GRADUATE STUDENT HANDBOOK for the MS Environmental Sciences and Policy (MS ES & P) program

2010-2011 Academic Year

The application deadline is February 1 for admission the following Fall semester. Applications may be considered at other times at the discretion of the MS ES & P Graduate Committee.

Table of Contents

The MS ES & P Graduate Committee 
Steps for Application and Admission 
Faculty Advisors and the Student Graduate Program Committee 
Requirements for the Master of Science degree in Environmental Sciences and Policy 
Getting Started on Campus 
MS ES&P Graduate Program Forms 
Evaluation of Progress and Grade Requirements 
Application for Graduation 
Independent Study 
Transfer Credit 
Time Limits 
Credit Load 
Teaching Assistantships 
Research Assistantships 
Duration of Support 
Graduate Catalogue 


Welcome to Northern Arizona University and Environmental Programs (ENV, formerly known as the Center for Sustainable Environments and the Center for Environmental Sciences and Education).  Environmental Programs is part of the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability (SESES) which is part of the College of Engineering, Forestry and Natural Sciences (CEFNS) at Northern Arizona University.  We recognize the challenges associated with relocating to a new place, institution, and program, and hope that this handbook will answer many of your questions and serve as a valuable source of information throughout your program.

NAU's Environmental Programs provides a technically rigorous education in the environmental sciences, preparing students for a career in research, industry, education, government, public service, or law. ENV is known campus-wide for its interdisciplinary approach to environmental issues and its pragmatic focus on environmental problem solving. Currently, our faculty comes from nine disciplines, including biology, chemistry, communications, engineering, education, environmental sciences, forestry, geology, and political science.

The objectives of our environmental sciences programs are to help students develop:

  • the scientific literacy needed to understand environmental processes
  • the technical skills necessary to work in the environmental sciences
  • the political literacy needed to understand the environmental policy process
  • the creative problem-solving skills required to deal effectively with environmental issues
  • an appreciation for the history and development of environmental issues
  • a familiarity with current trends in environmental thought in numerous disciplines

The Master of Science degree in Environmental Sciences and Policy will provide an advanced education for scientists and managers in the interdisciplinary environmental sciences. In-depth study of the environment has become increasingly dependent upon knowledge of the interactions between the natural world and human society. Neither today's environmental scientist, nor today's environmental policy analyst, can be content to specialize in a single field of study. Instead, environmental scientists and policy analysts are expected to be familiar with the interactions between disciplines such as ecology, geology, chemistry and politics. Graduates of the program will obtain the skills necessary to (1) analyze and understand environmental systems, (2) interpret and apply environmental rules and regulations, (3) predict the impact of human activities on our environment, and (4) develop effective methods for addressing environmental issues from a rigorous, interdisciplinary perspective.

The Master's Program in Environmental Sciences and Policy (Master's Program) is unique in its focus on interdisciplinary study. Students are encouraged and, in fact, required to think and learn across traditional disciplinary boundaries. The Master's Program involves significant cross-campus collaboration between a number of different departments and colleges, with Environmental Sciences and Political Science being the two most integral to the program. Research and teaching focuses on Arizona and Colorado Plateau issues, though knowledge gained will apply to national and international environmental issues as well.

The MS ES & P Graduate Committee

Oversight of graduate studies in ENV resides with the ENV Graduate Committee, which is composed of a Chairperson, who also serves as Graduate Program Coordinator, the Director of ENV and selected faculty members. The ENV Graduate Committee is responsible for periodic review of policies and procedures concerning the graduate programs of the department. The ENV Graduate Committee is also responsible for admission decisions and recommendations for different types of financial support.

Steps for Application and Admission

Entry into the Master's Program requires an online application,

To apply for the Master's Program, a student must have an accredited bachelor's degree. General requirements for admission to the Graduate College are available in the Graduate Catalog (available on-line at

A completed application for admission will include:

  • An online APPLICATION for admission to the NAU Graduate College, with the required application fee
  • TRANSCRIPTS of all undergraduate and graduate course work
  • Three LETTERS of recommendation from academic or professional supervisors (also downloadable form from the online application)
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) SCORES (the general test only; the advanced subject test is optional)
  • A STATEMENT of your interests and goals in environmental sciences and policy, and your reasons for pursuing a degree in this interdisciplinary program

A potential faculty advisor must be identified by the applicant before application to the program. This advisor will assist you in developing your program of study. A list of faculty, outlining areas of expertise and research interests, is available here. Applicants are encouraged to contact them directly with ideas and questions regarding graduate study at NAU. A meeting with one or more potential faculty advisors, prior to application, is strongly recommended. If this is not possible, consider contacting ENV faculty at professional meetings, or by letter, e-mail, or telephone. Applicants should be prepared to discuss their backgrounds, specific areas of interest, and career goals. 

Students may enroll in coursework under the following classifications: Non-Degree Student, Provisional Graduate Student, or Regular Graduate Student.

A student who would like to take class but has not yet been admitted to the Master's Program in Environmental Sciences and Policy must submit a Non-Degree Seeking Application to the Graduate College: Non-Degree Graduate Application.

A Non-Degree student is one who has been admitted to the Graduate College but has not yet been admitted to the Master's Program. No more than 12 hours of graduate credit earned under Non-Degree standing may be applied toward a graduate degree. Please note that students who have completed hours while on Non-Degree standing and who have fully completed application procedures for Regular Graduate standing are NOT assured admission to the graduate program. They must be considered for admission along with other applicants.

A Provisional Graduate Student is one who has been admitted to the Graduate College but who is identified by the ENV Graduate Committee to be deficient in undergraduate coursework. The ENV Graduate Committee will identify deficiencies and the coursework needed to eliminate them at the time of admission to the program. In such cases, the student will have up to one year to complete remedial coursework. Successful completion of remedial coursework will lead to advancement to regular standing.

Graduate degrees are awarded only to students holding Regular Graduate Standing at Northern Arizona University. This status is awarded when a student has fulfilled all requirements for admission to both the Graduate College and the Master's Program, and has been accepted by both the Graduate College and by the Master's Program.

The application deadline is February 1 for admission the following Fall semester. Applications may be considered at other times at the discretion of the ENV Graduate Committee.

Faculty Advisors and the Student Graduate Program Committee

Throughout your tenure in the program, you will work most closely with your faculty advisor. In addition, each student admitted to the program will also select a Student Graduate Program Committee (Program Committee) by the middle of the first semester of the program. The Program Committee Form is available on the ENV Web site, and should be submitted to ENV during the student's first semester in residence. Each student's Program Committee will consist of three or four faculty members, and all Program Committees must include at least one NAU faculty member representing the social sciences (e.g. sociology, political sciences, psychology) and another NAU faculty member representing the natural sciences (e.g. biology, geology, chemistry). Two Program Committee members must be NAU faculty members with appointments in ENV, including the Program Committee chair or one of the two co-chairs, if this responsibility is shared. In cases of deadlocked Program Committee decisions, the Program Committee chair or the ENV co-chair will have the deciding vote. Program Committees must be approved by the ENV Graduate Coordinator. Students may change their advisors or Program Committees during their program by resubmitting a revised Program Committee Form, but this practice is discouraged, and will be approved only under compelling circumstances. Program Committee changes may not occur within the final semester preceding thesis defense and graduation.

Students must develop a formal program of study detailing their intended coursework in consultation with the student's advisor and Program Committee by the end of the first semester of residence. A Program of Study Worksheet is available on the ENV Web site. Programs must be approved by the student's advisor and the ENV Graduate Coordinator. The Program of Study Worksheet must indicate a schedule for completion of 36 hours of graduate credit, including required core courses.

Requirements for the Master of Science degree in Environmental Sciences and Policy

The MS Program in Environmental Sciences and Policy combines study of required interdisciplinary core courses with a selection of specialized courses from across the University. The student must complete a thesis. This allows the graduate student to combine advanced academic training with original scientific research or with practical problem solving. The Program of Study is tailored to the specific needs and interest of each student.

The program consists of a twelve-credit-hour core, three credit hours of quantitative analysis, fifteen credit hours of graduate-level courses (specialty courses) selected by the student and his or her Program Committee, and a six-credit-hour thesis. Many of the courses in the M.S. program are drawn from existing graduate courses in biology, chemistry, forestry, geology, political science, and other NAU departments. The program core is designed to integrate environmental policy with course work from the natural sciences.

No more than two courses of 400-level credit will be accepted toward credit hour requirements; any 400 level courses must be approved by the advisor and the ENV Graduate Committee as part of the Program of Study. Courses previously applied to the requirements of a bachelor's degree cannot be used for graduate credit.

A) The Program Core (12 credit hours):

1) ENV 555: The Environmental Science/ Policy Interface. 3 credit hours. This course brings together graduate students who have diverse interests, backgrounds, research projects, and career goals to study specific issues bridging environmental science and policy. The course explores the relationship between advances in the environmental sciences and the policy development process. The mission of this course is to set the tone for the core concepts of our program. A student will register for this course during his/ her first semester in the program.

2) Advances in Environmental Sciences. 6 credit hours. Students will take one course each from two of the three areas listed below. While providing some flexibility to the student, the selected courses for each category provide the appropriate depth for advanced study in the environmental sciences. Additional courses may be added to these listings in the future, and students may propose substitutions in their Program of Study. Substitutions must be approved by the ENV Graduate Committee prior to student enrollment in the proposed substitute course.

  • Water Resources: 
    • BIO 572: Limnology (3 units)
    • FOR 506: Watershed Restoration (3 units)
    • FOR 563: Watershed Hydrology (3 units)
    • GLG 451: Hydrogeology (4 units)
    • GLG 575: Geochemistry of Natural Waters (4 units)
    • GLG 670: Advanced Hydrogeology (4 units)
  • Atmosphere and Climate: 
    • ENV 580: Atmospheric Change (3 units)
    • ENV 595: Global Environmental/ Climate Change (3 units)
    • ENV 596: Quaternary Climate Change (3 units)
    • CHM 440/ENV 430: Environmental Chemistry (3 units)
  • Land Resources:
    • BIO 570: Plant Ecology, or BIO 573: Field Ecology (3 units)
    • BIO 660: Organic Evolution (3 units)
    • BIO 663: Biogeography
    • ENV 530: Arid Lands Geomorphology (3 units)
    • ENV 540 & 540L: Conservation Biology and Lab (3-4 units)
    • ENV 544: Landscape Ecology (3 units)
    • FOR 580: Ecological Restoration Principles, or FOR 582: Ecological Restoration Applications (3 units)
    • GLG 430: Geomorphology (4 credits)

3) Environmental Laws, Regulations, and Policy. 3 credit hours. Students will choose either an applied course in environmental regulations or a more theoretical course in environmental politics and policy.

  • CENE 540: Environmental Protection (3 units)
  • FOR 593: Natural Resource Economics (3 units)
  • FOR 605: Policy Process in Multi-Resource Management (3 units)
  • FOR 633: Ecological Economics (3 units)
  • GGR 574: Rural Economic Geography (3 units)
  • POS 659: Environmental Policy (3 credits)
B) Quantitative Analysis. 3 credit hours. One course from the following list:
  • STA 570/571: Statistical Methods 1 and/or 2 (3-6 units)
  • STA 676: Experimental Design (3 units)
  • BIO 682: Quantitative Biology (3 units)
  • GGR 525: Geographic Information Systems (3 units)
  • MAT 542/543: Wildlife Population Modeling and lab( 3-5 units)
  • POS 601 Research Methods/ Analysis (3 units)
  • POS 605 Topics in Research Methods (3 units)
C) Specialty Courses. 15 credit hours. 

At least 15 additional hours of specialty courses, at the 500 level or above, will be chosen by students in consultation with their Program Committee. These classes will customize the program to individual needs. Courses may be drawn from graduate offerings across the NAU campus and may include courses listed in sections A and B, above.  The Program Committee will ensure that the selection of specialty courses is appropriate to the student's research and career objectives.

Getting Started on Campus

Here are a few initial items requiring the student's attention upon arrival:

  • University ID Card (NAUcard): After registering for classes, your photo ID can be obtained at Room 115 of the University Union (Bldg. 30). Your ID card also serves as a library card.
  • E-mail: ENV utilizes e-mail for internal communications. You will need to let the ENV office staff know your e-mail address. All new students are automatically given an e-mail account. From more information, visit
  • Mailbox: Graduate students in residence will have a mailbox available in the main ENV office (Bldg 19, rm 119).
  • Keys: Building keys and key deposits for the Physical Sciences building are handled by the ENV staff and can be collected in the main ENV office.
  • Office Space: Consult with your faculty advisor regarding office space. Teaching Assistants have first priority for office space, but ENV will make every effort to secure office space for other students, as-needed.
  • Parking: Permits to park on campus are purchased at Parking Services, Bldg. 91. Learn more about parking services on-line at
  • Residency Status: If you wish to establish Arizona residency for tuition purposes visit the office of the Registrar at or call (928) 523-7683 directly with questions.
  • Orientation: Prior to the start of classes in the fall, the Graduate College sponsors a graduate student orientation.  Students are expected to attend this orientation.

MS ES & P Graduate Forms

Students pursuing a degree in the Master of Science in Environmental Sciences and Policy Program are required at various times to complete the following forms, all of which can be downloaded here as PDF files:

Program of Study Worksheet: Students must develop a formal program of study detailing their intended coursework in consultation with the student's advisor and Program Committee by the end of the first semester of residence. Programs must be approved by the student's advisor and the ENV Graduate Coordinator. The worksheet must include a schedule for completion of 36 hours of graduate credit, including required core courses.

Program Committee Form: All students in the program must assemble a Program Committee by the end of the first term of residence. Each committee must have at least one member from the natural sciences and one member from the social sciences. The committee chair or co-chair must be a ENV faculty member, and at least 50% of the committee must be drawn from ENV. Committees are usually made up of three faculty members, but more may be invited, if necessary or desired.

Thesis / Professional Paper Proposal Form: This form must be submitted to the student's Program Committee for approval of a proposed thesis or professional paper.

Report on Result of Final Oral Defense of Thesis / Professional Paper : Upon successful completion and unanimous approval of the final oral defense of the thesis or professional paper, this form is signed by the Members of the Program Committee, the Graduate Coordinator and the ENV Director, and submitted to the Graduate College.

Teaching Assistant / Lab Evaluation Form: This form is for instructors to evaluate a student TA at the conclusion of his or her lab.

Annual Student Progress Report Form and Request for Financial Aid : All graduate students must fill out this form, whether or not the student is requesting continued funding in the form of Teaching Assistantships, Graduate Assistantships, or Research Assistantships.  The student must turn in the form to the Graduate Coordinator no later than March 5th.  Information provided in this form will be used to determine status and financial support.

Progress Checklist : This form is used to guide and track the student through the program. 


When working on a thesis, students will work closely with the Program Committee Chair and other Program Committee members to conduct the required original research project (a minimum of 6 credit hours). In most cases this will require the student to maintain close physical proximity to the NAU campus. Writing the thesis as a research paper or papers for submission to a professional, peer-reviewed journal is strongly recommended. A thesis must be of publishable quality, as determined by the student's graduate advisor. A Thesis Proposal Form must be submitted to the Program Committee for approval. For Graduate College thesis format guidelines, please refer to  For other models and guidelines refer to

The thesis must be defended orally before the Program Committee. The final draft of the thesis is to be submitted to the Program Committee at least six weeks prior to the defense to provide time for thorough review and possible revision. Program Committee members must provide feedback on the thesis within two weeks if their changes are to be incorporated into the final draft of the thesis. A final copy of the thesis, incorporating changes and including all figures, tables, and references, must be distributed to all Program Committee members at least seven working days before the date of the oral defense. Any Program Committee member who considers that the thesis needs more work may demand that the oral examination be rescheduled. A unanimous affirmative vote of the Program Committee is required for passing.

The approved thesis, with Program Committee signatures (in blue ink) is to be submitted to the Graduate College before the deadline set for the term.  Contact the Graduate College for format and time line instructions.

Evaluation of Progress and Grade Requirements

An M.S. student must maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or better to complete requirements for the degree, and is expected to make significant progress in their program each semester. A grade of C or better is acceptable for graduate credit, but no more than 6 credit hours earned with a grade of C may be counted as credit towards a degree. Accumulation of more than 6 credit hours of course work with a grade of C or below will result in the termination of the student's M.S. program, regardless of the grade point average achieved.

All students receiving any form of financial assistance (teaching assistantships, graduate assistantships, or fellowships) must complete a Financial Request and Progress Report form and turn it in to the ENV Graduate Committee by the announced deadline for continued funding (usually 15 February).

Application for Graduation

Application for graduation should be made to the Graduate College by the end of the second week of the semester of graduation. The Graduate College can provide the deadline for receipt of this application; there is a graduation fee. Students, not advisors or Program Committee members, are responsible for keeping track of Graduate College guidelines and deadlines.


If unable to complete the work required in a scheduled course within a semester, a student may petition the instructor to receive a grade of Incomplete (I). If the instructor agrees to give an I, the student and instructor must complete a written agreement, a copy of which is filed with ENV, indicating the exact work needed to finish the course. This written agreement must also indicate the date by which the work must be completed, and that date cannot be longer than one calendar year from the end of the semester in which the student was enrolled in that course. By the end of the time agreed to in writing, the instructor must submit a permanent earned grade for the course. If no grade has been submitted then a permanent Incomplete is entered on the student's transcript.

Independent Study

Please consult with your faculty program advisor if you wish to utilize independent study to enhance your program of study. 

Transfer Credit

Transfer credits from other institutions are not accepted automatically, and in no case may the transferred credits exceed 9 credit hours (25% of the total minimum semester hours required for the MS degree). The student must petition the Graduate College to apply transfer credits toward the M.S. degree. Forms may be obtained from the Graduate College, and must be approved by the student's advisor and accompanied by official transcripts from the schools where the credits were earned.

Time Limits

All requirements for the M.S. degree, including courses accepted as transfer credit from other institutions, must be completed within a 6-year period from the date of enrollment in the first course on the program of study.

One extension of the time to complete degree requirements (of up to one year) may be granted if there are compelling extenuating circumstances. Extensions may be granted for a variety of reasons which may include, but are not limited to, job relocation, military duty, pregnancy, illness, a serious accident, divorce, or other personal tragedies within the immediate household.

Petitions for extension of the 6-year limit can be made in writing on forms available from the Graduate College. The petition must be supported by a letter from the Faculty Advisor and endorsed by the Director of ENV. The Director recommends the exception to the Dean of the Graduate College.

Credit Load

The minimum full-time credit load for a student is 9 hours. Students on assistantships (20 hours per week) are required to carry between 9 and 12 credit hours.

Teaching Assistantships

A limited number of Teaching Assistantships are available to graduate students in the Environmental Sciences and Policy program. These include an out-of-state Tuition Scholarship, which generally requires that in-state tuition be paid. A limited number of Tuition Scholarships waiving in-state tuition are also available, with eligibility limited to Arizona residents. A minimum semester and cumulative grade point average of 3.0, plus satisfactory progress in the degree program, are required for continued support.

Teaching Assistants are expected to devote 20 hours per week to their appointment, including teaching, office hours, preparations, testing and grading, and laboratory preparation. They should expect to have 6-12 student contact hours of teaching per week. They must have excellent command of spoken and written English and of the relevant subject matter. Teaching assistants must carry a course load of 9-12 hours per semester. All teaching assistants must attend the ENV and NAU Graduate Assistant Orientations each Fall, prior to the start of classes.

Teaching Assistants are expected to be in residence and available for assignment throughout the dates specified in their contract, beginning the first day and continuing through the last day of the contract. Faculty supervisors will complete a Graduate Assistant Evaluation at the end of each term of support; both supervisors and students are to review the evaluation, sign, and submit the form to the ENV Graduate Committee.

A Teaching Assistant's employment may be terminated for cause in the event of unacceptable performance or failure to make adequate academic progress that is not corrected after appropriate notice. Termination or any other disciplinary action is subject to the appeal process as stated in Graduate College policy documents.

Research Assistantships

A variable number of research assistantships are available from research funds granted to the university and under the direction of individual faculty members. Recommendations for these appointments are made by the faculty members who administer these funds. Inquiries about availability should be made to the faculty doing research in the area in which the student is interested. These appointments include out-of-state tuition waivers, and have a commitment of 20 hours per week during the academic year. Research assistants must carry a course load of 9-12 hours per semester. A minimum semester and cumulative grade point average of 3.0, plus satisfactory progress in the degree program, are required for continued support. Faculty supervisors will complete a Graduate Assistant Evaluation at the end of each term of support; both supervisors and students are to review the evaluation, sign, and submit the form to the ENV Graduate Committee.

Tuition Scholarships

A very limited number of scholarships waiving either in-state or out-of-state tuition are available from the Graduate College upon recommendation from the Center for Sustainable Environments. Requests for information should be directed to the ENV Graduate Committee Chair.

Duration of Support

Graduate students in a Master's Program may receive two full academic years (four semesters) of support, regardless of its source, as long as they are making satisfactory progress toward completion of their degree requirements and receive satisfactory job performance evaluations. Satisfactory progress is evaluated by the student's Program Committee and the ENV Graduate Committee.

Revised 2010.12.7