course.
3ESP 5760 Nature of Environmental SystemsThe 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.
- Biophysical Component (choose one course) – 3 credits
3ESP 5320 Watershed HydrologyThis 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.
3ESP 5580 Climate Variability and ChangeThis course offers an interdisciplinary introduction to the principles of climate and climate variability. Climate change prediction and the scientific bases for global climate change assessments will be discussed. Key topics are the physical climate system and its variability, and the interactions among climate and biophysical components. Common threads include the use of observations and models, the consideration of multiple scales of variability and trends (temporal and spatial), and the linkages among aspects of climate change science.
3This 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.
- Social Science Component (choose one course) – 3 credits
3ESP 5610 Environment and SocietyThis course will introduce students to the study of environmental sociology and develop critical thinking skills facilitated by the application of sociological perspectives. Environmental issues and problems are often viewed as technical ones, to be resolved by the application of scientific and technical means alone. This common perception will be critically examined in this class. Environmental problems are problems for society that challenge and threaten our current system of organization, and are also problems of society. This class will examine material, ideal, and practical elements of environmental issues. Current environmental problems and policy issues will be debated, and their connections with society and culture will be the focus of the course. The meanings of nature and wilderness will be discussed. Other topics include: environmental justice, the history and workings of the environmental movement, greenwashing, public attitudes towards the environment, and the idea of sustainability.
3ESP 5660 Principles of InterpretationThis 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.
3ESP 5750 Environmental EthicsEthics 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.
- Integrative Component (choose one course) – 3 credits
3This course will focus on the science-based research process from idea generation, to project design, to communication of results. The first part of the course will focus on the science-based process of constructing a compelling research question and designing a research program to address the question. The middle part of the course will address data visualization as a powerful means of communicating research results. The final part of the course will teach students how to best communicate science-based research or technical ideas through a variety of media types (presentations, websites, posters, etc.). Prerequisite: Demonstrated competency in sciences and quantitative analysis; or permission of instructor.
3The 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.
3ESP 5780 Applied Environmental GISThis 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.
- Elective Component – 5–8 credits minimum
With your advisor, you’ll choose 5–8 credits of electives appropriate for your program of study.
- Research Experience – 3–6 credits
1ESP 5540 Master’s Thesis OutreachThe Center for the Environment at Plymouth State University includes outreach in its mission. The Center works on applied environmental problems and the engagement of local communities and organizations in its work and through the work of the graduate students in Environmental Science and Policy. In order to prepare students to be better communicators of science, this course will introduce outreach and science communication concepts and help students in developing outreach skills. This course is designed to be taken along with ESP 5900 Master's Thesis Research, and students will be required to complete an outreach project or activity related to their thesis research. Creative methods and activities will be encouraged.
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2ESP 5920 Independent Environmental ResearchStudents 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.
1The Center for the Environment at Plymouth State University includes outreach in its mission. The Center works on applied environmental problems and the engagement of local communities and organizations in its work and through the work of the graduate students in Environmental Science and Policy. In order to prepare students to be better communicators of science, this course will introduce outreach and science communication concepts and help students in developing outreach skills. This course is designed to be taken along with ESP 5920 Independent Environmental Research, and students will be required to complete an outreach project or activity related to their independent environmental research project. Creative methods and activities will be encouraged.
5ESP 5900 Master’s Thesis ResearchStudents 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.
- Total for MS in Environmental Science and Policy – 30 credits minimum
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