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 Center for the Environment coordinates this degree program with PSU’s College of Graduate Studies. The Center lends its expertise and knowledge in engaging on- and off-campus partners, providing opportunities for students to work on research projects.

With rolling admission, you may start your program during any term and can take up to 12 master’s-level credits before applying. Full-time candidates are encouraged to contact an advisor in advance of applying to explore potential funding opportunities. The priority deadline for funding consideration is January 15. Pursue your degree on a part- or full-time basis; many courses are offered one day per week in the late afternoon or early evening. Financial aid is available to qualified students.

Program of Study

  • ESP Core Component – 10 credits
  • 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 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.
  • 1
    This 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.
  • 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.
  • Biophysical Component (choose one course) – 3 credits
  • 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
    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 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
    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 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
  • 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
    This 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.
  • 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
    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.
  • Integrative Component (choose one course) – 3 credits
  • 3
    This 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.
  • 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
    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
    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.
    • Elective Component – 5–8 credits minimum

With your advisor, students choose electives appropriate to their program of study.

    • Research Experience – 3–6 credits

Note: Students must take ESP 5920 and ESP 5560 (3 total credits) – OR – ESP 5900 and ESP 5540 (6 total credits).

  • 2
    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.
  • 1
    The 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.
  • - OR -
  • 5
    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.
  • 1
    The 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.
  • Minimum Total for MS in Environmental Science and Policy – 30 credits

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