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.
  • 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 or a Capstone in Environmental Leadership -- 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 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 Or Capstone in Environmental Leadership (students choose one option)
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.A 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.

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, 
  • purusing 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. 

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.

The Science of Climate Change
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. Includes both residential and DEL-MEM students. One credit.

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 includes 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. Two credits.

Survey of Environmental Leadership
Students invite Duke faculty to share their perspectives on environmental leadership with a series of web conferences. Students will read a range of scholarly work from these faculty, as well as key readings in the environmental leadership literature. One credit. 

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 students explore the fundamental principles of ecological restoration, using the restoration process as the framework and focusing on how the science informs the practice and vice versa. Students  travel to Kaua’i, Hawaii (or other appropriate location; may vary) to experience the practice of restoration first-hand. Most days, students will actually participate in restoration work while meeting with leaders of local organizations involved in these projects. Two credits.

Sustainable Development in Chile 
In this 5-day field course, students 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.

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).