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The Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Agriculture and Life Sciences offered through the field of Natural Resources is available for returning or continuing students interested in a professional career path in environmental science and management. This degree typically is pursued by a person already employed in an environmentally related professional capacity who plans to continue in this field, or by a more recent graduate seeking further coursework to enhance their skills and training in specific areas.

The MPS degree is designed for candidates whose interests are not primarily research-oriented, but instead focused on a career in environmental management working with local and international government agencies, non-government organizations, and academic institutions. Students in the MPS program maximize their career potential by acquiring advanced skills required for a career in environmental management, expanding their professional abilities and networks, and becoming more immediately marketable in the field of Natural Resources.

MPS students in Natural Resources are fully integrated into our graduate field and are an important constituent of our diverse, highly talented, and impressive graduate student community.

Program Description

The MPS is an accredited, one-year, course-based master’s degree program that prepares individuals for the contemporary workplace through knowledge development, refinement of analytical tools, and advanced training in the latest theory and methodology. The specialized, course-based instruction led by world-class Cornell faculty broadens expertise and expands skill sets. The program is fast-paced, rigorous, and rewarding, and connects students to an extensive network of conservation scientists, a professional network of social and natural scientists, and longstanding relationships with government agencies and conservation non-government organizations.

The MPS degree program has two main components:

  1. Coursework: The suggested curriculum includes a balance of courses to build both professional and disciplinary competencies. Students work with a faculty advisor to customize their course of study based on their area(s) of interest.  While the majority of the courses (20 of the required 30 credits) will be in CALS, students have the flexibility to take appropriate electives across Cornell
  2. Capstone project: With the guidance of a faculty advisor, students work on solving a real-world problem, building project management and team leadership skills sought by employers.  

MPS students are part of a cohort of CALS professional master’s students specializing in diverse fields of study. 

Three students canoeing in a lake and conducting aquatic sampling with nets.

Focus Areas

While students have the opportunity to customize their own course of study with their faculty advisor, the field of Natural Resources offers several areas of focus for MPS degree candidates. Focused on the latest advancements in environmental management, the MPS emphasizes improvements that promote human health and well-being and advance environmental sustainability. Focus Areas include:

Environmental Management: The sheer complexity, interrelatedness, and multiple facets within the broad field of Environmental Management and Sustainability make this profession as exciting as it is rewarding. Within this area of focus students in Cornell’s Field of Natural Resources will be embedded in an academic community of highly motivated, broadly diverse and globally renowned experts and practitioners of Conservation, Policy, Ecology, Resource Economics, Environmental Attitudes and Decision Processes, Sustainable Practices, and Social Ecological Systems. Participating students will learn some of the most advanced techniques and hone skills that are both highly effective and marketable for environmental agencies, organizations and institutions, and environmentally concerned businesses. Consistently ranked among the top university environmental programs globally, our multidisciplinary curriculum is designed to build high-level practitioners, developing successful methods and solutions to tackle some of our world’s most important environmental issues. Suggested courses include: 

  • Planning for Environmental Conservation and Sustainability
  • Applied Remote Sensing and GIS for Resource Inventory and Analysis
  • Introduction to Environmental Planning
  • Resource Management and Environment Law
  • Decision Making in Natural Resources Management

Water Resource Management: Water scarcity is rapidly becoming the most limiting resource globally—due to the complex interactions of an expanding human population, mismanagement, and undervaluing of water—and the predicament is only being exacerbated by climate change. With more than 35 classes and 65 faculty, Cornell is a leading institution for studying every aspect of water resource management from fisheries to hydropower, from ditch networks and streams to the Great Lakes, which comprise >20% of the world’s freshwater. Students will take a common set of courses introducing both the biophysical and social dimensions of water resource management, and then get in-depth exposure to field, laboratory and analytical skills needed to address water problems globally. Suggested courses include: 

  • Sustainable Water Resource Management in the Face of Climate Change
  • Water Management in an Era of Growing Water Scarcity 
  • Planning for Environmental Conservation and Sustainability
  • Water Measurement and Analysis Methods 

Social Analysis and Decision Making: People and the environment are intricately intertwined, and the success or failure of environmental stewardship often depends on understanding and integrating people in environmental decision making. Cornell and the Field of Natural Resource are leaders in applying interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and addressing environmental problems. In this focus area students take a variety of courses across a range of disciplines that will provide them with the skills needed to consider and engage people, agencies, policy makers, and institutions in environmental management. Suggested courses include: 

  • Human Dimensions of Coupled Social-Ecological Systems
  • Introduction to Community and Environment Dispute Resolution
  • Environmental Governance
  • Environmental Policy Processes

Sustainable Systems: Implicit to the concept of sustainability is the wise use of natural resources, without degrading the environment or undermining the ecological processes that contribute to long-term stability. The Sustainability Science focus area offers a multidisciplinary approach to concepts, applications, and contemporary techniques involved in ensuring maintenance, stability, and long-term health of some of the world’s most critical resources. This area of focus overs a breadth of disciplines and a wide variety of possible topics including socio-ecology, management of local and global fisheries, sustainable forestry, water resource management, food security and sustainable marine ecology and policy. Suggested courses include: 

  • Advanced Conservation Biology: Concepts and Techniques
  • Environmental Finance and Markets
  • Toward a Sustainable Global Food System: Food Policy for Developing Countries 
  • Global Seminar: Building Sustainable Environments and Secure Food Systems for a Modern World

Forest Ecology and Management: Forests are increasingly important to the well-being of human communities, providing direct benefits and ecosystem services, such as sequestration of carbon dioxide, maintenance of high biodiversity and conservation of water, nutrients, and soil. In the field of Natural Resources, we focus on rejuvenation, regeneration, and re-establishment of natural cycles, to improve forest health and create self-sustaining forest ecosystems. This program draws from the resources of dozens of courses at Cornell that provide advanced tools, such as computer modeling and GIS analysis, and combines the latest understanding of biogeochemical cycling, carbon sequestration and forest community dynamics. Courses will examine mechanisms of sustainable use, resistance and adaptations to disturbance, and policy implementations to simultaneously reduce negative impacts, maintain productive ecosystems and contribute positively to local and global climate systems. Students will have access to professionals and facilities at the Arnot Teaching and Research Forest, Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, thousands of acres of CALS forestlands throughout New York, extensive maple production forests, and Cornell Botanic Garden’s suite of 42 Natural Areas. Suggested courses include: 

  • Forest Ecology
  • Forest Management and Maple Syrup Production
  • Woody Plant Identification and Use
  • Ecology and Evolution of Plant-Pathogen Interactions
  • Woody Plant Selection, Design, and Landscape Establishment

In addition, the field of Natural Resources also offers the following MPS areas of focus:

  • Quantitative Ecology
  • Community-Based Natural Resource Management
  • Ecosystem Biology and Biogeochemistry
  • Fishery and Aquatic Science
  • Conservation Biology
  • Wildlife Science
  • Applied Ecology
  • Risk Analysis and Management
  • Policy and Institutional Analysis

and the potential to create your own curriculum. 

Admissions Requirements

The ideal candidate will demonstrate a passion for the importance of gathering and analyzing data to make strategic decisions, competency in university-level science coursework, and an interest in applying knowledge gained in a professional career.

* Due to COVID-19 and test center closures, we are currently waiving the GRE test requirement for admission to our field. 

  • Strong Statement of Purpose from the prospective student clearly expressing the rationale for pursuing a professional degree, including an outline of their desired professional trajectory, an articulation of their learning objectives, how they would achieve these objectives through the program, and how they would benefit by an MPS degree.
  • Three strong letters of recommendation reflecting both academic and professional potential
  • Curriculum Vitae (CV) or Résumé
  • Admitted applicants generally meet one of the three following criteria:
    • GRE scores in the top 20th percentile [i.e.: ≥Verbal 159; Quant 161; Writing 4.5]
    • GPA ≥3.5 with evidence of strong foundational coursework and a demonstrated ability to succeed in Cornell courses
    • ≥ 3 years of continuous professional experience in a related professional field with evidence of strong potential to succeed in a natural-resources-oriented field
  • International Student Requirements:
    • Students must meet either TOEFL or IELTS requirements. TOEFL requirements: 22 Speaking, 20 Reading, 20 Writing, 15 Listening. IELTS:  Overall band score ≥ 7.0. Required TOEFL scores are assigned and reviewed by the Cornell Graduate School. Our field follows Cornell Graduate School requirements, see here for additional information.

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