Environmental and Energy Policy—MS Program

Students enter the Master of Science in Environmental and Energy Policy program with bachelor’s degrees in an array of disciplines, including the various social sciences and disciplines such as biology, environmental science, and engineering. The intent of the Masters program is to provide you with the skills and knowledge necessary to be effective in a position involving the implementation of environmental programs. Regardless of the specific organization with which you become involved—whether it is a non-governmental agency (NGO), a corporation that needs to manage its environmental uses, a consulting firm, or a local, state, or federal agency—the same set of skills and knowledge is valuable.

In your coursework you will develop an understanding of:

  • The existing policy framework that governs our use of the environment, including policies that influence energy choices and the use of natural resources
  • How and why the existing policy framework has come to be structured in the way that it has
  • Methods for analyzing policy choices and for facilitating decision-making processes involving a range of participants, including the general public
  • The sociopolitical facets of environmental policy issues
In addition, you will be expected to complete a report or thesis that allows you to investigate a specific topic in detail. The thesis option is recommended for students who may, at some point, be interested in entering a PhD program, either here or elsewhere.


Because of the interdisciplinary nature of environmental policy and the rigorous curriculum, students accepted into the MS program must have strong undergraduate credentials and a high level of proficiency in written and oral communication skills. We also expect applicants to have taken at least one undergraduate-level course in the environmental sciences, one in statistics, and one in microeconomics; however, if necessary, students can complete these courses during their first year of graduate study.

Degree Requirements and Options

 The Master of Science in Environmental and Energy Policy requires 30 credits. At least 20 of the 30 credits must be taken in courses at or above the 5000 level.

Thesis Option

This option requires you to complete a research thesis prepared under the supervision of an advisor and two members of the graduate faculty. At least one of those members must be a faculty member in a different department.

The minimum requirements are as follows:

Core Courses 12 credits
Other Coursework 9-12 credits
Thesis Credits 6-9 credits

The scope of the research topic for the thesis should be defined in such a way that a full-time student can complete the requirements for the MS degree, coursework and thesis, in two years.

Report Option

This option requires a report describing the results of an independent study project. You prepare the report under the guidance of an advisor and two members of the graduate faculty. At least one of those members must be a faculty member in a different department.

The minimum requirements are as follows:

Core Courses 12 credits
Other Coursework 12-15 credits
Project Credits 3-6 credits

The scope of the research topic should be defined in such a way that a full-time student can complete the requirements for the MS degree, coursework and report, in two years.

Degree Components

Methods (3–4 credits)

Students will select one methods course, typically from among the following depending upon their background and interests:

Concentration (6–9 credits)

In the second year, students, in consultation with their guidance committee, will identify at least two courses (thesis option) or three courses (report option) that are most appropriate for their needs. These elective courses comprise the concentration area, providing further depth in some aspect of environmental policy or related skills and techniques. The concentration courses, which are drawn from departments across the University, will often link policy interests, internship activities, and students' particular skills.

Concentrations might include

  • Resource management
  • Policy and regulation
  • Environmental technologies
  • Energy policy
  • Ecosystems management
  • Pollution control
  • Organizational capacity
  • Communications

Report or Thesis (3–6 credits)

Much of the second year is devoted to a report or thesis. Each student will conduct research or undertake a project under the supervision of an advisor. The thesis involves identifying a research question, choosing a method for answering the question, and describing and analyzing the results. A report describes the results of an independent project and, potentially, evaluates the process associated with project.

The completed report or thesis will be examined by a committee of at least three faculty members including at least one from outside of the department. At the defense of their thesis or report, each student will also give a brief public presentation.

 At least two weeks prior to your defense, students must:

  • Schedule their defense using the Pre-defense form
  • Submit a draft thesis to the Graduate School. (This step is not required for reports.)
  • Distribute their thesis or report to their advisory committee

The Degree schedule form (M4) must be approved before a defense is scheduled.

You must also report the results of the defense and submit a final thesis to the Graduate School prior to completing your degree. Theses and reports must be prepared following the procedures of the Graduate School.


Typically, the program involves two years in residence. During the first year, students take mostly required core course work in environmental policy analysis and the social context of environmental issues. Most of the second year is devoted to concentration courses and to the project or thesis.

Sample Curriculum Plan

 This is merely a sample curriculum. Depending on when you enter the program, when courses are available, and on what your interests are, your curriculum could (and probably will) look different.

Year One: 18 Credits
SS5300 Environmental and Energy Policy 3 SS5350 Environmental Policy Analysis 3
SS5400 Sociology of the Environment 3 Methods 3-4
Concentration Elective 3 Thesis Credits 2-3
Year Two: 12–18 Credits
SS5550 Global Environmental History 3 Concentration Elective 3
Concentration Elective 3 Thesis Credits* 1-6
Thesis Credits 3

*Students who have an assistantship in their 4th semester or who desire to maintain their status as full-time students for other reasons will need to register for 9 credits in their 4th semester

Career Pathways

Industrial firms, governments, and nonprofit organizations recognize the need for professionals with combined technical and sociopolitical expertise. Those with skills in environmental policy analysis and citizen participation fill an important niche.

Industry and Private Firms

Private sector employment opportunities are typically in policy-related positions of manufacturing corporations and large engineering firms. Industrial firms require technical professionals who are also trained to participate in regulatory hearings, policy-related conferences, and public meetings; and national business leaders have reported a need for managers possessing technical proficiency blended with an understanding of policy development, decision-making, and the interests of community groups and members.

Federal, State, and Local Government

The public sector recognizes the need for environmental managers with broad interdisciplinary training in both policy processes and social or natural sciences. Federal regulatory agencies and international environmental organizations often engage with community-based groups and must address citizens’ needs outside of the mandated, formal hearing process. State agencies, such as the Michigan Department of the Environment and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, are also active in local communities.

Situated between the demands of national and international environmental policies and the needs of local communities and businesses, state environmental offices are in a unique position to mediate the sociopolitical demands of many stakeholders in disputes. County, city, and tribal governments in the Great Lakes region must respond to new environmental programs and policies. Graduates holding a bachelor’s degree in engineering, social science, or natural science combined with a professional degree in environmental policy are very attractive candidates for local positions.

Nonprofit Organizations

Nonprofit organizations and consulting firms need technically trained policy and environmental specialists. This sector is an important source of employment for graduates of environmental policy programs. As lobbyists and public education organizations, nonprofits often mediate between large questions of public policy and the environmental concerns of everyday citizens.

Advanced Degrees

Our MS program provides excellent preparation for an advanced degree. Many of our MS graduates have gone on to PhD programs—including our own—as well as law school programs, sometimes after working with a public or private organization. We support students in the development of indispensable research skills and in finding and transitioning into a top-quality degree program of the want to continue their education elsewhere.

Where have our graduates been hired?

  • Environmental consulting firms
  • Industrial Firms
  • Keweenaw Bay Indian Community
  • US Environmental Protection Agency
  • USDA Forest Service
  • United Nations Environment Programme
  • Michigan Department of Natural Resources
  • Nonprofit organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund and Trustees for Alaska
  • Numerous Universities