Environmental Sciences and Policy, Master of Science

School of Earth and Sustainability

College of the Environment, Forestry, and Natural Sciences

Students in this advanced degree program position themselves to not only understand the environment, but also to act on its behalf by influencing future policy. This thesis-oriented plan allows for the creation of an individualized program of study, as unique as the student's interests, guided by an engaged research committee.

  • Available Emphasis Areas:
  • Science and Policy - Emphasis
  • Paleoenvironmental Sciences - Emphasis

  • To receive a master’s degree at Northern Arizona University, you must complete a planned group of courses from one or more subject areas, consisting of at least 30 units of graduate-level courses. Many master’s degree programs require more than 30 units.

    You must additionally complete:

    • All requirements for your specific academic plan(s). This may include a thesis.
    • All graduate work with a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0.
    • All work toward the master's degree must be completed within six consecutive years. The six years begins with the semester and year of admission to the program.

    Read the full policy here.

In addition to University Requirements:

  • Complete individual plan requirements.

Minimum Units for Completion 34 - 36
Additional Admission Requirements

Individual program admission requirements over and above admission to NAU are required.

Thesis Thesis is required.
Oral Defense Oral Defense is required.
Research Individualized research is required.
Progression Plan Link View Program of Study

Purpose Statement

The Master of Science in Environmental Sciences and Policy (MS ES&P) is an interdisciplinary degree program that combines a series of science and policy core courses with a breadth of specialized classes from across the University. Lasting solutions to most environmental problems are likely to be found at the nexus of the natural and social sciences. The MS ES&P program provides applied, cross-disciplinary training to prepare students to solve environmental problems using the scientific method combined with an in-depth knowledge of the political system. Students gain this knowledge through their individual thesis research and coursework in quantitative research methods, natural sciences and political sciences.

This two-year degree program has two distinct emphasis areas: Environmental Sciences and Policy, and Paleoenvironmental Sciences. The core courses for both emphases include: 1) The Environmental Science-Policy Interface (ENV 555), 2) two research methods seminars (ESS 505, 506), 3) one or more quantitative analysis courses, and 4) thesis credits. All ES&P students work closely with a faculty adviser to design and implement individual thesis research. Students in the Environmental Sciences and Policy emphasis generally focus their coursework and research on the science-policy interface and may examine a wide range of environmental problems such as issues related to food security, pollution, or resource management. Students in Paleoenvironmental Sciences emphasis generally analyze ancient environments to gain insights to help predict future environmental dynamics, particularly related to climate change.

The MS ES&P program's rigorous training in the natural and political sciences prepares graduates for successful environmental careers in industry, government, and the non-profit sector. Our graduates can successfully communicate across multiple disciplines and negotiate scientifically and politically sound solutions to the wide range of environmental problems that currently challenge our society. The ES&P curriculum trains students how to assess the costs and benefits of various public policies and actions. The research skills gained by ES&P students help them continue to expand their knowledge long after they graduate from the program. This training and experience helps our graduates assume leadership roles in environmental fields. Finally, the MS ES&P program prepares students for entry into Ph.D. programs in environmental sciences and other related fields if they choose to continue in an academic track.

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Use data, perspectives and theories from the natural and social sciences to develop an integrated understanding of environmental challenges.
  • Examine the generation of scientific knowledge and how that knowledge is presented, evaluated, framed, and applied as political forces shape environmental policy.
  • Understand the ethical dimensions of scientific inquiry and interpretation in affecting policy process, and apply this knowledge to develop ethical approaches to the integration of scientific inquiry and interpretation to the policy process.
  • Develop relevant policy and management recommendations to address environmental challenges.

In-depth examination of research methods, modes of inquiry, and quantitative and qualitative methods, including but not limited to:
  • Effective integration of experimental design and laboratory and/or field instruments
  • Design and use of observational and/or experimental field methods
  • Application of appropriate analytical methods to evaluate qualitative and/or quantitative data
  • Application of mathematical, spatial or qualitative models to better represent environmental and/or related social processes
Write thesis proposals and theses addressing environmental and policy issues including the following:
  • Design a research study of personal and professional interest and importance including: planning, organizing and executing a project with guidance and input of the thesis committee
  • Conduct a thorough literature review related to the thesis area that identifies knowledge gaps
  • Analyze, interpret, and explain findings using quantitative and/or qualitative methods appropriate to the research design
  • Succinctly articulate these new insights, tools, or approaches in oral presentations and polished writing aimed at Environmental Science and Policy professionals as well as the general public
  • Conduct a thesis defense delivered to an audience of environmental science faculty and peers
  • Effectively communicate (e.g. oral presentations, writings, posters) with environmental scientists, policymakers, resource managers, and the public (i.e. technical and non-technical audiences).
  • Effectively communicate major theories, areas of agreement and controversy, significant challenges, and leading edges of environmental science and how social forces shape environmental policy and management.
Science & Policy Emphasis Learning Outcomes
  • Develop an interdisciplinary understanding of environmental systems through coursework and thesis research.
  • Students will work closely with their research advisor to develop a personal plan of study and research, in which the student applies a core body of methodological and theoretical knowledge to a thesis in the student’s individual area of research interest.
  • In the Science & Policy Emphasis, students’ core body of methodological and theoretical knowledge revolves around a scientific examination of natural resources (such as air, water, and land) and integration of this scientific knowledge with an examination of environmental law, regulation and policy.
Paleoenvironment Emphasis Learning Outcomes
  • Develop an interdisciplinary understanding of paleoenvironmental systems through coursework and thesis research.
  • Examine Quaternary geology including glaciation, hydrology, stratigraphy, geomorphology, and paleoclimatology.
  • Elucidate major theories and methods in reconstructing terrestrial and aquatic biotic communities of the past.
  • Examine and understand how and why the climate system responds to natural changes and human impacts.
  • Use archeological analysis to examine the impacts of humans on past climate and environments.

Additional Admission Requirements
  • Individual program admission requirements over and above admission to NAU are required.

  • The NAU graduate online application is required for all programs. Admission to many graduate programs is on a competitive basis, and programs may have higher standards than those established by the Graduate College.

    Admission requirements include the following:

    • Transcripts.
    • Undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited institution with a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale ("A" = 4.0), or the equivalent.

    Visit the NAU Graduate Admissions website for additional information about graduate school application deadlines, eligibility for study, and admissions policies.

    Ready to apply? Begin your application now.

    International applicants have additional admission requirements. Please see the International Graduate Admissions Policy.

    • GRE® revised General Test
    • Three letters of recommendation
    • Submit a sample of your writing that you think best demonstrates your skill at communicating science and/or policy and/or management ideas. The submission should be your own original work.
    • Prerequisites (may be completed concurrently with the program)
      • Science prerequisites include at least one undergraduate chemistry, biology, or ecology course with a lab, though it is possible to be admitted provisionally while completing foundational coursework
    • Resume or curriculum vitae
Master's Requirements
  • Take the following 34 - 36 units:

    Core (15 units)

  • In completing the thesis, you will work closely with your major professor and others to conduct an original research project, which generally requires maintaining close proximity to the Northern Arizona University - Flagstaff campus.

    Emphasis Requirements (Select One):
    • Science and Policy Emphasis (21 units)
      • Select one course each from two of the following areas (6 units):
    • Paleoenvironmental  Sciences Emphasis (19-20 units)

      • Select one course each from the following areas (12-13 units):
  • Be aware that some courses may have prerequisites that you must also successfully complete. For prerequisite information, click on the course or see your advisor.