In the classroom and on the ground

The NRSD degree offers you flexibility, rigor, and the opportunity to spend time in Washington's unparalleled concentration of environmental agencies, advocacy organizations, and think tanks. The time spent in Costa Rica at UPeace provides invaluable hand-on experiences that will enrich your studies. The success of our vast alumni network is a testament to the value of our program. We are a community of faculty, students, and alumni committed to working on the environmental and sustainability challenges facing the planet, and our community is marked by courage, passion, and deep concern.

At this pivotal moment, it is more important than ever that outstanding professionals are trained and committed to finding solutions to the world's shared challenges. Whether you intend to work at the scale of a neighborhood, a watershed, a nation, or the planet as a whole, we think you'll find that the NRSD degree provides uniquely rich settings and opportunities.

Degree Details

As a dual-degree program, NRSD has some unique features and requirements, including two semesters abroad.

In their first semester, NRSD students take courses alongside Global Environmental Policy (GEP) and other SIS students. In addition to taking the required Environment and Politics seminar, students typically take an economics course—often Environmental Economics or Intro to Economic Theory—and either an international development course or a seminar in water governance, political ecology of food and agriculture, or climate change politics. Unless already fluent, NRSD students also take a free, non-credit course in Spanish.

During their second and third semesters, which are spent at the University for Peace, NRSD students choose from an array of required and elective UPeace course offerings. At UPeace, students typically take one course at a time, offered during three-week intensive modules, and may also take additional Spanish courses. Students choose from a wide range of courses topics at UPeace, including disaster risk reduction, resource management, food security, sustainable agriculture, and water governance. Students also are able to take advantage of some courses in other programs at UPeace. Extensive field trips take students to Corcovado and Guanacaste to study sustainable development and conservation on the ground.

In addition, NRSD students pursue a mandated summer internship identified with support from AU and UPeace faculty in a geographic and focal area of their choice. These internships take students across the world, as close to home as Washington or as far away as Asia and Africa. 

Upon returning to SIS in their fourth semester, NRSD students finish their course requirements with three seminars and fulfill their capstone research requirement, through a significant research paper, team research practicum, or master's thesis. 


Students in the NRSD program do not have a specific concentration requirement, as your concentration is, by definition, sustainable development. Students can still choose to focus their coursework, both at AU and at the University for Peace, on whatever interests them. Below are samples of the courses you can take by concentration area.

  • SIS 620 Global Climate Change
  • SIS 620 Building a Post Carbon World
  • ANTH 640 Climate Justice
  • ENVS 596 Climate, Economics and Risk
  • ENVS 505 Energy
  • ENVS 660 Climatology
  • MGMT 596 Managing for Climate Change
  • MGMT 596 Water, Power, and Enterprise
  • PUAD 685 Science and Technology Policy
  • SIS 620 Water Governance
  • ENVS 500 Ecohydrology
  • ENVS 670 Water Resources
  • MGMT 596 The Business of Water
  • MGMT 596 Water, Power, and Enterprise
  • PUAD 696 Sustainable Ocean and Coastal Management
  • SIS 620 The Future of Environmentalism
  • SIS 620  Policy Analysis for Global Environmental Policy
  • SIS 620 International Policy Analysis
  • SIS 620 The Politics of Conservation
  • ENVS 665 Environmental Risk Assessment
  • LAW 618 International Environmental Law
  • LAW 813 Comparative Environmental Law
  • LAW 829 Trade and the Environment
  • PUAD 685 Environment and Natural Resource Policy Analysis
  • PUAD 685 Environmental Sustainability and Public Policy
  • SIS 619 Environment, Conflict, and Peace
  • SIS 609 Conflict Analysis and Resolution
  • SIS 619 Economics of Violence and Peace
  • COMM 589 Communication, Culture, and Environment
  • PHIL 693 Global Ethics
  • SIS 649 Environment and Development
  • SIS 650 Global Economy and Sustainable Development
  • SIS 637 International Development
  • SIS 635 Urban Development
  • SIS 635 Rural Development
  • SIS 636 Micropolitics of Development
  • ECON 661 Survey of Economic Development
  • SIS 620 The Political Ecology of Food and Agriculture
  • SIS 620 The Political Ecology of Waste
  • SIS 628 Community Based Research: Global Health
  • SIS 628 Global Health, Culture, and Communication
  • HPRM 575 Global Health
  • HPRM 585 Global Health Policy
  • SIS 620 Urban Ecology
  • SIS 635 Urban Development
  • SIS 620 Sustainable Development/LEED
  • CSC 610 Introduction to Global Information Systems 


An important part of the NRSD master's degree is the capstone research project, in which students analyze a contemporary environmental problem, controversy, or policy issue. Students can choose from three different options to fulfill their capstone.

The practicum is a semester-long research project conducted in partnership with a professional organization. Practicum research teams are made up of six to eight students who work with a faculty supervisor and an organizational partner. Students develop the focus of the research in consultation with the partner, design and execute the work, and write a publication-quality report. Some projects are conducted locally, while others involve international research and/or travel. Recent partners have included Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the US Department of State, and World Resources Institute (WRI). 

The Master's Thesis is an original research project appropriate for students looking to complete a longer and more academically rigorous research paper. It is similar to the Substantial Research Paper, but will completed over the course of one year.

The Substantial Research Paper (SRP) is an independent research project that is intended to integrate and apply knowledge from the field to a final scholarly project. The SRP culminates in a 50- to 60-page report that defines a question, applies one or more specific research methods to the question, develops findings, and discusses their implications and significance. Completed during your final semester in the program, the SRP is conducted under the supervision of an NRSD faculty member.

Application At a Glance

View a detailed admission and degree requirements listing for your degree of interest.

Entrance Semester
Fall only
Application Deadline
January 15 
Additional Requirements
Undergraduate degree
TOEFL/IELTS score if international applicant
Two letters of recommendation
Statement of purpose
Completion of online application