The Ph.D. in TLCS curriculum provides an opportunity for students to develop depth, and high levels of competency in the theories, frameworks, and practices associated with our program's foundational pillars and areas of core content (creativity, transdisciplinarity, leadership practice, sustainability, decolonization, solidarity, ecological/systems thinking and change, and applied humanities and social sciences methodologies rooted in epistemic freedom and multiple ways of knowing).  At the same time, the program creates the opportunity for student-driven differentiation -- making space for students to pursue sector-specific content and methods that will be essential to their applied research and practice.

Learning Outcomes

Program learning goals include:

  1. Apply ecological, systems change theory, leadership and creative practices to complex contexts/conditions in service to an equitable and sustainable future;
  2. Express advanced skillfulness in a suite of inquiry-based practices and methods for generating knowledge and responding to relevant leadership questions;
  3. Situate their scholarship, leadership, and creative practice in relationship to their theoretical and ontological perspectives and a robust power analysis;
  4. Contribute original research/scholarship that is relevant and useful to their own leadership practice and the complex challenges facing their communities, organizations, environment and social movements;
  5. Make explicit connections between their scholarship, creativity, and leadership as invited by the promise of transdisciplinary practice.


TLCS PhD Coursework


TLCS PhD Pre/Co-requisite coursework is completed in conjunction with students in the Master's in Leadership for Sustainability program:

NR 6110: Leadership for Sustainability (3 Credits, Fall, Remote Learning Intensive: August 21-25, 2023)

This is the introductory course for the TLCS/MLS programs. The cornerstone experience of this course is a 5-day intensive (~3 hrs/day with additional activities) that will provide an experiential, relational and theoretical orientation to foundational practices, values, and questions at the heart of this program. Course objectives include:

  • To introduce and engage with culturally sustaining relational, theoretical and foundational leadership practices rooted in multiple ways of knowing
  • To engage leadership and ecological/systems change frameworks and practices that address power and positionality
  • To reflect on implications and applications of these themes in students’ own work, research, and leadership practices

NR 6880: Ecological Leadership Seminar (6 Credits, Fall and Spring) Synchronous course meetings occur on bi-weekly Tuesdays, from 7:00-8:30pm ET. Fall 2023 and Spring 2024 dates coming soon!

This online course will explore core practices, themes, principles, and essential questions at the heart of the MLS Program.  Over the course of each 15-week semester, we will cover 6-8 themes using a module-based format. These modules are co-designed and stewarded by program affiliates and faculty and topics may include sovereignty, relational leadership, solidarity, wisdom of nature, cosmologies and ways of knowing, creating conditions, decolonization, creativity, awareness practice, systems thinking/change, and more.  Essential questions for this course include:

  • 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? 
  • How can we do this in a way that holds love, relationship, and well-being at the center?

NR 6120: Being and Building Beloved Community (3 Credits, Spring, Remote Learning Intensive: January 8-12, 2024)

This course focuses on creating beloved community in a variety of contexts and across difference. The course explores practices for engaging with power, privilege and systemic change and working with ambiguity, multiplicity, and incommensurability. The cornerstone experience of this course is a 5-day intensive featuring leaders and leadership practices from a variety of localities.  The intensive will be an opportunity to revisit and deepen programmatic core practices described here.  This is a collaborative and practice-based experience. There will be an online portion of the course (one module) that takes place after the intensive and involves asynchronous online learning assignments.  Essential questions include:

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

OPTIONAL: NR 6890: Ecological Leadership Practicum (3 Credits, Spring, Remote Learning Intensive: January 8-12, 2024)

This course focuses on practices for embodied leadership and the operationalization of values, principles, and methods in organizations/institutions and across sectors. The course will invite you to continue to examine the assumptions, mindsets, beliefs, culture, practices, and conditions present in your own leadership and change-making initiatives. We will explore different methodologies: how people/organizations approach issues, generate ideas, make decisions, practice solidarity, learn and build/tend relationships. Essential questions include:

  • How can we more fully express and embody our core leadership principles and practices in relationships, communities, organizations, institutions, sectors, social movements, and all aspects of our work/lives?   What are the challenges associated with doing this?
  • How can we practice rigor, discernment, and accountability more fully in our lives/work?

TLCS Core Curriculum

Year 1 

NR 6720: Transdisciplinary Leadership and Creativity (6 Credits, Fall and Spring)

This online graduate level seminar will examine the theory and practice of transdisciplinary leadership and creativity.  This course will provide foundational content in areas of epistemic justice, ontological tolerance and softening, transdisciplinarity, working across incommensurate differences in cosmologies/ideologies, and creating disciplinary structure and practice for creativity in research and scholarship.  Students will create a statement on ontological and epistemic intent, map the lineages and scholarly traditions informing their leadership orientation, and develop an extensive annotated bibliography that will support the initial phase of doctoral study.  The course will provide a bi-weekly “studio session” supported by practitioner scholars that invite students to explore the intersection of leadership, research and creative practice.  This course will also support students to develop their personal practices and structure to sustain the creative commitment that will serve their Ph.D. process and a lifelong praxis of knowledge generation.

Synchronous course meetings occur on Bi-weekly Mondays at 10:30 -noon PT/1:30-3:00 pm ET

  • Fall 2023 Course Meeting Dates: 8/28, 9/11, 9/25, 10/9, 10/23, 11/6, 11/27
  • Spring 2024 Course Meeting Dates: 1/22, 2/5, 2/26, 3/18, 4/1, 4/15, 4/29. 
  • Community Creative Studio Space/Jams on alternate Mondays (this will be organic and self-organized)

Year 2, Fall 

NR 6730:  Transdisciplinary Methods and Modes of Inquiry (3 Credits)

This online graduate level seminar will explore humanities and social science-based methods of inquiry and practice for transdisciplinary research and scholarship.  Students will be asked to critically examine the historical, ontological, philosophical, and theoretical foundations of traditional, emergent and endangered approaches to transdisciplinary research -- with an emphasis on structures of power and privilege that underlie many dominant knowledge production practices.  Content will be shared in 2-week modules (including foundational texts and activities/exercises) that are co-taught and stewarded by faculty and practitioner-scholars from the TLCS program.  Foundational methodological approaches will focus on critical, participatory, transformative, and creative modes of inquiry and support each student’s inquiry into their own ontological and epistemic conditioning and knowledge generation practices.  The course will draw heavily from the transdiscipliniary traditions of critical race theory, queer theory, culturally sustaining methods, participatory action research, decolonizing methodologies, critical disability studies, feminist, humanist, and arts-engaged approaches.  The course will also support a process for students to refine their scholarly curiosities, methodological orientations, and research and practice goals.  The course will prepare students to begin the process of selecting their studies committee, and writing their dissertation proposal.

Synchronous course meetings occur on bi-weekly Mondays at 8:30-10am PT/11:30-1pm ET/4:30-6pm GST 

  • Fall 2023 Course Meeting Dates: 8/28, 9/11, 9/25, 10/9, 10/23, 11/6, 11/27

Year 2, Spring 

  • Monthly writing workshop/jam space to support proposal writing
  • Committee selection process
  • Self-organized studio space
  • IRB/writing support  

Year 2, Summer 

  • Continue writing dissertation proposal
  • Present dissertation proposal
  • IRB/Writing support

Year 3

  • Comprehensive Exam comprised of a three-part written exam and an oral exam occurring at least six months before submission of dissertation.
  • Dissertation research
  • Monthly jams and periodic studio sessions
  • Writing support
  • Teaching requirement offerings

Year 4 

NR 7740:  Deep Creative Practice and the Dissertation (6 Credits)

This online graduate-level seminar will support students to actively engage in a creative meaning-making process that informs the creation of their dissertation.  This course will take place during the final stages of the dissertation research and will be team-taught by program faculty and practitioner scholars to rigorously support the development of scholarly articles and other artifacts that address the core questions from which the dissertation research emerged.  Course objectives include:

  • To create a collaborative and rigorous space for Ph.D. students to integrate, synthesize and create meaning and meaningful contributions from their research that are appropriate to the questions, needs, challenges of the communities, organizations, sectors, movements of which they are part.
  • To foster a spirit of relational inquiry, a continuous unsettling of default assumptions, and the generation of new questions that can lead to the articulation and creation of their dissertation and other scholarly outputs.
  • To support students in overcoming the isolation that is often present and can inhibit the completion of the dissertation through a value-based relational and creative process.

Electives and Additional Methods Course(s) 

The following online graduate-level courses are offered across the University which will provide students with rich opportunities to explore methodological, disciplinary and transdisciplinary content and orientations in support of their Ph.D. inquiries.  (Note: additional grad-level online courses continue to be added to the schedule of courses yearly.  This list is not exhaustive, but includes courses offered by faculty/departments that are open to including TLCS Ph.D. students.)

  • Environmental Thought and Culture Research Seminar (or Environment and Culture in the Anthropocene)
  • Advanced Environmental Humanities
  • Sustainability Seminar
  • Rotating summer MLS seminar topics
  • Ecological Economics Theory (occasionally offered online)
  • Independent Study
  • Foundations in Education for Sustainability
  • Methods in Education for Sustainability Immersion
  • Professional Problems in Education: Inequality in Education
  • Dissertation Writing Seminar
  • Culture of Disability
  • Modes of Inquiry: Critical, Decolonizing and Arts-Engaged Approaches to Research
  • Introduction to Qualitative Research
  • Analyze and Write Qualitative Research
  • Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Race, Justice, and Education
  • Genders and Sexualities in Education
  • The Ecological Foundations of Agroecology
  • Participatory Action Research (PAR) & Transdisciplinary Approaches
  • Agroecology, Food Sovereignty, and Social Movements
  • Two new Humanitarian Studies Courses (names/titles coming soon)

TLCS PhD Requirements

Requirements for Advancement to Candidacy for PhD. in Transdisciplinary Leadership, Creativity and Sustainability 

Each student in the TLCS Ph.D. program will meet all requirements as stated in the Graduate College Catalogue. This will include the completion of rigorous original research that contributes new scholarly knowledge while addressing complex challenges from a place of creativity.

  • 75 total credits needed (can include grade-bearing, transfer, or research credits)
  • Up to 24 credits transferred from Masters (leaving 51 additional credits)
  • With masters degree: Minimum 15 grade-bearing credits
  • Minimum 20 dissertation credits
  • Studies committee: Research will be conducted under the supervision of a studies committee which may include one program practitioner-scholar (other than a regular member of the graduate college as per Graduate College guidelines).  This approach supports the true transdisciplinary nature of this program while ensuring that the student’s research is accountable to the communities, sectors, social movements and larger ecosystems of which the student is part.
  • Dissertation proposal: Under the guidance of the studies committee, each student will complete and defend a dissertation proposal (with public seminar) at the end of the 2nd year of their program of study. The proposal will provide a cohesive articulation of the research component of the dissertation (including contextual analysis, literature review, modes of inquiry/methods, timeline/work plan, and reflective summary).
  • Comprehensive exams: Following the completion of the dissertation proposal (at the beginning of year 3) students will take their Comprehensive Exam which will be overseen by each student’s studies committee.  The examination will be comprised of a three-part written exam and an oral exam and must occur at least six months before the dissertation is submitted.
  • Dissertation
  • Teaching or professional skills requirement


We would love to hear from you! Email Drusilla Roessle at with any questions and/or to set up a time to connect by phone.