Ecosystem Science & Conservation

With a focus on the natural and social sciences, the Ecosystem Science & Conservation (ESC) program gives students the knowledge and skills needed to advance the sustainable stewardship of our natural resources. ESC is one of seven available concentrations in the two-year residential Master of Environmental Management (MEM) program.


We take a systems-level perspective that encourages students to consider the larger implications of natural events (disturbances, climate change) as well as human activities (land use, management) on ecosystems and landscapes.


We put an emphasis on skills-based training and professional communication, customizing the curriculum to your interests and career goals. You’ll pick a topic area (for example, wetlands) and a toolkit (for example, geospatial analysis) that best fit your needs. Based on these choices, your faculty advisor will help you select the core knowledge and skills courses you need to work effectively in your chosen area of specialization. Your experience will include small-class size and low student-faculty ratios, and you can choose from an array of courses across Duke and at our partner institutions.

ESC students receive in-depth training in: 

• Landscape management
• Ecosystem services
• Geospatial analysis
• Field survey techniques
• Community-based environmental management

Snapshot: Employment Profile for ESC Alumni

   • 93% of ESC graduates were hired within approximately 6 months of graduation.
   • 100% are in a job related to the environment.
   • Median salary range = $40,000-45,000

ESC-Employment Profile2017-partial.jpg

> View: Full graphic for ESC employment profile
> View: Complete overview with employment profiles for all concentrations


The Nicholas School’s dedicated Career Center has helped our graduates find positions in federal agencies, conservation non-profits, state governments, international organizations, the private sector, and regional and local land trusts. Example employers include the USDA Forest Service, the US National Park Service, the Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund.


Find out if our program is right for you. Feel free to contact us with questions.  
•  Participating Faculty
•  Full Program Description
•  Prerequisites & Required Courses
•  How to Apply


Welcome to the family! Here are some resources to get you started. 
•   Before You Arrive
•   Student Advising
•   Curriculum Planning Worksheet
•   Master’s Projects


•   For students incoming Fall 2018
•   For students incoming Fall 2017
•   For students incoming Fall 2016
•   For students incoming Fall 2015
•   For students incoming Fall 2014

For more information, contact Program Co-chairs Dean Urban (919-668-0606) or John Poulsen (919-668-4060).

dean urban headshot ESC Chair.jpg


"Conservation practice has changed dramatically over the past several years. We’ve seen a change in the funding model from gifting to investment, and that has huge implications for practitioners because we now need to show return on investment. We’re also seeing a new emphasis on ecosystem services as conservation targets, inviting questions about whether it is appropriate to treat nature as commodity. Now we are tacking on the challenge of adapting conservation practice to a changing climate. In the Nicholas School, we push ourselves and our students to anticipate the challenges in conservation and to find innovative and effective solutions.”

Dean L. Urban
ESC Program Co-Chair
Professor of Environmental Sciences and Policy
(919) 684-6999

John Randolph Poulsen
ESC Program Co-Chair
Assistant Professor of Tropical Ecology
Environmental Sciences & Policy Division
(919) 668-4060