AULA has a long-standing, deeply-rooted commitment to educating students by building their capacity to create a more just world. Consistent with this tradition, and in response to the challenges of global environmental change as well as social and economic inequality, Antioch’s program trains the next generation of urban problem-solvers. The Urban Sustainability Master’s program prepares students for leadership positions in multiple sectors, including public policy, corporate accountability, social justice organizing, and environmental programming.

Note: Effective Fall/Winter 2018 semester, USMA implemented its revised curriculum.  Please refer to previous catalogs for information about the previous curriculum.

Program Overview

The USMA program integrates theoretical learning with field-based practice in a two-year/four-semester, full-time, graduate-level curriculum. This 32-semester-credit degree program uses a low-residency format with on-campus residencies, off-site residencies, and structured periods between those residencies. During their first year, students engage in one 4-credit science-oriented course as well as two 3-credit content courses and a 2-unit research course. They also attend four residencies and begin their fieldwork during this first year. In their second year of the program, students complete their core coursework, continue their fieldwork, and launch a capstone project while taking practice-based elective courses. Students attend two residencies in their third semester, one at the beginning of their fourth semester, and a final one at the end of their program.

In order to meet the program learning outcomes described above, students studying Urban Sustainability at AULA will acquire the following competencies:

Systems Thinking

Because today’s cities exist in a world that is more crowded, complex, interconnected, interdependent, and rapidly changing than ever before, we need to develop holistic ways of seeing and mapping key relationships and processes. Our students are taught to become adept systems thinkers who can:

  • address a problem at multiple scales
  • analyze social, scientific, and economic implications
  • transfer knowledge across disciplines
  • engage in creative problem-solving

Environmental Literacy

Building from a foundation of environmental science, students gain a strong understanding of cities as ecosystems. From this perspective, students explore diverse urban sectors such as food, land, transportation, energy, waste, and water within their cultural, political, and economic contexts, and configure ways and means for human settlements to become more compatible with nature.

Practitioner Skills

Through workshops, courses, and fieldwork, our students learn and practice technical skills including facilitation, policy analysis, mapping, research, graphic presentation, and evaluation as well as the habits of a reflective practitioner.

Social Justice Perspective

Reducing inequality at the local, regional, and global level is a prerequisite of urban sustainability. Students learn to apply a human rights lens to their ecosystems analysis and practice in order to become global citizens who can help shape a more equitable world.

Degree Requirements

Students in the USMA program must earn a total of 32 semester credits to complete the degree. Degree requirements include the following:

  • 20 credits required core curriculum coursework
  • 2 credits elective coursework
  • 5 credits fieldwork
  • 5 credit capstone project
  • 4 semesters of full-time enrollment (or the equivalent)
  • Attendance at 7 residencies plus presentation at an 8th residency

For every 3 credits of coursework, students are expected to spend 10 hours of face-to-face instruction during the residencies and 75-100 hours online (over the 20-week semester). Students are also required to attend 15-30 hours of additional lectures, special events, and site visits during the residencies.

Students may withdraw or take a Leave of Absence but are required to complete the degree within five calendar years of initially entering the Master’s degree program.

Core Coursework

Each USMA student takes the following seven courses as part of their required core curriculum:

  • Science for Urban Sustainability (4 units)
  • Eco Systems Thinking (3 units)
  • Urban Infrastructure (3 units)
  • Research and Writing for Practitioners (2 units)
  • Research/Capstone Proposal (2 units)
  • Participatory Planning (3 units)
  • Sustainable Urban Economies (3 units)

Full-time students enroll in 5 to 8 units of core coursework each semester, completing these required 20 units by the end of their third semester. Note that students also enroll in fieldwork courses while completing their core curriculum.

Elective Coursework & Independent Learning Activities

In their fourth semester, students take two 1-unit elective courses that enable them to develop their practitioner skills. A minimum of two electives are offered during each semester of the program.

Students can potentially enroll for elective units as independent learning activities, working under the mentorship of a faculty expert. These independent studies are learning activities conceived and crafted by students in collaboration with their evaluators (faculty at AULA or other accredited graduate programs) and approved by their USMA faculty mentors. Independent studies may be focused on content related aspects of a student’s field work, specific areas of interest arising from one or more of the required core courses, or an emerging topic of urban sustainability not covered in any of the required courses or electives.

Degree Program Schedule

The USMA program follows a two-year cohort-model for students enrolled full time. Students who do not enroll in all of the required graduate courses their first year will take more than two years to complete their degree.* Instruction follows a hybrid approach, meeting in on-site classrooms or in the field during the residencies and maintaining an online connection throughout the intervening weeks between residencies

First Year Curriculum
During the first semester of the first year, students enroll in one 4-unit science-oriented class as well as one 3-credit course. During the second semester, students enroll in two 3-unit courses as well as a 2-unit Research and Writing course. Both semesters require students to participate in two residencies each. In addition, 3 credits of fieldwork are required as part of the first-year curriculum. Students begin their fieldwork in the second semester. This first year curriculum totals 18 semester credits.

Semester 1

URS 5100Fieldwork Planning1
URS 5230Eco Systems Thinking3
URS 6240Science for Urban Sustainability4

Semester 2

URS 5040Sustainable Urban Economies3
URS 5110Fieldwork2
URS 5220Research and Writing for Practitioners3
URS 5240Urban Infrastructure3

Second Year Curriculum
The second year curriculum includes a 3-unit participatory planning course, a 2-unit Research/Capstone Proposal course, 2 units of elective coursework, and a 5-unit Capstone project. Students in their second year attend both residencies in their third semester and the six-day residency at the beginning of their fourth semester. They also present their Capstone project at a public meeting during a final residency at the end of their program (at the beginning of the following semester).This second year curriculum totals 14 semester credits.

Semester 3

URS 6120Fieldwork2
URS 6xxx Research/Capstone Proposal2
URS 6xxx Participatory Planning2

Semester 4

URS 6xxx Capstone5
URS 62xx Electives2


URS 6200Adaptive Leadership for Sustainable Change1
URS 6210Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories1
URS 6230Funding Your Mission: Grant Writing1
URS 6250Group Facilitation1
URS 6260Practical Map Making1
URS 6280The Power of Story: Creating Strategy, Meme and Messages for Social Change1
URS 6290Introduction to Environmental Journalism1


The residencies constitute a key component of the USMA Program. Students are required to attend 7 residencies over the course of their studies in the program. On-campus residencies that occur at the beginning of each semester span six days, commencing on Tuesday and finishing on Sunday. New students are required to attend a one-day orientation, which takes place on the Monday prior to the first day of their initial residency. Additional residencies, occurring mid-semester, span four days beginning on Thursday and ending on Sunday. All students attend six-day residencies at the start of each semester and four-day residencies in all but their final semester.

Residencies include a combination of classroom learning, mentorship, site visits, guest lectures, panels, collaborative problem-solving sessions, workshops, cultural and social activities, and elective seminars. Students who have completed four semesters and have met all of the program requirements give public presentations of their capstone projects during the residency following their final semester.

During campus residencies, students are responsible for their own room and board expenses and arrangements.

Residency Schedule
Cohorts Starting in October                                              Cohorts Starting in April
Semester 1                                                                           Semester 2

October (6 day)                                                                      April (6 day)
January (4 day)                                                                      July (4 day)
April (6 day)                                                                            October (6 day)
July (4 day)                                                                             January (4 day)

Semester 3                                                                            Semester 4
October (6 day)                                                                      April (6 day)
January (4 day)                                                                      July (4 day)
April (6 day)                                                                            October (6 day)
Final Residency: October (6 day)                                          Final Residency: April (6 day)

Between Residencies

During the periods between residencies, students participate as active members of a virtual learning community. Through the use of the Sakai learning management system, students post and discuss reactions to their assigned readings; receive new course-related content including websites, online video presentations, blogs, and images; submit drafts and completed assignments for peer and faculty review; and engage in ongoing discussions related to all of the above. Classes also have some synchronous meetings during these periods using the Adobe Connect Pro Classroom Platform. Students are expected to correspond with their mentors on a regular basis, further developing their fieldwork, elective, independent study, and capstone plans discussed and agreed upon during residencies and following through on them during the semester.


The USMA program requires students to engage in fieldwork in their second and third semesters in the program. Fieldwork planning is a part of the first semester curriculum and involves articulating students’ areas of focus and identifying appropriate placements that match their interests. These placements can take place in community settings of all types (including colleges and universities, not-for-profits, for-profit businesses, and governmental agencies). The program’s strong emphasis on fieldwork ensures that students have the opportunity to develop practical professional skills that they can integrate with theoretical learning while serving community needs related to issues of urban sustainability.


The Capstone is a year-long comprehensive project in which students apply their integrated learning of social, economic, and scientific perspectives through the overarching lens of natural systems thinking. Through their capstone project, students demonstrate the habits of mind, breadth of knowledge, practitioner skills, and social justice perspective that comprise the mission of the Urban Sustainability program.

The capstone seminar ensures that students remain connected, receive feedback from their mentors and peers, and benefit from the wisdom of a larger community.

Through the capstone process, students:

  • identify and address an urban place-based question, problem, or initiative
  • work under the mentorship of a faculty member and content expert
  • design, create, record, and report on the processes of a significant project or research effort

* An applicant with considerable related life and professional experience may, upon acceptance into the program, petition the program Chair for an exception to the four-semester requirement.  If granted, the admitted student may complete the program in no fewer than three full-time semesters.  The program unit requirements will remain the same.  Contact the department for further details.