Sustainable Communities, Master of Arts

Department of Sociology

College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

This is an interdisciplinary program that enables students to create their own course of study to address their intellectual, ethical and practical concerns. 

Among the earliest of its kind to be developed, this degree can enable students to merge the field of liberal studies with critical issues related to sustainability and community life. 

Since sustainability implies interconnectedness and a systems understanding of knowledge, sustainable communities (SUS) students study the intersections between human social structures and the natural world, paying attention to the philosophical, ethical, and practical dimensions of such study. This program is issue-based:  Rather than learn a discipline, SUS students focus on a particular issue or nexus of issues.

  • 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 36
Additional Admission Requirements

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

Fieldwork Experience/Internship Required
Thesis Thesis is required.
Oral Defense Oral Defense is required.
Research Individualized research may be required by chosen emphasis or offered as an option.
Progression Plan Link View Program of Study
Accelerated Undergraduate/Graduate Plan Optional

Purpose Statement

The mission of the Master of Arts in Sustainable Communities is to provide interdisciplinary face-to-face graduate education on the complex issues of sustainability and social justice, encouraging students to pursue important social and environmental issues concurrently. The program seeks to educate students as critical thinkers for community leadership and to enable its graduates to contribute to the well-being of communities. At the same time, the program aims to push students intellectually, looking to produce thoughtful and critical graduates who can think theoretically. The curriculum is student-centered; students bring their intellectual, ethical, and practical concerns to bear on their particular academic inquiry. These skills are sharpened in collective collaborations between students and different communities through praxis.

Central Concepts Of The Program

  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability encompasses the interactions between human and natural systems; sustainability is broadly defined and emphasizes the necessity for people to live in communities. Students explore what makes communities economically, environmentally, socially resilient and equitable, and how to ensure that communities have a direct say in building their future. They also examine the interactions and networks that form between different communities at the local, bioregional, national, and international levels.
  • Civic Engagement: students envision themselves as interconnected to the fabric and leadership of the university through both their work on the university campus as well as their meaningful participation in the larger Flagstaff community through the use of various models of activism, organizing, and scholarship. This includes examination and use of various models of activism and organizing, historical analysis of movements for social change, and other scholarship on democratic practice and civic engagement.
  • Inquiry-based Research: recognizes the interdependence between theory, modes of inquiry, and practice. Students explore models and understandings of action research and community-based research.
  • Scholar-Activism: scholarship and praxis acknowledges and speaks directly to the needs of communities and offers theoretically and empirically pragmatic solutions grounded in sustainability. Approaches are inherently interdisciplinary and take into account the social, cultural, economic, and ecological dimensions of issues.
  • Social Justice: considers issues of environmental and community sustainability as deeply interrelated. Students examine relationship between intersectionality of multiple identities (e.g. race, ethnicity, social class, gender identity, language) with issues of power, access to resources, place, climate change, and ecological impact.
  • Social Transformation: recognizing that individual transformation in terms of knowledge, understanding, and skills are deeply connected to collective transformation, students critically reflect and demonstrate elements of individual transformation as well as the implications of their work towards collective transformation.

Student Learning Outcomes
  • Define, examine and apply various interdisciplinary definitions and conceptions of sustainable communities.
  • Distinguish, formulate and evaluate interdisciplinary theories and modes of social transformation through multiple communities.
  • Identify, question, and transform power dynamics between environmental, economic, ecological, and social factors that foster or inhibit sustainable communities.
  • Name, describe, interpret positioning self along lines of differences and lived experiences vis-à-vis sustainable communities.
  • Appreciate, generate, and apply interdisciplinary methods of inquiry.
  • Recognize, explain and synthesize how global, local, economic, political, and cultural systems are interrelated.
  • Think critically through reading, writing and discussions.
  • Work collaboratively along lines of difference (e.g. race, class, gender, etc.) in classrooms and communities.
  • Foster and develop strong interpersonal, listening, and leadership skills.
  • Develop and apply different ethical and social justice frameworks.
  • Translate understanding to action and commitment using multiple change-agent strategies.
  • Imagine and design possible alternatives of sustainable communities.
  • Facilitate and create inclusive, diverse, egalitarian, and democratic spaces in the classrooms and communities.

Graduate Admission Information
  • 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.

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

    • Three letters of recommendation
    • Personal statement or essay
Master's Requirements
  • This Master’s degree requires 36 units distributed as follows:

    • Sustainable Communities Common Coursework: 17 units
    • Sustainable Communities Focused Electives: 13 units
    • Thesis: 6 units

    Take the following 36 units:

    • SUS 601, SUS 602, SUS 603, SUS 604, SUS 608, SUS 695 (17 units)
    • Electives related to sustainable communities and focused on your area of study, chosen in consultation with your graduate advisor. Courses may include independent study and fieldwork experience, as well as special topics courses and courses from disciplines across the University. (13 units)
    • Thesis: SUS 699, for the research, writing, and oral defense of an approved thesis. (6 units)
    • In preparing your thesis , you may end up taking more than the 6 units of thesis credit because you must enroll each term while you are working on your thesis.

      Students are required to complete 18 units of formal letter-graded coursework.

Accelerated Bachelor's to Master's Program
    • This program is available as an Accelerated Undergraduate/Graduate Plan wherein a student may start a master's degree while simultaneously completing their bachelor's degree.

    • Students enrolled at the Flagstaff campus for both undergraduate and graduate programs are eligible to complete the Bachelor of Arts in Environmental and Sustainability Studies and start a Master of Arts in Sustainable Communities at NAU.


      Students enrolled at the Flagstaff campus for both undergraduate and graduate programs are eligible to complete the Bachelor of Science in Environmental and Sustainability Studies and start a Master of Arts in Sustainable Communities at NAU.


      Students enrolled at the Flagstaff campus for both undergraduate and graduate programs are eligible to complete the Bachelor of Science in Sociology and start a Master of Arts in Sustainable Communities at NAU.

    • Students must apply to the master's program by the graduate program's application deadline, meet all admissions requirements listed in the policy Accelerated Bachelor's to Master's Programs, as well as the admissions requirements for the specified master's plan to be considered for admission. Admission to programs is competitive and qualified applicants may be denied because of limits on the number of students admitted each year.

      Be sure to speak with the Master's Program Director/Coordinator regarding your interest in the accelerated plan.
    • Students accepted into one of the Accelerated Programs should complete the same requirements for the graduate degree as defined above.

Additional Information
  • 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.