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MA Sustainability Studies Curriculum

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Ramapo College - Sustainability Practices and Career

Programmatic Context

MASS students typically take two courses per semester (although some students may choose to take just one course per semester–thus taking either three or four years to complete the entire program). Students come to campus one evening per week for in-class sessions, with the remainder of each course being delivered in an on-line format.

All courses reinforce each other, giving students a broad and integrated range of knowledge and skills.  While each course has very specific content, students are given the opportunity to develop most assignments in ways that enhance the capstone experience.

Course work in the first year explores foundational concepts and approaches to sustainability practice, and provides each student with ample opportunities to explore alternative options for their capstone project.  By the end of the first year, students have largely developed their final capstone project proposal.

Students then spend the Summer Practicum either pursuing an internship in their area of interest, or conducting field work in support of their capstone project.  The rest of the summer is dedicated to the exploration of specific topical areas and the advancement of the capstone projects.  Each student emerges from the summer into the Fall semester having established a significant level of expertise in the area of their capstone project.

The second year focuses on the practice of sustainability, with a Studio course giving the cohort an opportunity to work as a team on one substantial project within which students are able to deploy the skills they learned the previous year.  The Expert Practitioner Series exposes the cohort to a wide variety of sustainability professionals, with the seminar allowing students to link the speaker’s particular work back into their own particular areas of concentration.  The remainder of the year is focused on implementing and refining the capstone projects.  The Program culminates in a celebratory public event in which each student presents their specific project.

Program Goals and Learning Outcomes

Year One


  • SUST 605: Foundations of Sustainability
  • SUST 610: Foundations of Natural Resources, Processes and Management


  • SUST 630: Methods and Practices of Sustainability
  • SUST 640: Business of Sustainability


  • SUST 650: Summer Practicum

Year Two


  • SUST 660: Sustainability Studio
  • SUST 710: Project Development


  • SUST 670: Expert Practitioner Series
  • SUST 720: Capstone Project

In this course, students receive a foundational knowledge of core theory in the fields of Sustainability with a focus on theory that supports application and intervention. Sustainability will be defined within different theoretical frameworks, emphasizing varied points of interpretation and approach. A key focus will be on the contextual differences, dilemmas, contradictions and gray areas, on the points of debate and dispute within the field, as well as the points of universality and consensus. As Lewin said, “there is nothing more practical than a good theory.” Sustainability theory is eminently practical, designed to learn how to put one’s finger on the pulse, read the situation and respond appropriately. The right body of operational theory will greatly accentuate the practitioner’s effectiveness. And the deep grasp of process theory relating to social change, leadership and social learning, in combination with the content of sustainability, promises to arm new practitioners with both the wisdom and the understanding to design a sustainable intervention.

This course will follow a format of 50% online lectures and 50% in-class discussions.


This course presents a broad survey of the foundational concepts related to natural resources and their sustainable management. Online lectures by the course instructor and guest experts are combined with readings, assignments and seminar discussions of case studies to elucidate the best practices and approaches for each topic. General areas addressed include the conservation and management of energy, biological, geological and water resources, as well as specific topics of climate change, tipping points, ecosystem services, food production, residential landscapes, forestry, fisheries, wildlife conservation and the reduction and remediation of chemical contaminants. Each student makes a site visit to learn first-hand about an example of successful conservation and management of particular resources.

This course will follow a format of 50% online lectures and 50% in-class discussions.


Methods and Practices of Sustainability focuses on appropriate means and tools for gathering information to support sustainability analysis, interventions and actions, as well as techniques for using community information to build agreement and consensus.

This course trains students in multi method research techniques, integrating both qualitative and quantitative tools. An emphasis is placed on participatory approaches to documentation, discourse, valuing and decision-making, informed by the National Environmental Policy Act and participatory design methods.

Students will emerge from the course with the working draft of a research proposal that can then be developed over the following semesters into their Capstone Project.

This course will follow a format of 50% online lectures and 50% in-class discussions.


The Business of Sustainability course takes up the challenge of working out an ethical and strategic analysis upon which to base economic policy and business practices. This challenge extends the principles of sustainability to corporate social responsibility and accountability. The purpose of the course is to provide sustainability practitioners an understanding of how economic policy and business practices can appropriately and ethically enhance sustainability.

This course will follow a format of 50% online lectures and 50% in-class discussions.


The Summer Practicum acts as a fulcrum, pivoting the program from its First-Year focus on theory to its Second-Year emphasis on practice. Students will be guided into internships or fieldwork opportunities that will help them develop their understanding of how sustainability is implemented, in ways which help prime their thinking about their own second-year Capstone experience. This course takes the form of supervised fieldwork, and must serve to underscore the criteria of the triple bottom line, in that the activity engaged in must simultaneously consider ecological, social, and economic variables.

The course is offered in a hybrid format, meeting once a week in person and twice a week on-line, apart from the actual internship or fieldwork experience, so as to ensure adequate on-going feedback and guidance by faculty. Digital conferencing will be used in cases where students are working abroad or are otherwise away from Ramapo College.


The purpose of the Sustainability Studio is to provide an experiential, project based lecture/lab space where participants can explore and develop the complex set of skills and abilities needed for implementing sustainability. Each year, a specific, real-world project is designated as the context for student teams to do real sustainability work using the collaborative and interdisciplinary approach characteristic of sustainability practice.

This course will follow a format of 50% online discussions and 50% in-class presentations.


The purpose of the Expert Practitioner Series is to give students an opportunity to participate in a seminar with experienced sustainability practitioners.

Each practitioner has their own portfolio—their history, their projects, their skills, their qualities. What are these qualities? What are their particular gifts and strengths?

Each practitioner works in a context, although they may have switched contexts multiple times. What are the attributes of each context and how do they differ or occur in parallel? Does the practitioner work at the grass roots? From the top down? In the marketplace?

Each practitioner works with certain content relating to sustainability. What is the content aspect of their practice? Is it narrow or broad? Is it based on technology or social process? Are they technical or local experts?

This course will follow a format of 50% online discussions and 50% in-class lectures.


This is a capstone-oriented course in Sustainability, designed to develop the students final projects.  The goal of the course is to equip students to develop an implementation program for their specific projects, especially focusing on defining the problem, designing the project, implementing and evaluating interventions through study of best practices and sustainability assessments.

The course will also tie in public policy inputs to students’ understanding of sustainability issues.  This section will introduce students to tools of public policy making and implementation process and build the connection between their project and sustainability policy. The aim of the policy section is to familiarize students with the major legal principles involved in promoting sustainability such as air and water pollution, energy, etc.

Students will carry out their primary information gathering for their Capstone project during this semester, guided by the Project Development Instructor, their chosen Capstone advisers, and with feedback from their classmates.

This class will follow a format of 50% online and 50% in-class meetings. Online classes will include lectures on project designing and public policy. In class meeting will include project and presentation workshops.


This will be the culmination of the Second Year experience, building on the work done throughout the two-years of the program. The goal of the Capstone course is to help shape the written document and oral presentation of the Capstone Project work from conceptualization, research and implementation. Participants will develop the final project, and gain experience in making professional presentations to jury panels.

A public presentation and celebration for all the graduating students culminates this final semester.

The course will offer helpful guidance and a supportive context for completion of the Capstone Projects through 50% online and 50% in-class peer group discussions.