About the Master’s in Conservation Ecology & Sustainable Development

The Conservation Ecology and Sustainable Development (CESD) master’s program aims to train the next generation of conservation professionals. The program combines coursework for building practical skills and essential knowledge with a master’s thesis under the direction of faculty members with both academic expertise and real-world conservation experience. Many graduates of the program hold leadership positions in conservation organizations and state and federal management agencies, while others have gone on to earn PhDs and law degrees.

The need for such a program is found in the major global problems we face today, including the rapid depletion of our natural resources and the loss of biodiversity and remnant ‘natural’ areas in the landscape. The maintenance of our quality of life, or even a decent standard of living, depends on our ability to make the right decisions on the long-term sustainability of resource use. These decisions must be made within a holistic framework, where considerations of the physical and biological properties of ecosystems are evaluated within the social and economic context of a community. This holistic framework for decision-making is a strength of UGA’s Odum School of Ecology.

Objectives of the CESD program

The objectives of the CESD program are:

  1. to offer a flexible training program at the M.S. level that provides interdisciplinary skills in decision-making in the areas of conservation ecology and sustainable development; and
  2. to perform research that provides hands-on applied field experience for students.

The structure of the Odum School of Ecology, with its ongoing interdisciplinary activities, provides the physical and intellectual environment needed for such a program. The Odum School of Ecology draws faculty members from 17 campus schools and departments, Cooperative Extension, the Savannah River Ecology Lab, the USDA, the USGS, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center.


Facilities of the Odum School of Ecology in Athens and off campus provide students exceptional opportunities for ecological training. Our off-campus locations include the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, the UGA Marine Institute at Sapelo Island, the UGA Wormsloe Center for Research and Education, the UGA Costa Rica campus in San Luis, among others.


The CESD program has attracted outstanding students and produced exceptionally talented ecological scientists, many of whom are now leaders in the field. Our alumni have used the CESD master’s program as a foundation to obtain positions with government agencies working at the global, national and local levels, including U.S. AID, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Park Service, as well as nongovernmental organizations such as The Nature Conservancy. Many have used the CESD M.S. program as a portal to Ph.D. or other advanced degree programs. In many cases, the M.S. thesis products of CESD alumni have provided specific services to communities in need.

Several graduates have been successful in developing collaborations with conservation and development agencies in the U.S. and abroad which have led to employment opportunities following graduation. Profiles of some of our alumni can be found at CESD Alumni.

C.E.S.D. Tracks

Students in the C.E.S.D. program can choose from three thematic tracks: Conservation Ecology, Sustainable Development, or Environmental Policy. All tracks require the same core courses, but have different recommended electives to provide focused preparation for different conservation careers. Selection of a track program and appropriate electives should be made in consultation with the advisor and must be approved by the student’s advisory committee as part of the Program of Study.

A list of electives appropriate for the program is available here.

Please visit the Odum Admissions page for more information on applying to our programs or contact Julie Escobedo Gunby.

“Given Eugene Odum’s influence throughout my career, beginning during my undergraduate education in Peru, I can hardly imagine a higher honor than having his name on my diploma.”
– Hugo Collantes (M.S. Conservation Ecology, Class of ’07)

Course Requirements

About CESD Course Work

The program consists of a minimum of 30 hours, including 10 hours of interdisciplinary core courses on principles of conservation and sustainable development.

Interdisciplinary Core Courses:

    1.  Principles of Conservation and Sustainable Development I (ECOL 6080), 4 credits, offered in the fall only.
    2.  Environmental Practicum (ECOL 8710), 4 credits, offered in the spring only.
    3.  Perspectives on Conservation Ecology and Sustainable Development (ECOL 8400), 2 credits, offered in the fall only.