Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy

Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy

The Program

Complex environmental and sustainable development challenges demand public managers and policymakers who possess management expertise and a solid foundation in environmental science. The Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy (MPA ESP), housed in Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and designed by the Earth Institute, trains sophisticated public managers and policymakers who apply innovative, systems-based thinking to environmental issues.

"We are about training policy analysts and managers for public service careers aimed at protecting this planet's environment," said Steven Cohen, director of the MPA ESP program and executive director of the Earth Institute. "We are about creating a new kind of public sector problem-solving professional.”

The program, which incorporates more science into its curriculum than any other MPA program currently offered at SIPA, challenges students to think systemically and act pragmatically. The MPA ESP program supplies the need for earth systems problem solvers, individuals who are prepared for leadership positions in local, state and federal government agencies, as well as in nonprofit organizations and the environmental divisions of private corporations. They are also well-suited for designing cost-effective programs and implementing policies. Most importantly, a deep understanding of earth systems informs their work, allowing them to craft the kinds of solutions necessary for our increasingly complex environmental problems.

The Curriculum

The intensive course of study begins in late May or early June with an orientation program. Throughout three semesters, students gain an understanding of environmental policy, management and the sciences. Each semester, students work collaboratively in hands-on workshop courses to help them apply their coursework to real situations. In the summer and fall semesters, groups take a piece of legislation or an international agreement that has been proposed but not yet enacted and conduct a program implementation and management simulation. In the spring semester, groups conduct analytic projects for real-world clients from government and nonprofit agencies.

The program requires the successful completion of 54 credit points. Students in the program take the following core courses (all courses are 3 credit points unless otherwise noted).

*Recommended but not required

The Faculty

MPA ESP faculty members combine a wide spectrum of private and public experiences with more traditional academic work. Many of the science faculty members come to the program from the Earth Institute’s various research centers; they provide a fundamental body of science knowledge in earth systems to the MPA ESP students, including cutting edge research in water resource management, environmental risk assessment and climatology. The program’s public policy faculty members have managed policy, analyzed environmental and sustainable development challenges, and are leaders in the field of environmental policy.

The Students

Students in each class represent a broad spectrum of academic and professional experience. Nearly two thirds of the class has an undergraduate background in the sciences including chemistry, environmental science, physics, biology, computer science and geology. A large number of the remaining students come from social science backgrounds like political science, economics, international affairs, anthropology and sociology.  Around a quarter of each class is from outside the United States, providing a mix of perspectives and experiences for the group projects. Students have come from Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, Colombia, Denmark, India, Israel, Liberia, Mexico, Pakistan, Palestine, Peru, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Tanzania, and other countries.

The professional profile of incoming students is equally varied; they come from public, private and non-profit backgrounds. Students in the program have held positions including program head for the UN Development Programme, field finance department director for Doctors without Borders, development associate for the New York Landmarks Conservancy, official in the Atmosphere and Environmental Division of the Japan Meteorological Agency, and environmental policy consultant for the California State Senate. Students with backgrounds in the private sector include a senior consultant for Dell Inc’s Corporate Communications department and a legal technology manager at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP. Students have volunteered for organizations that range from City Harvest and AmeriCorps to the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the National Council for Research on Women.

The 682 graduates of the program are now using their skills in multiple sectors. They are working in organizations such as the National Resource Defense Council, Department of Energy, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Evolution Markets, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, City of New York Office of Energy Conservation, TransFair USA, United Nations Development Programme: Energy and Environment Group, NASA, EnerNOC, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, New York Planning and Environmental Management Department, EcoSecurities and others.

To Apply

For more information on the program please visit the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy Website. Prospective students interested in learning about the program are encouraged to contact Laura A Piraino, the Assistant Director, at (212) 851-0261 or at for more information.


Laura A Piraino
Assistant Director
Columbia University
Hogan Hall
2910 Broadway
Mail Code: 3277
United States
(212) 851-0261


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