The multidisciplinary approach taken in this program produces skilled professionals who are able to tackle the biggest problems plaguing our environment using a holistic approach.
Habitat loss, global climate change, water and air pollution, ozone depletion, species invasions, loss of biodiversity, and the accumulation of toxic wastes are among the many environmental dilemmas our society faces each day. These complex problems pit environmental limits against economic development, diverse cultures, ethics, values, and social stability, and therefore require an understanding of science, policy, society, history, and economics in order to address problems realistically and effectively. Environmental scientists must use integrated and holistic approaches to understand and find sustainable solutions to these problems. Graduates of the environmental science masters are well prepared for a variety of environmentally sustainable careers including consulting, research, policy, and outreach, or further graduate work in a doctoral program.
The program's curriculum provides students with a deep understanding of the science behind our environmental problems, the complex set of circumstances that impact environmental issues, and how environmental decisions and policies must attempt to find a balance between environmental conservation, human well-being, and economic development. Students augment their hands-on classroom work with in-depth experiential learning through an individual thesis or project that provides students with the chance to work on real-world environmental problems under the guidance of skilled environmental scientists.
Plan of study
The practice of environmental science demands that students be well-rounded specialists. To accomplish this, each student is required to complete a concentration in one of the following areas: cellular and molecular biology, chemistry, ecology and field biology, economics, mathematics, organismal biology and evolution, public policy, remote sensing, and digital image processing, or statistics. Students also may develop a self-designed concentration in an area of personal interest, subject to approval from an environmental science review committee.
Cooperative education is optional for environmental science majors, however, it offers students a great way to get a head start on their career with paid, professional work experience. Students can participate in cooperative education as soon as the summer after their second year of study. Co-op placements are typically with local, state, or federal government agencies, nonprofit environmental organizations, and a host of environmental consulting firms. To learn more about co-op, visit RIT's Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education.
Nature of work
Environmental scientists and geoscientists use their knowledge of the physical makeup and history of the earth to protect the environment; locate water, mineral, and energy resources; predict future geologic hazards; and offer environmental site assessments and advice on indoor air quality, hazardous waste site remediation and construction and land-use projects. Most of their time is devoted to office or field work and often includes data analysis and report/proposal writing. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook)
Environmental Science, MS degree, typical course sequence
Sem. Cr. Hrs.
Environmental Science Graduate Studies I
This course helps graduate students learn how to assess journal articles, government reports, whitepapers, and essays as well as other relevant sources of information. Students will also refine their discussion and presentation skills and gain experience in effective communication to a diverse audience. This course will introduce students to careers in environmental science, to graduate studies in environmental science at RIT, and to the process of defining, conducting, presenting, and defending a thesis proposal.
Environmental Science Graduate Studies II
Environmental Science Graduate Research
This course is a graduate level, faculty-directed, student project or research involving laboratory or field work, computer modeling, or theoretical calculations that could be considered of an original nature. The level of study is appropriate for students in Environmental Science graduate program.
Graduate GIS Elective
Graduate Statistics Elective
Graduate Public Policy/STS Elective
Graduate Science Core Elective
Choose one of the following:
Environmental Science Project
This course will result in an Environmental Science project accomplished by the MS student for an appropriate topic as arranged between the candidate and the project advisor. Credit 1-6
Environmental Science Thesis
The thesis option will be available to environmental science graduate students only with prior written approval of program faculty. Students will submit a proposal to a faculty member who agrees to serve as the student's thesis committee chair. The proposal will describe the basic research question to be investigated and the experimental protocols to be employed. Proposals will be reviewed by the program faculty who will give permission to register for thesis credit. This course may be taken several times over the course of a student's graduate program, for variable credits. A written thesis and oral defense are required at the completion of the thesis research.
Total Semester Credit Hours
Sem. Cr. Hrs.
Graduate Public Policy/STS Electives
Technological Innovation and Public Policy
Technological innovation, the incremental and revolutionary improvements in technology, has been a major driver in economic, social, military, and political change. This course will introduce generic models of innovation that span multiple sectors including: energy, environment, health, and bio- and information-technologies. The course will then analyze how governments choose policies, such as patents, to spur and shape innovation and its impacts on the economy and society. Students will be introduced to a global perspective on innovation policy including economic competitiveness, technology transfer and appropriate technology.
This course provides an overview of energy resources, technologies, and policies designed to ensure clean, stable supplies of energy for the future. The course evaluates the impacts of fossil fuel, renewable energy, and hydrogen technologies on society and how public policies can be used to influence their development. The development of U.S. energy policy is of particular concern, although a global perspective will be integrated throughout the course.
Readings in Public Policy
An in-depth inquiry into key contemporary public policy issues. Students will be exposed to a wide range of important public policy texts, and will learn how to write a literature review in a policy area of their choosing.
Graduate Policy Analysis
This course provides graduate students with necessary tools to help them become effective policy analysts. The course places particular emphasis on understanding the policy process, the different approaches to policy analysis, and the application of quantitative and qualitative methods for evaluating public policies. Students will apply these tools to contemporary public policy decision making at the local, state, federal, and international levels.
Graduate Decision Analysis
This course provides students with an introduction to decision science and analysis. The course focuses on several important tools for making good decisions, including decision trees, including forecasting, risk analysis, and multi-attribute decision making. Students will apply these tools to contemporary public policy decision making at the local, state, federal, and international levels.
Evaluation and Research Design
The focus of this course is on evaluation of program outcomes and research design. Students will explore the questions and methodologies associated with meeting programmatic outcomes, secondary or unanticipated effects, and an analysis of alternative means for achieving program outcomes. Critique of evaluation research methodologies will also be considered.
Technology, Policy and Sustainability
This course introduces students to public policy and its role in building a sustainable society. The course places particular emphasis on the policy process; the relationship among technology, policy, and the environment; and policy mechanisms for addressing market and government failures that threaten sustainability.
Graduate Biodiversity and Society
This course explores the problems, issues, and values stemming from the current massive loss of biodiversity. Various justifications for preserving or conserving biodiversity will be examined. Although principals of conservation biology are presented, the social/cultural dimensions of the issue will be emphasized.
Graduate Science and Technology Policy Seminar
Examines how federal and international policies are developed to influence research and development, innovation, and the transfer of technology in the United States and other selected nations. Students in the course will apply basic policy skills, concepts, and methods to contemporary science and technology policy topics.
Graduate Sustainable Communities
The concept of sustainability has driven many national and international policies. More recently, we have become aware that unless we physically build and rebuild our communities in ways that contribute to sustainability, making progress toward that goal is unlikely. It is equally important to recognize the social/cultural context of sustainability. In addition, it is at the local level that the goals of equity (a key consideration in community sustainability), most often achieved through citizen participation and collaborative processes are most easily realized. This course will broaden students understanding of the concept of sustainability, particularly the concept of social sustainability. This course focuses on sustainability as a way to bring light to the connections between natural and human communities, between nature and culture, and among environmental, economic, and social systems. Working closely with local organizations, students will explore the applicability of theoretical concepts.
Graduate Science Core Electives
This course is the study of the distribution of biodiversity on the earth. Patterns of past and present animal and plant distributions are used to help understand the mechanisms of basic biological processes including speciation, dispersal, divergence and extinction. This course will cover the character and history of the science of biogeography, as well as its basic principles and applications. We will also examine the assumptions, methods and conclusions of historically significant biogeographic studies.
Database Management for the Sciences
Students will learn to create and maintain efficient relational databases for use in modeling and analysis in the sciences. Topics will include an introduction to relational algebra, SQL, and advanced relational designs.
This course explores marine biology by focusing on the diversity of life and influence of oceanographic phenomena on the various ecosystems. Morphological and physiological adaptations along with environmental threats will also be investigated. The course will explore marine conservation issues, in depth.
Advanced Conservation Biology
This course focuses on the application of ecological principles to conservation issues. Human impact on species diversity will be emphasized as it relates to agricultural, forest, coastal and wetland ecosystems. Case studies of management practices used to manage and restore disturbed ecosystems will be included. Students will explore a topic in depth through writing a review paper of published literature.
Climate Change: Science Technology & Policy
This multidisciplinary course will provide students with diverse perspectives on global climate change issues, providing a survey of important aspects of the problem augmented by readings in the primary literature. Topics include atmospheric chemistry, climate modeling, ecological impacts and feedbacks, economics of climate change, international climate policies, and social and environmental justice. The course will include a variety of instructors and guest lecturers, providing an overview of the complex and inter-related nature of global climate change. The course will culminate in a project based on finding solutions to the real-world problem of climate change. Students will be required to take a leadership role in bridging the multiple disciplines presented
Advanced Concepts of Environmental Chemistry
This course will build on previous chemistry courses to expand knowledge of biogeochemical cycles, environmental toxicology and applied methods of environmental analysis. The course will be conducted in a workshop format at the graduate level.
Advanced Environmental Applications of Remote Sensing
This course will focus on a broader selection of analytical techniques with an application-centric presentation. These techniques include narrow-band indices, filtering in the spatial and frequency domains, principal component analysis, textural analysis, hybrid and object-oriented classifiers, change detection methods, and structural analysis. All of these techniques are applied to assessment of natural resources. Sensing modalities include imaging spectroscopy (hyperspectral), multispectral, and light detection and ranging (lidar) sensors. Applications such as vegetation stress assessment, foliar biochemistry, advanced image classification for land use purposes, detecting change between image scenes, and assessing topography and structure in forestry and grassland ecosystems (volume, biomass, biodiversity) and built environments will be examined. Real-world remote sensing and field data from international, US, and local sources are used throughout this course. Students will be expected to perform a more comprehensive final project and homework assignments, including literature review and discussion and interpretation of results.
Industrial ecology is the study of the interaction between industrial and ecological systems. Students in this course learn to assess the impact and interrelations of production systems on the natural environment by mastering fundamental concepts of ecology as a metaphor for industrial systems and the resultant tools from industrial ecology, including life cycle assessment, material flow analysis, and energy and greenhouse gas accounting. This is a core course within the Sustainability Ph.D. program.
Graduate GIS Electives
Hydrological Applications of Geographic Information Systems
Aerial photography, satellite imagery, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are extremely useful tools in hydrologic modeling and environmental applications such as rainfall runoff modeling, pollution loading, landscape change analyses, and terrain modeling. This course will: 1) introduce students to spatial analysis theories, techniques and issues associated with hydrologic and environmental applications; 2) provide hands-on training in the use of these spatial tools and models while addressing a real problem; 3) provide experience linking GIS and model results to field assessments and monitoring activities; 4) enable students to solve a variety of spatial and temporal hydrologic and environmental problems; and 5) provide tools useful for addressing environmental problems related to the graduate thesis or project.
Introduction To Geographic Information Systems
This course introduces students to the world of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Course lectures, reading assignments, and practical lab experiences will cover a mix of conceptual, practical and technical GIS topics. Topics include GIS data models, basic cartography, geodatabases, spatial analysis, GIS software, and theory and concepts from the Geographic Information Science and Technology domain.
To be considered for admission to the MS program in environmental science, candidates must fulfill the following requirements:
Hold a baccalaureate degree (or equivalent) from an accredited university or college in environmental science, biological science, or a related discipline.
Submit official transcripts (in English) of all previously completed undergraduate and graduate course work.
Have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 (or equivalent) overall and in math/science.
Applicants with undergraduate degrees from foreign colleges and universities are required to submit GRE scores.
Submit a personal statement of educational objectives outlining the applicant’s research/project interests, career goals, and suitability to the program.
Submit three letters of recommendation from academic or professional sources.
International applicants whose native language is not English must submit scores from the TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE. A minimum TOEFL score of 79 (internet-based) is required. A minimum IELTS score of 6.5 is required. The English language test score requirement is waived for native speakers of English or for those submitting transcripts from degrees earned at American institutions.
Students are strongly encouraged to contact program faculty before applying to discuss thesis topics and research projects. Students are matched with a potential thesis adviser at the time of admission.
The program provides a wide range of research opportunities. Many faculty members are engaged in field-based projects and the college boasts excellent laboratory facilities that support field research, including wet laboratories and computer facilities (traditional and geographic information systems). For a list of past and present projects, and faculty research interests, please visit the program website.
Monitoring, mapping, and field equipment: ArcGIS and IDRISI GIS software, ENVS and ERDAS Remote Sensing software, Garmin and Trimble GPS receivers, soil sampling and analysis equipment, water sampling devices, multisonde water quality probes and dissolved oxygen meters, SCT meter, ponar dredges, Li-Cor light meter, plankton samplers, macroinvertebrate nets/samplers, and a library of field reference texts.
RIT will use a substantial gift of real estate in Penfield to expand the university’s research and educational offerings in ecology, agriculture, sustainability and other fields. Amy Leenhouts Tait and Robert C. Tait have gifted to the university their 177-acre property, which will be dedicated as the Tait Preserve of RIT.
Abby Rolston became aware of the amount of plastic waste that is thrown away each day while working as a veterinary assistant. Today her research is focused on the degradation of blended polymers provided by the Packaging Science Department at RIT.