Online (DEL-MEM) Curriculum & Courses

Program Components

The Duke Environmental Leadership Master of Environmental Management (DEL-MEM) is a two-year, four-semester, 30-credit program. In addition to the five required place-based sessions, the program requirements include:

  • Orientation course at the Duke campus -- 1 credit (required)
  • Professional Writing Course -- 1 credit (required)
  • Core courses -- 12 credits (required)
  • Focused courses/electives developed around specialized themes -- minimum of 11 credits (student-defined combination). Focused courses/electives rotate annually and course selections are updated as appropriate. Courses focus on current and emerging issues, such as landscape ecology, ecosystem change, environmental information and analysis systems, global climate change, energy issues, etc.
  • Environmental leadership module in Washington, DC, featuring 
    prominent leaders from the private, public and not-for-profit sectors (learn more >)-- 1 credit (required)
  • Master’s project directly related to the student’s current employment -- 4 credits (required)

Core Courses (required)

Economics of Environmental Management
This course provides an economic perspective on the management of environmental resources. Conceptual topics include environmental externalities, market failure, public goods, sustainability, and benefit-cost analysis. Emphasis on the use of economics in understanding and solving environmental problems. Case studies include carbon trading to address climate change and the use of economic incentives for biodiversity conservation. Three credits.

Ecosystem Science and Management
Ecosystem management is grounded in science but takes place in the context of complex temporal and spatial boundaries, processes, and human values. Over the past three decades, two important themes have emerged. The first is that we need to manage ecosystems for both structure (i.e. species, populations, communities) and ecological function, grounded in the best available science. The second theme is that to manage ecosystems, you have to necessarily manage people. This course explores both of these themes, with the overall goal of giving students the scientific grounding and the practical skills necessary to develop ecosystem management plans. Case studies cover an array of ecosystems, management challenges, and spatial scales. Three credits.

Environmental Decision Analysis
In environmental management, things don't always turn out as expected. You must address multiple goals, even when those goals themselves conflict. You must respond to diverse stakeholders, with varying worldviews. The tools of decision analysis help you to – going beyond unaided intuition – organize and analyze difficult environmental management decisions. This course covers quantitative methods for analyzing environmental problems involving uncertainty and multiple, conflicting objectives. Topics include subjective probability, utility, value of information, and multi-attribute methods. Students will apply these tools to an environmental policy decision in a group or individual project. Three credits.

Environmental Law and Policy
Environmental policies have evolved from strict reliance on command and control systems to experimentation with alternative approaches. In this course, students study this evolution by first examining the history and context of U.S. policy development processes and institutions. Command approaches to air and water pollution and waste management are considered along with alternative approaches, such as market-based programs, public-private partnerships and voluntarism. Policies for managing land, natural resources, species protection and addressing transnational and global environmental problems are examined. Policy implementation and devolution of responsibilities to state and local governments and the private sector is stressed. Three credits.

Master’s Project
The master’s project 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. 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.

Orientation Course: Making a Difference in the World
One-week course to introduce the curriculum of the Duke Environmental Leadership (DEL) Program. Provides framework for program studies. Focus on real-world environmental challenges and timely case studies. Field studies in Durham and at Duke University Marine Lab, Beaufort, NC. One credit.

Professional Writing Course
Professional writing encompasses many styles of writing, from policy memos to manuals, blog posts to technical reports. This course is designed to give you space to reflect on your own writing as a process and not simply as a deliverable. For some, the course may serve as a tune-up; for others, a more significant remodeling. Through a series of modules, discussion and a writing assignment, we will delve into the most important aspects of any piece of professional writing: organization, use of evidence, clarity and cohesion, and giving and incorporating feedback during the revision process. The goal is for your writing to become clearer and more powerful as a result of this work. One credit.

Program Management for Environmental Professionals
In the private and public sectors, as well as not-for-profit organizations,managerial effectiveness is central to environmental leadership. This course focuses on the development of management skills including decision-making,motivation,working in teams, organizational cultures, organizational design, and change management. Three credits.


Focused courses/electives

Combination of courses totaling a minimum of 11 credits.

Business Strategy for Environmental Sustainability
Businesses are increasingly applying strategic management tools to incorporate considerations of sustainability into decision-making and operations. While some businesses incorporate sustainable practices because of an ethical conviction to do well for the environment, most businesses are motivated to do so to address pressures from stakeholders such as regulators, shareholders, customers and neighbors and to exploit knowledge and experience for long-term competitive advantage. This course focuses on the development and implementation of strategies to promote environmental sustainability. Students examine roles and responsibilities of sustainable strategic managers and learn how to apply the tools of strategic management, such as external analysis, forecasting and stakeholder management to problems of sustainability. Business case studies are a critical component of this course. Three credits.

California Water Crises: A Case Study Approach
This course is a synthesis of science and policy. A brief history of the role of water availability will be used to acquaint us with the historical linkage of fresh water supply to California’s growth into the world’s 8th largest economy. We shall examine assumptions that once characterized natural resources and environmental systems as fully developed and sustainable but are now proving false. The Delta is widely perceived by many as in crisis. Why? A weakening infrastructure- some continuously used for over 100 years - coupled with deteriorating health of Delta fish species, and an institutional governance characterized as “too little too late” are some of the causes.  Recognition of the Delta crisis provides an opportunity for DEL students to examine the several very different management strategies that have been proposed and/or implemented  and to determine which of the various responses to the crisis have merit. The course uses a case study approach and students are encouraged to answer specific questions addressed in the course media. Individual and group activities are deployed to enable considerations of new directions for a changing future and how environmental management might make reform happen. Three credits.

California Water Management Field Trip
California has long been the poster child for conflict over water management and appropriation. Much of that conflict has focused on the diversion of water from the Sierra Nevada and the Great Central Valley. In this 5-day field course we will provide an overview of the hydrology and history of water development for the Central Valley, and focus on three case studies: Hetch Hetchy, the Californian Aquaduct, and the re-watering of the San Joaquin River. One credit.

Climate, Energy, and Environment
This course discusses and debates selected issues from two U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) studies (referred to as America's Climate Choices (ACC)) with the goal of developing a comprehensive understanding of current scientific understanding of global climate change, and America’s energy choices against the backdrop of climate change and other issues of strategic national importance. One and one-half credits. Includes both residential and DEL-MEM students.

Community-Based Environmental Management
Since the concept first came to be widely represented in the conservation community in the early 1990s, Community-Based Environmental Management (CBEM) has been incorporated in conservation and natural resource management initiatives around the world, from integrated conservation and development (ICDP) projects in the buffer zones of protected areas in Nepal to urban forestry initiatives in New York City.

The goal of the course is to provide students with information and analysis that will allow them to identify some of the potential problems and pitfalls involved in CBEM along with the tools necessary to create and managed their own projects. To accomplish this, we will combine readings and discussion of academic literature with presentations of specific CBEM case studies by bi-weekly guest speakers. The students will also select a CBEM project close enough to them geographically for easy visits and will use this project as the focus of a series of six short analyses that will, at the end of the course, be combined and reworked as a final case study report. Three credits.

Community-Based Environmental Management in Mexico
The state of Oaxaca in southwestern Mexico is an ideal place to observe community-based environmental management in action. Mexico’s system of common lands ownership and management (ejidos) provides a strong, legally recognized and politically viable framework for communal management of the environment. This combined with Oaxaca’s rich natural resource base, even richer traditions of indigenous governance practices, and a history of political organizing against government and corporate resource exploitation has meant that this region is a leader in innovative community-based management initiatives. From highly functional and vertically integrated community-based forest management ventures, to community-run ecotourism initiatives, to the communal production and sale of forest-based carbon offset credits, to cooperative management and marketing of shade grown, organic coffee, Oaxaca allows us to observe communal management of the environment under relatively “ideal” conditions, and to understand the many challenges that must still be overcome. 

Class meetings focus on introducing students to the general history of rural common property governance and resource politics and management in Mexico and to the specific history and current context of community environmental management in Oaxaca. Classes will be based on assigned readings and will include a combination of lectures, guest speakers and student presentations.

The course will include a field trip over spring break, in the colonial city of Oaxaca de Juarez. The class will meet with the community leaders and councils responsible for making decisions and organizing their communities to collectively manage their own environment and also with the non-profit and government organizations that work with and support them. 2 credits.

Contemporary Environmental Issues
This course examines a broad range of contemporary environmental issues, including climate change impacts, endangered species conservation, and environmental health. This examination draws from the most-cited and recent peer-reviewed literature, current academic texts, and essays from popular literature. During the course, you will practice weighing evidence, synthesizing research, and articulating your perspective through written reflection and discussion. Discussions will also give you the opportunity to moderate conversations on hot-button issues.

Energy, Environment, & the Law
The course will examine the legal framework governing energy production and consumption in the United States, the environmental issues associated with the nation’s energy sectors, and policy approaches for balancing energy needs with environmental protection. Classes will focus on the application of the major environmental laws to energy challenges, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Oil Pollution Act.  The course will include three main sections: (1) state utility regulation; (2) energy resources for electricity generation; and (3) petroleum. Three credits.

Green Development
In this course, students explore the varying definitions of green development; how it is applied at the community, site and building-level; what it can cost; how it can create economic, social and environmental value; how it can be measured; who is practicing and implementing it; how it is financed; and what third-party standards exist to verify it. The class also explores new opportunities and new models for green development along with its various challenges and limitations. Students examine these topics through structured discussion boards, readings, lectures, conference calls, memorandum writing, analytical exercises and group presentations. Three credits.

Restoration Ecology: Principles & Practice
Restoration ecology brings together ecological principles, environmental history, and social context to enhance the value of degraded sites and systems. Restoration projects offer an opportunity for scientists, practitioners, and the local community to come together to design, implement and monitor projects. Instead of the silos commonly found in academic discipline, restoration ecology is very much a collaborative effort.

In this course, we will explore the fundamental principles of ecological restoration. We will use the restoration process as our framework and will focus on how the science informs the practice and vice versa. A rich set of course readings will guide our discussions on the best practices for restoration projects across a variety of ecosystems and jurisdictions.

The class will travel to Kaua’i, Hawaii to experience the practice of restoration first-hand. Kaua’i offers a particularly complex restoration canvas, with traditional Hawaiian land practices and culture integrated into more modern management strategies. We will visit several restoration sites, from the tropical forests and taro terraces of Limahuli National Botanical Garden to riparian buffer installations along the Hanalei River. Most days, we will actually participate in restoration work while meeting with leaders of local organizations involved in these projects. 2 credits. 

Social Science Methods and Design
The goal of the course is to provide students with an introduction to the theory and practice of social science research methods and design. It is appropriate for students who wish to learn both qualitative and quantitative research methods or who wish to combine natural and social science questions and methods in their research.  Through lecture, discussion of readings and case studies, and review of the research proposals of their peers, students will become proficient at not only social science theory, but at producing a sound and well-designed research proposal. Three credits.

Sustainable Development in Chile 
In this 5-day field course we will provide an overview of international sustainable development in Chile, while focusing on environmental management at the government level, sustainable forestry, fisheries, and wineries, and eco-tourism. Two credits.

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

Executive Education Short Courses
Through the DEL-MEM program, you can also take one-credit intensive executive education short courses (i.e., Implementation of NEPA, Environmental Communication for Behavior Change, Environmental Communications Planning). For more information on the short course program, and a list of upcoming courses, click here >.

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).