Course Descriptions

Sustainable Communities Courses

We invite you to explore some of the courses taken by Sustainable Communities students. There are five core courses (noted with an *) taken by all our masters students. You can choose from the others based on your interests.

Sustainable Communities I: Theory and Practice *
Students learn about sustainable communities through a system science and bio-physical lens. We explore theories of change and the physical science behind change. This class focuses on local sustainability systems (regional, municipal, neighborhood, etc.) and ties them to national and global challenges. We explore these problems across physical, economic and social equity dimensions.

Sustainable Communities II: Policy and Practice*
Building on the systems understanding in Sustainable Communities I, students in this class gain an understanding sustainable communities through the policies and programs of change at the local and regional level – and how those interact with the rules, incentives, and challenges at the national or global level. How do we make the societal transformations needed to sustain clean, healthy, vibrant and equitable communities?

Research Methods*
As a sustainability leader, you will make or influence policy decisions that impact the local environment, social equity and economic development. This course introduces you to the components of evidence-based decision making. Using real life examples in class, we will wrestle with defining a problem and asking appropriate questions. We will find information and we will analyze it using basic qualitative (e.g. interviewing, document reviews) and quantitative (e.g. statistical) analyses.

Sustainability Colloquium*
In this student-run, faculty-guided class, students come together weekly to work on academic and professional development. We focus on linking sustainability theory to practice by hearing from sustainability professionals and about faculty research. The colloquium incorporates sessions on collaboration, conflict management and public participation, which are important professional skills in this discipline.

Community and Economic Development *
This class examines the theory and reality of community and economic development. The course focuses on municipalities and regions, while recognizing that all economic actors are embedded within national and international systems involving public and private entities. We examine traditional as well as more progressive approaches to the ways municipal and regions try to grow and increase quality of life. We will also talk with practitioners and work with professional policy documents to understand how on-the-ground decisions are made.

Culminating project*
Students work with an advisor during their time in the program on a culminating project that allows them to delve more deeply into a focus area and produce a product that exhibits the student's talents to potential employers. The final product can be either a traditional thesis, which results in a Master of Science degree, or a professional project, which is more practical and results in a Master of Arts degree. Within broad requirements, the culminating project is shaped by the student with the advisor to best fit the student's interests and needs.

Climate Change Science and Policy
Human-induced climate change will have profound effects on the sustainability of communities, especially in the long term. Understanding the science of climate change and the approaches at international, national, regional, and local levels to mitigate climate change are essential elements of creating sustainable communities. This course will explore the scientific evidence of climate change, the modeling projections of future climate, and the policy and voluntary approaches that are evolving at the government, business and non-profit levels to address current and future climate challenges.

Environmental studies courses for sustainability students

Environmental Planning
Students gain an in-depth overview of the environmental planning field from an interdisciplinary perspective. By the end of the course, students should be able to grasp the role and limitations of government in the planning process, understand a variety of complex environmental issues that confront urban planners and learn how to apply components of sustainability to local community planning. Students participate in semester-long projects in the Binghamton region.

Plant Ecology
Plant ecologists study the interactions that determine the distribution and abundance of plants. This course introduces students to major conceptual issues and areas of current research in plant ecology. Topics will include plant-environment relations, plant life histories, plant-animal interactions, the role of plants in ecosystem processes and current global issues in plant ecology (e.g., climate change, invasive species, etc.).

Agricultural Futures
Students begin with beef – one of the most popular foods in the United States. The class learns how beef is raised and processed in the current industrial agriculture system and then through alternative farming practices. We apply those lessons to agriculture more broadly to understand current challenges and to consider alternative approaches to food production. Topics covered are perennial food systems, forest farming, urban agriculture, permaculture and the history of sustainable agriculture. There will be guest lecturers throughout the semester, as well as field trips to Binghamton University Acres Farm.

Environmental Policy Analysis
This seminar examines environmental decision making through the comparison of traditional and innovative approaches, including regulatory standards, taxes, incentives, and tradeable permits. Global as well as domestic environmental issues, environmental justice and sustainable development concerns will be discussed along with the primary policy issues affecting major U.S. environmental laws.

Geography courses for sustainability students

GIS and Spatial Analysis

The stories that maps tell help decision makers create policy. This course introduces students to thematic map design and the fundamentals of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). We will implement cartographic design principles and vector GIS analytical techniques. Students will learn the basics of statistical data classification and interpretation.

Urban Planning I
The ways that cities and towns grow is no accident. This course introduces the theories of urban planning through four themes: (1) the historical rise of cities, suburbs and planning; (2) ethical and theoretical questions in planning; (3) case studies of planning; and (4) the current transformation American cities.

Urban Planning II
Digging deeper into the way that communities come together, this course covers commercial development, industrial location, housing developments, public services, transportation, urban renewal and zoning.

Environmental Health and Hazards

Students delve into issues and concepts associated with pollution and other environmental health hazards – and gain an understanding of the analytical tools needed to assess and manage them. The class learns to map the pattern and distribution of these hazards, the disparate risks to at-risk communities, and health outcomes across population subgroups.

Public administration courses for sustainable community students

Performance Analysis
Maintaining accountability in government and nonprofit organizations is key to democracy. This course introduces students to tools and techniques for measuring the performance of individuals, organization and/or jurisdictions. The class focuses on performance-analysis evidence for making management decisions.

Introduction to Policy Analysis
Students learn about the concepts and tools used in the craft of policy analysis, including problem definition, the development and analysis of policy alternatives, and strategies for reporting findings. The class delves into the economic and political criteria for evaluating policies, and the roles of policy analysis in democratic governance and decision making.

Program Evaluation
This course focuses on the basic concepts, challenges and methods in program evaluation. In this course students learn about the role of evaluation in the policy-making process; how to critically analyze various approaches and methods; and ways to craft evaluation processes for an existing public or non-profit program.

Proposal Preparation and Grant Management
Sustainability programs often require fundraising. In this class, students learn to prepare and submit funding proposals to government agencies and private foundations. Techniques for grant implementation, operation and closing are also emphasized.

21st Century Governance
Governance means leading and managing organizations in public and nonprofit settings. One key aspect of effective public service today involves understanding and successfully navigating organizational boundaries—essentially functioning within multi-organizational and multi-sectoral networks. In an environment of increased globalization, this requires professionals possess multiple areas of cultural competency. Skill development will focus on negotiations, project and contract management, and oversight.

Managing Networks
In public administration, an increasing number of policy objectives are accomplished through networks of people and/or organizations. This course focuses on both intra- and inter-organizational networks of people, the structure and function of networks, and skills needed for network management.