MA/MS in Interdisciplinary Studies: Concentration in Sustainability

University of Louisville

Year Founded: Jan. 1, 2015
Date Posted: April 14, 2016
Submitted by: Justin Mog
Sustainability Topic: Curriculum
Content Type: Academic Programs
Program Type: Specialization/Concentration/Emphasis
Completion: 2 years
Distance: Local Only
Commitment: Both


The large-scale goal of the Master of Arts/Science in Interdisciplinary Studies: Concentration in Sustainability Degree program is to prepare students to address complex regional, state, national and global challenges posed by the intersection of human exponential growth and increasingly limited resources that support society. The exponentially rising demands that human populations make on natural resources and ecological systems that supply us with energy, food, water and many other ecosystem services will be further threatened by climate change and the pollution of air, soil and water. Continued reliance on a “business as usual” approach to the economic production and consumption of goods and services, often characterized by the stresses it places on The Commons and by a disregard for environmental and social justice, now threatens the ability of the natural world to absorb our collective impact, erodes our collective security, and polarizes our societies. Substantial changes in social contracts, economic systems, as well as individual and institutional behaviors will be needed to provide more sustainable, healthy and secure societies. National, regional and local experimentation is needed to find solutions to societal challenges.

Students are required to complete 33 credit hours of courses. These include 3 credit hours of an Introduction to Sustainability course (SUST 600) taken by all students, 3 credit hours per course in each of three Core Areas (total of 9 credit hours), 3 credit hours in either research methods or statistics needed to conduct research in their focus area, 6 credit hours in either Thesis work or Portfolio, and the remaining 12 credit hours as electives in their area of concentration. A thesis is required to complete the MS option. The electives will be approved by the student's thesis committee and it is strongly suggested that at least one elective be in a core area that is not in the student's home department. The thesis or portfolio options will be determined by the student's career focus and goals and by the advisory committee's recommendation. Thesis and portfolios must involve work in at least two of the Core Areas in order to be considered interdisciplinary.

There will be a minimum of 12 hours apportioned as follows: All students are required to take a 3 credit Introduction to Sustainability course (SUST 600). All students must also take one course from the listings in each of the three Core Areas, for a minimum of 9 credit hours. These Core Areas are The Built Environment, The Natural Environment and The Social Environment. These core courses will have been accepted as providing a broad scope and foundation for all students and do not specify pre-requisites. After reviewing the syllabi of environmentally-related courses in many departments at the university for their potential to fulfill this objective, the committee reached a consensus on the courses below for these Core Areas. Additional courses meeting the above criteria may have to be developed to provide more offerings each semester, since some of the courses below are not offered every semester. Some elective courses are currently not offered at the 600-level, but could be by requiring additional graduate level work. These courses should also be co-listed as SUST courses.

Upon entry, all students will take an Introduction to Sustainability course (SUST 600) to ensure, regardless of their subsequent focus, shared exposure to and basic interdisciplinary knowledge of three Core Areas of Sustainability. This cross-cutting introductory course will be offered each semester and its content will require development.

This is an interdisciplinary program that include multiple academic units on campus and is the result of an initiative of the University of Louisville’s Sustainability Council which seeks to integrate sustainability into everything that goes on at UofL. Students in the program are encouraged to contribute to the Sustainability Council’s efforts to explore sustainable solutions for UofL and our community. The UPA Horticulture Zone is a demonstration area to show students and citizens many examples of how we can be more sustainable while living in the city. More information about the UofL Sustainability Council can be found at

Applicants must have a bachelor's degree (any major is acceptable), and provide a completed application form, a transcript of all undergraduate course work, scores for the Graduate Record Examination, a statement of purpose, and three letters of recommendation. Admission is competitive and generally requires a minimum GRE score of 153 in Verbal and 144 in Quantatative and a GPA of 3.00. The GRE code for the University of Louisville is 1838.

Learning Outcomes

The academic objectives of the program include:

a) to promote student understanding of sustainability principles and how they connect social, environmental, and economic issues.

b) to promote student ability to explain how natural, economic and social systems interact to further or impede sustainable societies.

c) to provide relevant analytical tools so students can evaluate how local to global policies interact across spatial and temporal scales to affect built, natural and social environments.

d) to develop interdisciplinary thinking and skills in students in the field of sustainability such that they can identify emerging areas of need and formulate research questions that bridge at least two disciplines across the built, natural and social environments.

e) to train students to conduct research or engage in creative activities on sustainability through use of appropriate qualitative and quantitative methods.

f) to train students so that they can work in groups and demonstrate skills for consensus building on sustainability issues among stakeholders.