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Sustainability Science and Education

WindfarmPlease note that the MALS program will no longer be admitting students interested in this concentration. If you are interested in sustainability studies, please apply to the track in Social and Environmental Justice Studies.

Sustainability and sustainable development are arguably the key paradigms of the early 21st century: the concept of sustainability has been adopted by politicians, economists, ecologists, planners, social historians and archaeologists, and is now encountered in all spheres of life. First espoused in its modern form at the World Council of Churches in 1974, and subsequently given global prominence by the 1987 report of the World Commission of the Environment and Development (the ‘Brundtland’ report), sustainability has at its core the recognition that:

  • many of the resources essential for life are exhaustible
  • modern development and exploitation of such resources must take into account likely impact on future availability

The challenge sustainability poses for 21st century society has been given added impetus by the growing realization that we are now facing unprecedented climatic shifts and consequent environmental impacts. The long-term history of our species clearly includes both successful and failed responses to past challenges of complex human ecodynamics on the millennial scale, underlining the need to integrate the longue durée. There is a growing international consensus that future sustainability depends upon two things—a better documented and scientifically valid understanding of this long-term record and better mobilization of these findings for education for sustainability (EFS) and future adaptive management.

Degree Requirements

MALS students take four classes within the program — Seminar in Interdisciplinary Studies, two core courses in their chosen concentration, and the thesis/capstone project — and choose their remaining electives from among courses offered across the doctoral and certificate programs in the Social Sciences and Humanities at The Graduate Center.

This master's degree program requires the following coursework for a total of 30 credits:

  • A required introductory course [MALS 70000: Seminar in Interdisciplinary Studies] (3 credits).
  • Two required core courses to introduce the student to sustainability topics, current scholarship in the field and actual field experience [MALS 75600 and MALS 75700] (6 credits).
  • 18 credits from courses of the student's choice that are relevant to the student’s concentration or studies
  • A master's thesis/capstone project [MALS 79000] (3 credits).

Core Courses

MALS 75600 Sustainability and Human Ecodynamics
The Last Polar Bear Sustainability for environments, economies, and societies (the triple bottom line) has become a central objective that unites disciplines in sciences, arts, and humanities; engages educators, activists, policy makers, NGO’s and indigenous rights organizations; and is prioritized by multiple international organizations. However, the term and concept have acquired a range of interpretations and understandings–some mutually incompatible–and there is an ongoing need to provide a common knowledge base and vocabulary, and to effectively connect education and activism for sustainability with cutting-edge method and theory in resilience, robustness, vulnerability. This course will provide a grounding in the basic literature and vocabulary of sustainability science and education, expose students to a range of interdisciplinary case studies, and engage them directly with cutting edge resilience and sustainability scholars and ongoing field research and cross-disciplinary integration.

The intensive course will provide students with multi-disciplinary perspective on sustainability (on a variety of temporal and spatial scales), tools for assessing resilience and vulnerabilities in linked social-ecological systems (SES), an extensive set of readings/on-line resources on different aspects of sustainability research and introduce them to scholars and organizations engaged in sustainability science and education. The course will present case studies in interdisciplinary human ecodynamics research as focal points for readings and discussion, and will include interactions (live or virtual) with scholars directly involved in the case studies, NGO representatives, and active field researchers. This course establishes a common vocabulary and knowledge base, bibliography, and scholarly contacts for further work and specialization by students intending to pursue studies focusing on sustainability approaches in biosciences, geosciences, social sciences, environmental history, policy and development studies, environmental activism, and education for sustainability.

Can Our Rain Forest Be Saved?MALS 75700 Field Course in Island Long Term Human Ecodynamics
The course is aimed at familiarizing all students with cutting edge interdisciplinary fieldwork that draws on multiple disciplines–combined with active community engagement in local sustainability education efforts in NYC. Students that are interested can also complete this requirement through participation on an approved field school abroad. Ecology and sustainability problems are experienced directly, hands-on, and in a demanding but fully supportive multi-disciplinary field school setting. Sustained fieldwork results in common shared transformative experiences and an enhanced appreciation and understanding of natural ecosystems, traditional ecological knowledge and long-term human interactions with landscape. Students learn, while making a real and direct contribution to global change science.

Elective Courses

Electives can be chosen among courses offered across most of the doctoral and certificate programs in the Social Sciences and the Humanities at The Graduate Center.

For related coursework in Sustainability Science and Education, students may look to offerings in the doctoral programs in Earth and Environmental Sciences and Urban Education.


GC and other CUNY faculty associated with this concentration:


Library Resources

Visit the GC Mina Rees Library's Liberal Studies Research Guide.
Students' contact for Sustainability Science and Education research is reference librarian Adriana Palmer.

Photo credits:

Windfarm by Richard Sunderland from Flickr Creative Commons
The Last Polar Bear by Gerard Van der Leun from Flickr Creative Commons
Can Our Rain Forest Be Saved? by photoflickker from Flickr Creative Commons