The Duke Environmental Leadership Master of Environmental Management (DEL-MEM) provides mid-career working professionals with the real-world, interdisciplinary skills and knowledge needed to accelerate their leadership journey and advance their careers.

Through individual and group coursework and a master's project or capstone project, you’ll deepen your knowledge of core concepts in environmental management and leadership, and tackle real-life case studies that are directly related to your current profession.

Program Hallmarks

Our recent ranking as the nation’s “most innovative” online MEM degree by the independent ranking service OnlineMasters.com reflects the importance of our program’s hallmark features. These include:

  • Relevant Curriculum - We incorporate real-life case studies containing problems and solutions directly relatable to your current job and career aspirations into our coursework.
  • Multidisciplinary Approach - The DEL-MEM program provides insights into many aspects of environmental issues by taking advantage of Duke's wide range of expertise and resources.
  • Experienced, Diverse Participants - We are committed to admitting a diverse student body comprised of high-potential environmental professionals – enabling you to network and exchange ideas with colleagues in your field.
  • Engaged Faculty - You will learn from recognized experts in the field – faculty committed to education, whose work addresses our most important environmental and natural resource challenges.
  • Flexible, Innovative Format - We understand that you need to keep learning to advance towards your goals. Through a combination of online and traditional learning, the DEL-MEM allows you to update your education while maintaining a commitment to your job and family.
  • Leadership Development - “Leadership in Environmental Management” is a central theme incorporated throughout the DEL-MEM curriculum. You will have the opportunity to assess and enhance your leadership skills within courses and through a workshop in Washington, D.C., that features prominent leaders from the private, public and not-for-profit sectors.
  • Immediate Results - Since you will be working while studying, you can immediately apply what you learn to the benefit of your career and your organization or agency.

Transferable Skills

DEL-MEM students receive in-depth training in:

  • Leadership development
  • Program management
  • Policy analysis
  • Economic analysis
  • Strategic analysis
  • Community-based management


Our unique program format melds the Nicholas School’s multidisciplinary environmental curriculum with the renowned “place and space™” model of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. Students reap the benefits of both online and face-to-face learning models to engage in challenging coursework, develop core leadership skills, and foster lasting relationships with their professors and peers.

Place-Based Sessions

One of the defining features of the DEL-MEM program are our five place-based sessions. These intensive sessions prepare you for the upcoming semesters, allow you to meet your peers and faculty, provide an opportunity for leadership development, and allow you to connect with Duke University. During these sessions, students and faculty develop relationships that last long after the program ends!


  • 2020 Dates: August 16-20, 2020 (returning students: August 16-18)

Your first place-based session is held at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University in Durham, NC. It is designed to get you familiar with distance learning technology, including web-conferencing, Duke email, libraries, etc. You are guided through a DEL-MEM Student Manual that provides you with all the in's and out's of the program. Before you leave for the week, you will have all the tools you need to complete the rest of the program. It is our goal to provide you with a framework and point of reference for your studies over the next four semesters. 

During this session, you meet your peers starting their second year in the program. Together, you begin your fall semester courses with your faculty. There are plenty of opportunities for social events and leadership development.

Midway through the week, all of the first year students and select faculty and staff travel together to Beaufort, NC to the Duke University Marine Lab! Here, you continue your introduction to the leadership development program. The DEL-MEM program is dedicated to leadership to meet real-world environmental challenges, so it should be no surprise that most of our orientation class time will be spent exploring issues in the field—i.e., the real world—rather than the classroom. We focus on timely environmental case studies of a variety of sorts. Our aim is not to provide you with “the answers” to these various challenges, but rather to arm you with the appropriate array of questions and with some insights regarding how best to begin answering them.

First year students earn 1 credit hour for this week-long place-based session.

D.C. Leadership Module

  • December 7-11, 2019

The hallmark of the DEL-MEM program is this bi-annual, December place-based session in Washington D.C

This 5-day leadership session is part of the DEL-MEM's leadership advantage, providing a framework and point of reference for students' leadership journey and development.  Students participate in individual meetings with prominent leaders in the field, discussions and a case study project.  They engage with leaders selectively chosen to provide diverse viewpoints, leadership journeys, and styles. Students are asked to prepare challenging and thoughtful questions with the intent to spark reflection on one’s own leadership journey.

Students earn 1 credit hour for this place-based session during the semester it is held.

Course Introduction & Wrap-Up

  • December 6-8, 2020

When we are not in Washington D.C. holding our Leadership Module, we are in Durham at Duke University wrapping up our fall semester courses and beginning spring semester courses. This 3-4 day session begins with course wrap-up activities -- students present their group or individual culminating projects. Then, students are introduced to their spring course faculty, receive their course materials, and dive right in to the next semester. Scheduled between these events, are opportunities to meet with the leadership advisor, listen to a guest speaker as part of the Leadership Speaker Series, and socialize with peers and faculty.


  • Class of 2020 Dates: May 7-8, 2020 (required), May 9-10, 2020 (optional)
  • Class of 2021 Dates: May 6-7, 2021 (required), May 8-9, 2021 (optional)

The last time you visit Duke University is in May of your fourth semester. This session is for graduating students and is when students formally present their Master's Project to their peers, faculty, and the Duke community. In addition, one day is dedicated to synthesizing the leadership development and growth each student has experienced in over the past two years. The session ends with a Nicholas School Recognition Ceremony and the Duke University Commencement Ceremony. Although optional, these ceremonies allow you to celebrate and recognize your hard work and successes!

* Please note, all travel, lodging, transportation, and meal expenses associated with each place-based session are the responsibility of each student and is not included in the cost of tuition.

Space-Based Sessions

Students spend the majority of their time learning through an online format. When not on campus or in Washington D.C., students participate in virtual classrooms both synchronously and asynchronously.

The “space” or distance learning portion uses interactive technologies to complement face-to-face sessions. Students use internet-based web conferencing to participate in real-time weekly course meetings with peers and faculty. Students also use the Sakai online learning management system, Skype, email, and discussion boards to complete individual and group coursework. Electronic versions of course materials (i.e., e-books, e-journals, etc.) are used in lieu of traditional hardcopy materials when available.

Synchronous Learning

The DEL-MEM program utilizes web conferencing technology to hold real-time weekly course meetings (typically 60-90 minutes per week per course). Engagement is made simple by utilizing web-based tools. Webcams are used to evoke a more personable, classroom-feel to the experience. These course meetings are typically held in the evening (ET). These meetings are recorded so students can review at any time.

Course meetings are heavily focused on discussions versus lectures. Students are encouraged to participate and be vocal. As mid-career professionals, student contribution is significant and is based on their expertise and experiences. At times, when a student is an expert on a topic, he/she will be asked to assist in leading the discussion. The peer-to-peer learning is significant and adds a key dimension to the learning experience.

Asynchronous Learning

The weekly web conference meetings are supplemented with readings, group projects, papers, and online discussion boards. The use of "e" versions of course materials are commonplace as the DEL-MEM program embraces the increasing availability of electronic resources – helping to support the Nicholas School’s efforts to “forge a sustainable future.” Students connect outside of the “classroom” via email, phone, discussion boards, and Skype.

Discussion boards are used extensively in all DEL-MEM courses. Think of them as the virtual version of the dialogue that happen in a bricks-and-mortar classroom. It is a place for students to continue and further explore the concepts presented and discussed during the weekly synchronous learning web conferences.

Leadership Development

Maria Kingery, DEL-MEM Leadership Advisor, mentors each cohort during required monthly leadership conference calls. Select readings and actionable leadership tools are the basis for each discussion. The leadership calls are primarily student-led and integrate professional and personal experiences shared by the students. In collaboration with Maria, students work together to solve real-time issues related to leadership development and management.



    Program Components

    We offer a two-year, four-semester, 30-credit degree. In addition to five required place-based sessions, other program requirements include:

    Core Courses - 12 credits

    The following courses are required for all DEL-MEM students:

    Focused Courses / Electives - Minimum 7 credits

    Some of our electives are field courses that give students a chance to travel and learn more about an environmental topic in an immersive experience. Field courses focus on a range of topics and locations, taking advantage of our faculty expertise and connections.

    Some examples include*.

    *Offerings of elective courses may vary from year to year. Additional courses are planned and may be available each academic year. 

    Independent Studies and Projects

    Directed readings or research at the graduate level to meet the needs of individual students. This course designation should be used for work that can be completed within the semester of registration. Independent study work may be related to MP interests, but students should clearly define the two projects (same work should not be counted as both independent study credit and MP credit). Consent of instructor required. Project details, including number of credits, arranged with instructor. Variable credit (one to three credits).

    Master's Project or Capstone in Environmental Leadership - up to 6 credits

    Students choose between a Master’s Project, or Capstone in Environmental Leadership.

    Master's Project

    The master’s project (MP) is an integral part of the total education of the professional student in the Nicholas School. It is intended to represent the student's major academic focus, and demonstrate the student's competence in that area. An MP allows for a student to address an original idea or question in a novel context, to develop research skills (including lit review, case studies, data analysis, policy analysis), to make the most of an opportunity to work directly one-on-one with a faculty member with expertise in the area of your interest, and/or to expose you to ideas not available in the classroom, encourage you to make connections, create opportunities to learn new skills. The project integrates course work, seminars, independent projects, and other work-related experiences in an in-depth study that culminates in a professional quality report and a formal presentation. Four credits.

    Capstone in Environmental Leadership

    The Capstone in Environmental Leadership is a pathway for DEL-MEM students that capitalizes on our emphasis on environmental leadership. It is intended to give students the space and support to explore what “leadership” looks in a particular sector, context or organization and to encourage students to delve into a project that is meaningful to their own leadership journey. Students pursue this option for a clearly identified reason, including, but not limited to:

    • Exploring what environmental leadership means to you, beyond calls and seminars,
    • Pursuing an idea of a creative, useful final project that doesn’t quite fit with the MP,
    • Connecting more deeply with environmental leaders beyond Duke, and/or
    • Maximizing your ability to take courses

    The Capstone integrates coursework, interviews, & experiences into a final capstone project, allowing students to develop and apply leadership skills in a focus area.


    What a terrific program. I was able to keep my job, keep my family commitments and get an advanced degree in my field from one of the most prestigious schools in the world, Duke University.”

    Environmental Manager, Harley-Davidson Motor Company

    Meet Our Students

    Current students and alumni consistently say that they choose a DEL-MEM for several reasons, perhaps most importantly that it allows them to continue meeting responsibilities in both their current environmental profession and personal life. We also hear that, unlike larger programs, the small cohort affords exposure to less familiar perspectives and career fields that positively impact the way they approach their own work.

    Qualities of a Typical DEL-MEM Student

    • Has an established background in field directly related to the environment, with a minimum of five years of relevant experience
    • Exhibits strong qualitative skills and intellectual ability to complete a graduate degree program at Duke University
    • Is currently in a leadership position, or poised to advance to the next level
    • Is seeking to update and add depth to their current skills, with a focus on management and leadership training

    Employment Diversity

    We are committed to recruiting and admitting a diverse student body comprised of high potential, mid-career professionals from all sectors with a minimum of five years of relevant experience.

    Our students come from amazing organizations – ranging from small nonprofits like Renew Missouri to large private firms such as Google. They work in government, nonprofit organizations, private industry and consulting.

    Geographic Diversity

    Students are geographically diverse, representing all regions of the United States and across the globe. The 2014 class includes 12 students from nine states; the combined two-year cohort draws students from 26 states and three countries. This diversity fuels discussion as different localities bring different environmental pressures and concerns. International students provide alternative lessons and case studies in environmental management and leadership.

    The DEL-MEM program adapts to time zone issues by recording all web conference course meetings and adjusting course meeting times, when available and appropriate.

    Professional Experience

    Most students come with six to 10 years of professional environmental experience. One third have between 11-20 years of experience. The minimum requirement of five years of professional experience ensures that all students can offer a leadership and management perspective that enhances peer-to-peer learning.

    Additionally, a DEL-MEM has a dedicated focus on leadership, which participants say is a significant contributor to their confidence and career growth. Among our current cohort, at least six already have earned promotions by applying lessons learned to enhance their management skills.

    Alumni Testimonials

    The DEL Program with its interdisciplinary global themes, and strategic approaches to environmental management helped me transition to a new path in my existing career…It helped me stay competitive in today’s ever-changing business environment.”

    Vice President/Sustainable Practice Director, URS Facilities Management Services LLC

    The DEL Program with its interdisciplinary global themes, and strategic approaches to environmental management helped me transition to a new path in my existing career…It helped me stay competitive in today’s ever-changing business environment.”

    Vice President/Senior Ecologist, BioResource Consultants, Inc.

    The DEL-MEM program understands the importance of a multisector and multidisciplinary approach to solving our most pressing environmental challenges…I am a much better advocate for my state regulatory agency today than I would have been had I not completed the DEL-MEM program.” 

    Deputy Branch Chief, Georgia Environmental Protection Division/Air Protection Branch

    I took every course on water that I could, from ‘International Law of the Sea’ to ‘Coastal Ecosystems’. It was great to enter academia to understand how others were thinking about these challenges…The faculty were phenomenal.”

    President, Fearless Fund

    The Nicholas School provided invaluable experience that is directly applicable to my day-to-day work. Even though my degree hangs on the wall, my education continues through the tremendous network of Nicholas School staff and graduates.”

    Policy and Communications Analyst, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


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