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Mission of the Coterminal Program in Sustainability Science and Practice

The Sustainability Science and Practice program (SUST for short) is an interdisciplinary coterminal master's program hosted by the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. The goal of the program is to prepare leaders to radically accelerate the transition to a sustainable and just society. As the global human population climbs toward 11 billion, consumption demands increase, and disparities in wealth and opportunity persist, society must learn to equitably meet existing human needs in ways that do not forgo possibilities for future generations. These sustainability challenges are marked by extreme complexity, urgency, conflicting demands, and often a paucity of resources or political will to address them. Transforming these challenges into powerful opportunities requires a new kind of leader — one who can both envision a prosperous future for all and who can design practices and cultivate partnerships essential to building that future.

The SUST program equips students with the theoretical and conceptual knowledge and the mindsets and practical skills needed to advance sustainability, securing human well-being around the world and across generations. As the Program’s name suggests, the curriculum contains elements of both science and practice. On the one hand, the science-based elements provide theoretical foundations for deepening awareness of the dynamic and interrelated nature of social-environmental and -technical systems, devising strategies for sustainable decision-making and behavior, and innovating for transformative impact. On the other hand, the practice-based elements provide experience-based insight into social-environmental and -technical systems, decision-making, and leading change for sustainability. They also ground the science-based elements in concrete examples, at times offering perspectives and insights beyond the limits of existing scientific theory. Integrating science and practice provides students with well-rounded and cutting-edge knowledge, mindsets and skills, uniquely preparing students to advance sustainability through careers in business, the nonprofit sector, government, or continued academic study.

The curriculum covers three main elements:

Element 1: Understanding complex social-environmental systems

Students develop a “systems perspective”, deepening their awareness of the dynamic and interrelated nature of social-environmental systems. They explore tools to measure, map, and model five capital assets — social, natural, human, manufactured, and knowledge capital — and their complex interactions in order to recognize potential feedbacks, thresholds, and unintended consequences, as well as to identify leverage points and opportunities for interventions that can have transformative impact.

Element 2: Understanding decision making and developing strategies for change

Students examine the roles of diverse actors who influence change in social-environmental systems and explore strategies to align decision making and behavior with sustainability. They explore mindsets and approaches of transformative leaders and examine effective strategies for advancing sustainability across sectors. Students develop skills in decision making in complex and uncertain contexts, use metrics and evaluation approaches aligned with sustainability goals, cultivate leadership orientations, and practice effective communications and storytelling approaches.

Element 3: Designing innovations with impact at scale

Students develop understanding of how to intervene in complex systems for transformative impact by exploring frameworks and tools from systems thinking, design thinking, social cognitive theory, behavioral economics, and partnership strategies. They develop practical skills in mapping complex systems and designing creative, high-leverage interventions that realign systems with the goal of intergenerational well-being.

Sustainability Leadership Practicum

At the intersection of sustainability science and practice, the course provides Sustainability Science and Practice (SUST) master’s students with an opportunity to apply and internalize the knowledge, mindsets, and skills learned in the program while leading change and advancing sustainability. Students identify and plan their own 80-hour practicum opportunities with sustainability-focused organizations, during which they collaborate on projects while applying foundational SUST learnings. Additionally, each student analyzes the sustainability challenge their organization is dedicated to addressing, examines their organization’s ability to address the challenge, recommends how the organization can improve its ability to address the challenge in a transformative way, and reflects on their own experience and growth as a sustainability leader. Each student completes the course with a paper and presentation that share the student’s analysis, recommendations, and self-reflections with the SUST community. Ultimately, the practicum is designed to develop each student's identity and capacity as a transformative leader through practice.

Application and Admission

The Sustainability Science and Practice program offers current Stanford University undergraduates the opportunity to apply to a one-year coterminal master’s program. Students can pursue either a coterminal Master of Arts (M.A.) degree or a coterminal Master of Science (M.S.) degree.

The Sustainability Science and Practice program will offer one coterm application round in the 2023-24 academic year. To be considered for admission, students must complete the required pre-application steps below by the stated deadlines and submit all required materials via the University's application portal by January 11, 2024.

Required Pre-application Steps:

  • Prior to applying, candidates are expected to attend a one-hour information session hosted by the program in Autumn quarter 2023, beginning Week 3. Please refer to the events section of the program website for details and to RSVP.

  • As part of the application process, candidates must email Student Services Officer Bhe Balde ( to schedule a pre-application interview. Interviews should be completed by December 20, 2023 (prior to the University’s winter closure for staff). In advance of the interview, applicants should email the following to Bhe Balde for review: 1) a draft of the SUST Master's Program Proposal indicating the courses the student intends to take to satisfy the program’s degree requirements, and 2) the name of the student’s proposed master’s advisor (if known) or a short list of preferred advisors (if an advisor has not yet been confirmed).

  • Each applicant is responsible for identifying a faculty member who will serve as their master's advisor during their time in the coterm program. The Master's Advising section below includes guidance on seeking an advisor. The process takes time and students are encouraged to start early. The master’s advisor must be an Academic Council member. Faculty on Academic Council typically hold a title of professor, associate professor, or assistant professor, whereas instructors with the title of lecturer, adjunct professor, or professor of practice are generally not on Academic Council. If unsure whether a faculty member is on Academic Council, please contact the SUST Student Services Officer to verify.

Required Application Materials:

  • The Stanford Coterminal Application.

  • A statement of purpose, 500-700 words long, that describes the applicant's sustainability interests, the experiences that have influenced the student and motivated them to apply, and what the applicant hopes to learn from and contribute to the program. The statement should provide a clear picture of who the applicant is and what matters to them.

  • A current resume.

  • A current Stanford unofficial transcript.

  • SUST Master's Program Proposal signed by the SUST Student Services Officer and by the applicant's master's advisor. The Student Services Officer's signature serves as confirmation that the course plan satisfies program requirements. The advisor’s signature serves as confirmation of the faculty member’s willingness to serve in the advising role.

  • Two letters of recommendation from Stanford faculty members who know the applicant well and can speak to their qualifications and fit for the program. At least one of the two faculty writers must be a member of Stanford’s Academic Council. Academic Council members typically hold a title of professor, associate professor, or assistant professor, whereas instructors with the title of lecturer, adjunct professor, or professor of practice are generally not on Academic Council. If unsure whether a faculty member is on Academic Council, please contact the SUST Student Services Officer to verify before requesting the letter. The candidate’s master’s advisor is not required to serve as one of the two recommenders.

    Note: Once the applicant enters a recommender’s contact information into the application portal, the recommender will receive an automated email with instructions for completing and submitting the recommendation. Students should submit the names of their recommenders as early as possible in the application process so that faculty have adequate time to prepare and submit their materials by the January 11, 2024 application deadline.

  • An optional third letter of recommendation from someone who is not necessarily a Stanford faculty member may also be submitted for consideration.

University Coterminal Requirements

Coterminal master’s degree candidates are expected to complete all coterminal degree requirements and master’s degree requirements as described in this bulletin. University requirements for coterminal master’s degrees are described in the Coterminal Master’s Degrees section of this bulletin. University requirements for master’s degrees are described in the Graduate Degrees section.

Admitted students must have at least one-quarter of overlap in the undergraduate and graduate career prior to conferring their undergraduate degree.

After accepting admission to this coterminal master’s degree program, students may request the transfer of eligible courses from the undergraduate to the graduate career to satisfy requirements for the master’s degree. Transfer of courses to the graduate career requires review and approval of both the undergraduate and graduate programs. Course transfers are not possible after the bachelor’s degree has been conferred.

Coterminal master’s students have the option of receiving their bachelor’s degree after completing that degree’s requirements or may wait and receive the bachelor's and master's degrees concurrently upon completion of the master's program.

Additional SUST Program Requirements:

Students applying to the SUST coterminal master’s program must have completed a minimum of 120 units towards graduation with a recommended minimum overall Stanford GPA of 3.4.

In this master’s program, courses taken during or after the first quarter of the sophomore year are eligible for consideration for transfer to the graduate career. No courses taken prior to the first quarter of the sophomore year may be used to meet master’s degree requirements. Requests to transfer courses taken prior to junior year are discouraged.

Any course transferred from a student’s undergraduate career to their SUST graduate career must have a grade of B+ or higher.

Students are expected to take most or all of their elective courses during their time in the SUST coterm. At the program’s discretion, a limited number of elective units may be considered for transfer from the undergraduate career to the SUST graduate career.

Staff and Faculty

Program Staff:

Faculty Director and Professor: Jeffrey Koseff

Co-Director and Professor of Practice: Julia Novy

Program Director: Shelley Ratay

Assistant Director of Student Services : Bhe Balde

Lecturer: Garry Sotnik

Program Coordinator: Krystal Dahmubed

Affiliated Faculty and Lecturers:

  • Nicole M. Ardoin (Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources)

  • Inêz Azevedo (Energy Science Engineering)

  • Banny Banerjee (Sustainability Science and Practice)

  • William Barnett (Business)

  • Sally Benson (Energy Science Engineering)

  • Paul Brest (Law)

  • Marshall Burke (Earth System Science)

  • Karen Casciotti (Earth System Science)

  • Geoffrey Cohen (Psychology)

  • Gretchen C. Daily (Woods Institute for the Environment)

  • Jenna Davis (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

  • Noah Diffenbaugh (Earth System Science)

  • Sibyl Diver (Earth System Science)

  • Rob Dunbar (Earth System Science) 

  • Scott Fendorf (Earth System Science)

  • Zephyr Frank (History)

  • Lynn Hildemann (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

  • Pamela Hinds (Management Science and Engineering)

  • Rob Jackson (Earth System Science)

  • James Holland Jones (Earth System Science)

  • Jeffrey Koseff (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

  • Eric Lambin (Earth System Science)

  • James Leape (Woods Institute for the Environment)

  • Susan Liautaud (Law, Public Policy) 

  • David Lobell (Earth System Science)

  • Hazel Markus (Psychology)

  • Pamela Matson (Sustainability Science and Practice)

  • Meagan Mauter (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

  • Rosamond Naylor (Earth System Science)

  • Julia Novy (Sustainability Science and Practice)

  • Morgan O'Neill (Earth System Science)

  • Hayagreeva Rao (Business)

  • Burke Robinson (Sustainability Science and Practice)

  • Lee Ross (Psychology)

  • Tina Seelig (Management Science and Engineering)

  • Garry Sotnik (Sustainability Science and Practice)

  • Claude Steele (Psychology)

  • Jenny Suckale (Geophysics)

  • Barton Thompson (Law)

  • Peter Vitousek (Biology)

  • Jeremy Weinstein (Political Science)

  • Mikael Wolfe (History)

  • Gabrielle Wong-Parodi (Earth System Science)

  • Annette Zou (Sustainability Science and Practice)