Build a master's degree around your passions

Social Enterprise (SE) students begin hands-on training in solving pressing social problems from the moment they arrive at SIS. During orientation, students enter a 12-week sink-or-swim “plunge” in which they help a DC-based social enterprise resolve a problem. This heavy emphasis on experiential learning and personalized coaching continues through each student’s time in the program and extends long beyond graduation.

The SE program gives students the freedom to design a master’s degree that supports their individual interests and entrepreneurial goals. This flexibility allows students to explore many facets of this rapidly evolving field using courses from across American University’s graduate programs, or to deeply immerse themselves in a specific subject, region, or technique, and create a professional identity around it. 

Most SE courses, as well as the SE Capstone Practicum, involve real-world projects, many of which are about issues, people, and organizations our students select. Some of our students connect these projects to jobs or internships; others use them as steps toward launching or growing a venture.

Have questions?

If you would like detailed information or have a specific question, reach out to Program Director Bob Tomasko.

Degree Options

The SE program is cohort-based, meaning you will start the program, get oriented, and take a four-semester sequence of courses with the same group of students with whom you entered the program. You will also engage with them in action learning and extra-curricular projects throughout your graduate study.

While you will take courses in sequence with your cohort, the program provides the freedom to choose 15 credits (almost half of those required for your master’s) around your personal interests. This gives you an opportunity to explore the many facets of this rapidly evolving field by taking courses from the graduate programs offered at American University. Or you can use this flexibility to deeply immerse yourself in a specific subject, region, or technique, and create your professional identity.

The following is a sample progression of the on-campus MA in Social Enterprise program.

Year 1

The first year of the SE program will focus on design thinking, consulting skills, presentation techniques, and peer learning. Students can expect the following courses and program details during their first year in the program:

  • Plunge: Upon arrival, all students will be organized into groups to participate in a 12-week project in which they help a Washington, DC-based organization solve a social problem.
  • ECON 603: Introduction to Economic Theory
  • SIS 696: Ethics and Social Enterprise
  • SIS 696: Global Social Entrepreneurship
  • SIS 600: International Affairs Statistics and Methods
  • SIS 696: Methods of Social Enterprise
  • Concentration and elective courses

Year 2

The second year of the SE program will focus on networking and hands-on experience through interacting with social enterprises, campus groups, internships and jobs, and practica. Students can expect the following courses and program details during their second year in the program:

  • SIS 696: Leading Social Innovation
  • SIS 696: Social Enterprise Practicum Prep
  • Advanced economics and research courses
  • Concentration and elective courses
  • Professional experience, internship, networking
  • Capstone Practicum Project


Students can choose from four concentration options or select to design their own concentration. Self-designed concentrations will be planned in a discussion with the Social Enterprise Program Director.

Understand how to create a new social impact venture, how to manage an existing one, and how business can have a positive impact on society. The right choice for students who are: business oriented; entrepreneurial; comfortable organizing, directing, and getting things done through other people; want to be in charge of something.

  • ACCT 607 Financial Accounting
  • MGMT 660 Entrepreneurship and Innovation
  • MKTG 551 Marketing for Social Change
  • PERF 673 Fundamentals of Fundraising
  • SIS 611 International Negotiation
  • SIS 619 Global Corporate Social Responsibility
  • SIS 635 NGO/Social Enterprise Management
  • SIS 730 Crowdfunding

Understand key theories and methods in international development; look for opportunities to apply business and innovation techniques to global poverty alleviation; identify what works and what doesn't. The right choice for students who are: concerned about poverty alleviation, field-oriented, able to get a lot done with a little, adaptable to new situations, culturally-aware.

  • SIS 636 Micropolitics of Development
  • SIS 637 International Development
  • SIS 628 Intercultural Leadership
  • SIS 632 Microfinance
  • SIS 635 or PUAD 614 Development Management
  • SIS 635 courses in health; rural development; urban development; community development; children, youth and international development; and social accountability
  • SIS 649 Environment and Development
  • SIS 650 Global Economy and Sustainable Development

Understand how to generate important information to improve social impact initiatives; apply analytic techniques to measure what works, what doesn't, and why. The right choice for students who are: concerned about performance measurement and results, like to keep score and measure progress, analytical thinkers, research-oriented, comfortable with quantitative methods, able to tell stories with numbers and graphics, enjoy staff or advisory roles.

  • SIS 600 International Affairs Statistics and Methods
  • SIS 634 Field Survey Research Methods

  • SIS 635 Mixed Methods for Community-Based Research

  • SIS 635 Field Research Methods

  • SIS 750 Project Design, Monitoring and Evaluation
  • SIS 750 Data Analysis

  • SIS 750 Qualitative Methods and Methodology

  • SIS 750 Big Data and Text Mining

  • SIS 750 Program Evaluation

Many Social Enterprise students mix and match courses from the other options. Some create their own, building on courses in areas such as human rights, international education, business, and sustainability. Other students design highly customized hybrids in hot topics such as cross-sector partnership building and financing social innovation. It’s your choice.

Practicum Capstone

The SE Practicum is the capstone of our two-year master’s program. It serves as a vehicle to personally integrate what students learn in their graduate coursework, consulting projects, study abroad, internships, and paid employment.

The SE Practicum is a year-long experience that students may choose to work on individually or in teams to complete. It serves as a bridge between their studies and the work they will do after graduation.

Some students may create a new organization, build a prototype, apply a social enterprise technique to an existing organization, or lead a change effort. Some students will work in the US, some abroad. The common thread is that these are all hands-on efforts intended to better society.

All students engaged in a practicum will meet periodically to learn techniques that cut across the range of projects undertaken that semester and to advise, coach, and support each other. Each student or team will conclude the project by presenting it to an audience of students, faculty and practitioner affiliates.

For more details and examples of recent practicum projects completed by SE students, email Program Director Robert Tomasko.