Program Overview

The Masters of Professional Studies in Leadership for Sustainability is designed for emerging and experienced leaders who wish to deepen their capacity to catalyze change and transcend boundaries. In the first year, students attend three weeklong residential intensives (in Vermont, Durham, N.C, and the Bay Area, CA), engage in online coursework, and participate in individualized coaching.  In the second year, students choose elective courses and complete a Capstone project with the support of professional affiliate and faculty coaching. The program culminates at the annual two-day Sustainability Leadership Summit at Shelburne Farms, Vermont.  Course descriptions and credit details can be found below.

Core Coursework

NR311: Leadership for Sustainability Residential Intensive and Course (3 credits) Fall Semester 1 

This core requirement involves a weeklong residential intensive at Shelburne Farms, Vermont (August 2020) and ongoing semester-long coursework in the Fall semester. 

Essential Questions

  • How can we create conditions for the full scale of life to thrive?
  • How can our leadership practices and structures authentically reflect the wisdom of nature?
  • How can we unlearn dominant/colonial patterns of leadership that are perpetuated in many well-meaning change-making initiatives?

This experience will:

  • Introduce and practice a variety of foundational leadership skills (conscious communication, inquiry, awareness practices, working with difference, and more)
  • Cultivate a dynamic learning community; creating opportunities for relationship building among students, faculty, and staff
  • Introduce practices for connecting with and learning from nature and place
  • Introduce frameworks, principles, and practices of ecological/system thinking
  • Reflect on implications and applications of these themes/practices in our own work, leadership style, and home organizations

NR312: Power, Privilege & Catalyzing Change Residential Intensive and Course (3 credits) Spring Semester 1 

This second core requirement involves a weeklong residential intensive in Durham N.C (January 2021)  and ongoing semester-long coursework in the Fall semester.  

Essential Questions

  • How can we build our capacity to work with power, privilege, difference, multiplicity, tension, and incommensurability?
  • What skills, tools and frameworks might support us in our efforts to intervene in systems and structures of domination and oppression?

This experience will:

  • Introduce and practice frameworks and intercultural skills for actively engaging with issues of diversity, power, and privilege as leaders in organizational and community-based settings
  • Explore processes, frameworks, and practices for catalyzing and facilitating change at individual, community, organization, and larger system levels
  • Explore identity, allyship, systemic oppression, microaggressions, rank and status, and other themes that essential to increasing our awareness and capacity as leaders.
  • Support the development of the students Master's project concept and proposal

NR389: Ecological Leadership Practicum Residential Intensive and Course (3 credits) Summer Semester 1 

This third core requirement involves a weeklong residential intensive in the Bay Area California, dates TBD, and ongoing semester-long coursework in the Summer semester to support the development of the Master's project proposal.  This experience will:

  • Build on previous coursework and content to integrate these concepts and skills through a variety of learning experiences
  • Focus on practices for embodied leadership through a series of exercises and activities
  • Explore the operationalization of ecological leadership practices by visiting innovative organizations that are practicing unique approaches to ecological leadership
  • Examine the assumptions, mindsets, beliefs, organizational culture, practices, and conditions present in different leadership and change-making initiatives.
  • Explore differences in how some people/organizations approach issues, generate ideas, make decisions, practice solidarity and intersectionality, measure success, and build relationships.
  • Examine unintended impacts of change-making efforts and apply ecological/systems thinking frameworks to leadership.

NR388: Ecological Leadership Seminar Interactive Online Course (6 credits over 2 semesters) Fall and Spring Semester 1 

Ecological Leadership is a continually evolving field based on the idea that efforts to create a healthy future for our planet will necessitate mindsets, leadership skills, and strategies that reflect ecological realities, relationships and understandings.  This online course explores emerging topics and themes related to the theory and practice of Ecological Leadership over two semester-long sections covering the module topics listed here.

Capstone Coursework

NR392: Master's Project (6 credits over 3 semesters) Fall and Spring Semester 2 

The Capstone Project is an opportunity for second-year students to integrate core learnings while addressing pressing challenges/opportunities in their own home community/organization.  The project process is supported through a combination of online modules, professional affiliate/faculty coaching, feedback and assessment.  Students are required to develop a project proposal; implement project activities; complete a culminating final report; and present their Capstone project at the annual Leadership for Sustainability Summit.

Elective Courses

Students must take 9-credits of elective courses throughout their second year of the program. Students can choose from coursework that would fulfill chosen areas of specialization (below), MLS elective course offerings, or other UVM courses (learn more here).  Students can also transfer up to 9 graduate-level courses from other accredited universities (these cannot have counted for other degree/certificate programs).

NR395: Storytelling and Communicating for Change Interactive Online Course (3 credits)

This online course is designed to help emerging leaders enhance their ability to communicate effectively across a variety of mediums.  This applied course will focus on the art and practice of communications while challenging students to consider complex dynamics (such as power, privilege, voice, difference, legitimacy, incommensurability) that are inherent in our efforts to communicate across boundaries/divides.  This course will ask big questions about the nature and purposes of communication while constantly considering the implications of these questions in our practice.  Throughout the course, students will participate in online instructional modules taught/curated by a variety of professional communications practitioners and workshop and some communications projects that can be immediately applied to their unique professional situation.

NR395: Sustainability Seminar Hybrid Independent and Interactive Online Course (1-3 variable credits)

This online course showcases learning modules designed by faculty and professional affiliates.  Students can engage modules that fit their professional or research aspirations and receive individualized feedback from the sustainability instructional team.  Students engage in an online interactive space and present at an online Sustainability Symposium at the end of the semester based on learnings and key takeaways.  Sample modules include:  Ecologies of Place; Leadership and Education in the Anthropocene; Cosmologies, Worldviews, and Ways of Knowing; Ecological Design; Awareness in Leadership; Relational Leadership; Solidarity Across Difference; Visioning & Creativity; Purposes of Education; Pedagogies of Education for Sustainability; Theories of Change; Intervening in a System & Leverage Points; Exploring Power & Privilege; Power, Legitimacy, & Representation in Communications; Storytelling for Change; Strategic Planning for Change

NR384: Independent Study Student-designed Elective Course (1-3 variable credits)

Students may design an independent study course with the approval of their advisor and graduate program coordinator.  An independent study course is an opportunity to explore themes, topics, questions and ideas that may not fit under a currently offered UVM course and may include content/curriculum from across and outside UVM.

NR395: Power, Privilege, and Partnership:  Practicing Philanthropy and Supporting Grassroots Social Change

This course is created in partnership with Thousand Currents and is based off their weeklong Thousand Currents Academy.  Students must also be accepted through a separate application process into the academy.  Contact Jessie Spector at for more info.

Possible Areas of Specialization

Education for Sustainability
NR395: Education, Equity and Learning

This online course will explore emerging topics and themes related to the theory and practice of education for sustainability; a continually evolving field based on the idea that efforts to create a healthy future for our planet will necessitate mindsets, leadership skills, and strategies that reflect ecological realities, relationships and understandings.  In collaboration with innovative professional affiliates and practitioners, this course will be focused on creating conditions for learning our way toward a more sustainable future and will offer tangible skills pedagogical approaches and applied frameworks that can immediately be applied in schools and other educational organizations and contexts.  Content includes: ecologies of place; education in the Anthropocene, cosmologies, worldviews, and ways of knowing; purposes of education and the grammar of schooling; pedagogies of EFS; and decolonization in education.

Ecological Economics
NR341: Ecological Economics Theory Interactive Online Course (3 credits)

Ecological economics is an ongoing effort to reconcile economic theory and policy with accepted knowledge from other disciplines. This foundational course develops (1) a core understanding of the basic tenets of neoclassical economic theory, (2) an interdisciplinary critique of economic behavior and production models, and (3) a transdisciplinary foundation for problem-solving in the context of the scale and complexity of 21st century social and environmental problems. Students research, write, and present a paper that meets an academic conference/journal standard of review.  This course is offered through the Gund Institute of Ecological Economics.

Ecological Economics Practicum Residential Intensive and Course (3 credits)

The full problem-solving process includes both credentialed experts and experiential knowledge in defining, analyzing, synthesizing, and communicating solutions. This hands-on course brings together students, faculty, and stakeholders from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to address a specific local, regional or global environmental problem. The problem for each semester is chosen in collaboration with a sponsor, and involves an intensive, residential workshop. Students learn to apply the principles and methods of ecological economics to messy, complex, real-world problems. Outcomes include collaborative research papers, grant proposals, and policy/management support.  This course is offered through the Gund Institute of Ecological Economics.