PHILOSOPHY - In the 21st century, environmental professionals will need both interdisciplinary breadth and disciplinary depth. This is the model that some have called the T-shaped graduate student. Disciplinary depth is the pillar of the T that provides command of a literature in detail and the meticulous skills required to conduct sound research. Interdisciplinary breadth is the crossbar of the T, providing language and conceptual frameworks that allow communication across disciplines. Together, these develop professionals who understand the context of their research and can work effectively in multidisciplinary teams.

PROGRAM - Doctoral students pursue a Ph.D. in one of MSU's many existing doctoral programs that have an environmental focus. In addition, they complete the coursework for the Specialization in Environmental Science and Policy. The Specialization provides students with an understanding of the diverse disciplines brought to bear on contemporary environmental problems. It is designed to provide an understanding of how various disciplines conceptualize environmental issues and how scientific information can be brought to bear on environmental decision-making and environmental policy.

Courses are open to all MSU graduate students, not only those enrolled in the specialization.

APPLICATION MATERIALS - To apply, you should forward to ESPP:

  • This downloadable application form, to be signed and returned to ESPP.
  • A letter requesting admission to the ESP Specialization and describing your professional interest in environmental science and policy.
  • A Curriculum Vitae
  • If you are applying to an MSU doctoral program: Ask the doctoral program to which you are applying to forward to the Environmental Science & Policy Program a copy of their application package
  • If you are already enrolled in an MSU doctoral program: Ask your graduate advisor to send a letter to ESPP indicating that you are in good standing and that the advisor supports your application to ESPP. This letter should be copied to the doctoral program coordinator of your department or program.


Requirements for the Specialization

Students will complete the specialization requirements after passing at least two courses, or as many as four courses, as listed below. Students are also required to present their research in the ESPP colloquia series, and to attend at least half of the presentations made during their participation in the program.

ESPP allows students to waive the natural science or social science requirement if they have a background in that area. However, because ESPP students are required to take at least two courses, those students receiving two waivers will not be approved for a project-based capstone experience and will instead be required to enroll in a capstone course. Details


Offered: Spring (annual)
Tuesday 1:00 p.m. - 3:50 p.m.
273 Giltner Hall
Dr. Wei Zhang (
and Dr. Adam Zwickle (


This team-taught course provides a broad overview of scholarship areas and key research questions in the intersection of environmental science and policy. It explores the core concepts and research methods of multiple disciplines involved in policy-relevant environmental research with readings and presentations from scholars from MSU and visiting institutions. Students will learn basic concepts of interdisciplinary research, and develop a basic understanding of typical research methods and analytical techniques that will facilitate effective communication with members of different disciplines. A series of interdisciplinary MSU research teams visit the course over the semester to discuss their research and address topics related to facilitating interdisciplinary teamwork and translation of science into policy. Research team speakers for 2013 included: Gerald Urquhart, Joan Rose, James Clift, Michael Beaulac, Layne Cameron, Paul Thompson, Michael O'Rourke, Mark Axelrode, Julie Winkler, and Brian Bienkowski.

Students enrolled in the ESP program prior to Fall 2010 may opt to take ESP 803 (described at bottom) instead of ESP 800. (However, a student may not count both ESP 803 and ESP 800 toward the four-course program requirement.)

Learn more about ESP 800

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Faculty Spotlight

Dr. Zhang »

Dr. Lingmann-Zielinska »


Options are ESP 801 or one of two courses identified as possible alternatives: CSUS 851 and ZOL/FW/PLB 897. Each course addresses a range of natural science disciplines, with a link to policy. (ESPP students may wish to speak directly with the instructors of these courses to assure that the selected alternative is appropriate for the student's specific background.)

ESP 801: Physical, Chemical and Biological Processes of the Environment
Fall | M,W,F 12:40- 1:30 p.m. | 273 Giltner Hall
Drs. Daniel Kramer, Wei Liao, Hui Li, Anthony Kendall and Volodymyr Tarabara

New in 2016: ESP801 “Physical, Chemical, and Biological Processes of the Environment” has been redesigned to provide students who have disciplinary training in social sciences with a broad overview of environmental science from the perspective of natural sciences and engineering. ESP801 will include four modules: Environmental Geosciences, Biology/Ecology, Environmental Chemistry, and Environmental Engineering that will be taught by four MSU instructors. An environmental case study will be adapted as a crosscutting theme for the course and a common point of reference for learning in ESP801 and ESP802. As a counterpart course to ESP801, ESP802 will also be structured in a modular fashion but will focus on social aspects of environmental problems. ESP801 and ESP802 will build a foundation for an integrative experience in the capstone ESP804 course where students, having taken ESP801 or ESP 802, work on team-based projects that span the social/natural science spectrum. The new curriculum design reflects ESPP’s objective of providing an interdisciplinary preparation to a cohort of students from diverse backgrounds pursuing an interest in environmental science and policy.

View flyer here

CSUS/ESP/FW 851: Modeling Natural Resources Systems
Spring | Mondays 11:30 - 2:20 p.m.
Dr. Laura Schmitt Olabisi (
Relying heavily on systems-dynamics modeling, CSUS 851 introduces quantitative modeling approaches as tools for students interested in addressing real-world problems in complex environmental systems. Students learn to identify the characteristics and behavior of complex systems, articulate the steps involved in formulating a research question and building a model to address it, and construct quantitative, dynamic models with appropriate, data-derived relations between variables.   

ZOL/FW/ PLB 897: Ecosystem Ecology and Global Change
Spring | T, Th 10:20 - 12:10 p.m. (odd years - independent study may be available in alternate years - please contact instructor)
Dr. Steve Hamilton (
An understanding of ecology at the ecosystem level provides the "big picture" that is essential to protect and manage ecosystems, particularly as we grapple with global environmental change. In this course, we study the fundamentals of ecosystem structure and function, including primary and secondary production, food webs, biogeochemical cycles, managed ecosystems, and ecosystem interactions with climate. Throughout the course topics are considered in the context of global change and the pervasive influences of human activity. Advanced undergraduates and lifelong education students may seek permission from the instructor to take this graduate course.


Options are ESP 802 or one of the courses identified as possible alternatives: SOC 869, and CSUS 824. Each course contains a blend of social science perspectives: policy, economics, and behavior (e.g., sociology, anthropology, psychology).

ESP 802: Human Systems and the Environment
Spring | Th 9:10 a.m. - noon | 273 Giltner Hall
Dr. Emilio Moran (

This course addresses human systems and environmental change at multiple scales from local to global. Materials covered explore linkages between natural and human systems, but focus primarily on human drivers of environmental and natural resource change and the social responses that such changes precipitate, including individual action, social movements, policy, legal and institutional responses. The course is designed for graduate students, especially those from the physical and life sciences, seeking to better understand the social forces giving rise to environmental problems as well as social responses taken to mitigate them.

SOC 869: Community and Conservation
Fall | W 9:10 - 12:00 p.m. |
Dr. Stephen Gasteyer (
This course aims to introduce students to the theories, concepts, and methodologies for analysis of the conservation activities and the role of communities within that process. We will look at the definition of community, the definition of conservation, and how we understand the dynamics and processes of each of these concepts. We will investigate these issues through looking at the literature around conservation in multiple sectors and contexts, many of which overlap, but are often in silos within disparate institutional and regulatory settings. These sectors include: energy conservation, water conservation, soil conservation, habitat conservation, biodiversity conservation. Our goal in this class is to move beyond questions of best practices and technologies to discussions of the systems and structures that make conservation possible; or do not.

CSUS 824: Sustainable Development: Measuring Socioeconomic Well-being
Spring (annual starting in 2017) | M 3:00 - 5:50 p.m. |
Dr. Robert Richardson (
Measurement of social and economic welfare at national and local scales. Consumption and economic growth as welfare indicators. Theories of development, utility, and economic growth. Indicators of sustainable development. Environmental and social dimensions of human well-being.



The Capstone Experience (3 credits) may involve taking a course or working in another collaborative setting. Key elements are interdisciplinarity, policy-relevance, and collaboration/ teamwork. Students must complete ESP 804, FW 868, or other experience (internship, other course, other collaboration) which results in a co-authored, interdisciplinary, policy-relevant paper. The paper may be academic or more of a policy-oriented white paper. At least two other specialization requirements should be completed before you take the capstone. In addition, if you have received two waivers for other courses, you will not be eligible for a capstone project and must, instead, attend one of the two capstone courses. Please submit this application to ESPP for approval of your alternative capstone experience.

ESP 804: Environmental Applications and Analysis
Spring (annual), Wednesdays 3 p.m. - 5:50 p.m. 273 Giltner Hall
Dr. Tom Dietz (
This course provides the opportunity to apply knowledge learned in previous ESP courses. Global, regional and local environmental issues will be presented and explored. Class projects will be identified from these issues. Students will be assigned projects and will use a systems approach to identify and solve environmental problems associated with the assigned issues. This course is designed for graduate students with ecology, biology, physical, or social science backgrounds seeking an interdisciplinary, environmental science approach to problem solving.

FW 868: Water Policy and Management
Fall (odd years) | M, W 12:40 - 2:00 p.m.
Dr. Erin Dreelin,
Broadly speaking, the purpose of this course is to learn about water policy and management from the perspective of a scientist. You will learn about major US environmental laws related to water, such as the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act among others. However, water policy and management is more than just memorizing a set of laws. You will learn about the policy cycle, how agencies make regulations, how property rights and common law affect water management, how the courts have shaped water law and policy, and how science and policy interact (or don't). Many of you will go into careers in which you will interact with policymakers, this course is designed to give you a basic understanding of water policy and management as well as provide you with skills and knowledge that you can use in the future.

Requirement 5

Research Colloquia Presentation

1. Planning and making your own presentation: The student-organized colloquia provides ESPP specialization students a venue to gain practical knowledge and experience organizing interdisciplinary scholastic activities, skills necessary for a variety of career activities such as professional conferences and research panels.  A specialization student first identifies a broader research area that encompasses his or her research work, and then invites one or more other speakers who are experts in this area to serve on a discussion panel. The panelists could be fellow students, faculty members such as the student’s advisors or committee members, or other researchers. A typical colloquium will include a 30 to 50 minute presentation by the student followed by 10 minutes of questions and answers for the student, and 30 minute panel discussion with questions for the panel prepared by the student.

New and existing ESPP Specialization Students (who have not yet presented under the previous presentation format) will be required to organize their own colloquium before they graduate.  It is up the student at what point in their graduate program they will organize their colloquium.  The student can choose one of two approaches for their colloquium: it can be used by an early career graduate student to explain their research interests, ask specific questions of the panel and audience, and get feedback on their research trajectory; or the colloquium can be used by a senior graduate student to share their results and conclusions.  With either approach, a specialization student’s colloquium will serve as a venue to highlight important issues in the broader research area, to showcase the student’s own research approach in this broader context, and, with the presence of the student’s advisors and/or committee members, to defend the student’s research methods and gather feedback.
The student organizer will be responsible for:

  • scheduling a date in the seminar series before the start of the semester with the series committee (contact Karessa Weir;
  • inviting and organizing the panelists; preparing a 30 to 50 min. presentation; and
  • preparing questions to lead the panel discussion after the student presentation. 

The number of student-organized colloquia will vary each semester to accommodate specialization students so they can meet this requirement.  Questions about organizing your colloquium should be sent to Karessa.

2. Colloquia Attendance: A large part of being an ESP specialization student is the opportunity to meet and learn from students outside your main discipline. To that end, ESPP students are required to attend at least six student research presentations before receiving their specialization, and are expected to make every effort to attend at least half that are held during their time at MSU. Sign-up sheets are available before every presentation to keep track of attendance.

Course Chart

ESPP Course Chart 2016-2017
  Requirement 1: Principles of ESP Requirement 2: Natural Science and Policy Option Requirement 3: Social Science and Policy Option Requirement 4: Capstone Other ESP courses
Fall 2016   ESP 801: Physical, Chemical, and Biological Processes of the Environment SOC 869: Community and Conservation  

ESP 803: Human and Ecological Health Assessment and Management

ESP 850: Introduction to Environmental and Social Systems Modeling

ESP 890: Modeling Environmental and Social Systems

ESP 891: Selected Topics in Environmental Science and Policy

Spring 2017 ESP 800: Introduction to Environmental Science and Policy

ZOL 897: Ecosystem Ecology and Global Change

CSUS 851: Modeling Natural Resources Systems

ESP 802: Human Systems and the Environment ESP 804: Environmental Applications and Analysis

ESP/CJ 845: Environmental Risk Perception and Decision-Making

ESP 851/CSUS 851: Modeling Natural Systems

    Waiver Form Waiver Form Application for Capstone Experience Project  

View previous course charts here:

ESPP Courses 2014-2016

ESPP Courses 2013-2015


Students who have questions regarding courses, requirements, waivers, events or any other aspect of the ESPP program are encouraged to contact the ESPP student advisor, Karessa Weir, at



Get to know ESPP


Get to know Environmental Science and Policy Program doctoral student Sara Tanis and ESP 802 professors Robert Walker and Michael Kaplowitz. Video produced by ESPP newswriter Liz Pacheco.

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