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Student Success
of alumni state they are pleased with their decision to attend Marietta College and would make the same choice again
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Program Director
Dr. David Brown
Dr. David Brown sits at a computer desk

The curriculum is designed to assist students in developing the knowledge they will need to help improve lives, preserve ecosystems for the future, and solve real-world problems.

Director Q&A

What is the Master of Sustainability Leadership program?

The Master of Sustainability Leadership is a program that helps students understand the complex systems that intersect in the field of sustainability leadership. This involves a multidisciplinary approach, looking at sustainability challenges from different perspectives as students work to find solutions that address the needs of people, and the planet, and making a profit. By working on real-world problems, students learn how to lead organizational efforts to build a more environmentally sustainable future for their organizations and their organization’s stakeholders.

Can you share with us your research interests and academic credentials?

It has been a journey for me to become interested in sustainability. I studied chemistry as an undergraduate, then did a master's in microbiology before I went to Duke University and studied toxicology for my doctorate. My dissertation project looked at how exposure to chemicals in the environment was related to what happened in biological systems at the molecular level. After I finished my dissertation I worked in industry for six years at a biotechnology company that developed assays for detecting environmental pollutants. In this company, I helped to develop and test the assays, but I also worked internationally helping labs in Japan, Vietnam, and Europe set up their labs to use our assays. I think of the early part of my career as focusing on how we identify problems in the environment. In 2002, I started teaching at Marietta College and began research on a local environmental problem. There is a local factory that releases manganese into the air and I was interested in studying where the manganese ended up, and how it affected biological systems, including human health. I have worked with students on a number of projects that have helped to answer some of these questions but have also raised more questions.

In 2009, I became affiliated with the McDonough Center for Leadership and Business at Marietta College and I worked with faculty members in that program to organize summer courses that were taught in Central America that studied the role of leadership in addressing conservation issues in these countries. We met with local groups, and also with international organizations that promoted conservation, but we also had the students collect survey data on these trips that helped us study how the people in these countries viewed environmental issues. This has become a significant part of my research, and I think of this as a transition to focusing on how leadership can be involved in helping to solve the environmental problems that we have identified.

Why are you excited to be the Director of this program?

I have always had a broad range of interests. I think that is why I became interested in toxicology because it requires an understanding of how systems interact and it draws on several different scientific specialties to understand those interactions. Sustainability Leadership is similar in that it also looks at how different systems interact, and it looks at problems from different perspectives. The aspect of Sustainability Leadership that is most exciting to me is that it moves from just identifying environmental problems to finding solutions and helping to implement those solutions. I am really excited to be the director of this program which will help students become a part of the solution. It is a fulfilling experience every time I work with a student and help them learn strategies that facilitate this positive change.

What can prospective students expect from this program?

I am going to answer this question in two ways, first I will talk about what a student should expect in terms of how the program is offered, and then I will talk about what outcomes can be expected from completing the program.

One of the things that sets this graduate program apart from many online graduate programs is that it has both synchronous and asynchronous components to each course. This means that students participate in online discussions that are directed by prompts related to that week’s course materials (asynchronous component), but everyone also participates in an evening meeting on Zoom once a week (synchronous). The students in the program all have at least three years of work experience and their experiences are often diverse and they bring their experiences and observations to the course. The instructor for the course is a subject matter expert who leads the discussion, but then students can share their experiences and thoughts that relate to the topics being discussed. As we were designing the program we thought that building a community of learners was really important to take advantage of all of that experience. The best way to build a community of learners online is to incorporate a synchronous component in the course so that students can get to know both the instructor and the other students in the class and learn from them.

Another common characteristic of the courses is that they all bring in examples of real-world cases that are used as part of the discussion and are often incorporated into assignments. By the time a student completes the program, they should feel comfortable identifying sustainability problems, be able to work to propose possible ways of addressing the problems, be able to develop strategies for gaining buy-in from stakeholders in the organization and be able to put the solution into effect.

What makes Marietta's online Master of Sustainability Leadership different than other colleges/universities?

I really think there are two things that set Marietta College’s Master of Sustainability Leadership program apart from other similar programs. First, many programs are primarily asynchronous. This is easier, but we think the value of building a learning community is important. Therefore, we have a synchronous component in all courses so that students can learn from the diverse work experiences of the instructors and other students.

The Master of Sustainability Leadership also builds on strengths that have existed at Marietta College for decades. The McDonough Center for Leadership and Business was one of the first undergraduate leadership programs in the country and has remained one of the strongest undergraduate leadership programs. Marietta College also is home to a Petroleum Engineering and Energy Systems program that has been accredited since 1984 and was the first program at a liberal arts college to be accredited. In addition to Petroleum Engineering, this department also offers courses in Environmental Engineering and Energy Systems. Faculty from both of these programs will be involved in the Sustainability Leadership program. Finally, the Master of Sustainability Leadership is a part of the new Center for Earth, Energy, and Environment.

Who should consider pursuing a Master of Sustainability Leadership degree?

This program is designed for people that have an interest in sustainability and helping to solve problems, and are looking for a way to advance their careers. Openings in sustainability are a growing area in the job market and include positions such as sustainability officers, ESG officers, environmental and sustainability consultants, and environmental compliance and sustainability project managers.

What are the courses that are required for a Master of Sustainability Leadership degree?

The following courses are required for the Master of Sustainability Leadership program.

  • MASL 501 Systems Thinking and Sustainability
  • MASL 502 Environmental Science
  • MASL 503 Data Analysis and Decision Making
  • MASL 504 Environmental Economics
  • MASL 505 Environmental Policy and Law
  • MASL 506 Sustainable Resource Management
  • MASL 507 Environmental Leadership and Ethics
  • MALS 508 Communicating Environmental Science
  • MALS 509 Corporate Sustainability Leadership
  • MALS 510 Master’s Capstone Project

Students coming into the program would ideally have some coursework in the sciences and/or in business. The first five courses in this list help to make sure that all the students, regardless of their undergraduate background, have a solid foundation in the main subject areas that are related to sustainability. The last four courses place more of an emphasis on how leadership is related to sustainability and focus on leadership from the perspective of resource management, ethics, communication, and corporate leadership.

The first nine courses in this list can be taken in any order. Ideally, a student would take the first nine courses before taking the capstone course. However, we realize that sometimes it might be necessary for a student to take the capstone course at the same time as they are taking their last course, or before they have taken the last course.

The capstone course provides an opportunity for students to synthesize the knowledge learned in each of the courses in the MSL program in the context of a real-world project or case study that relates to sustainability. The capstone project should identify a problem, provide a proposed solution to the problem, suggest a way to assess the efficacy of the proposed solution and examine the role that leadership would have in implementing the solution.

How long will it take to complete a Master of Sustainability Leadership degree? 

The program consists of 10 courses, and these courses are designed to be taken while a student is also working. There will be five terms each year and by taking one course each term the program can be completed in two years. Each course has both synchronous and asynchronous components. The synchronous part of the course will be offered on a weekday evening as a Zoom meeting of the instructor with the students.

How much will it cost to complete my degree? 

Students entering the program in 2024 will pay $695/credit, and this will not increase while they are completing the program. The total cost for the 30-credit-hour program is a very reasonable $20,850.

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