Build Skills to Make Change with Online Sustainability Graduate Programs

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December 14, 2023  |  by Heidi Wells, Global Campus

From catastrophic floods to extreme droughts, we don't have to look far to see evidence that the environment is out of balance. Developing leaders who can combat these challenges is the primary driver behind the Environmental Resiliency and Sustainability graduate programs offered online by the University of Arkansas.

"We have been working out of boundaries with the natural world, and we see the effects that these have on us throughout all aspects of our lives," says Professor Ken McCown, head of the Department of Landscape Architecture and the director of the sustainability and environmental resilience curricula at the University of Arkansas. "I think at this point everybody gets what's happening out there, even if we don't agree on why it's happening."

Climate change is seen as a pressing issue by most Americans. According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of U.S. adults (54%) describe climate change as a major threat to the nation's well-being, and 61% say global climate change is affecting their local community a great deal or some.

But a 2023 poll conducted by Ipsos, one of the world's largest insights and analytics companies, finds that Americans are split on what is causing climate change. About half (49%) blame human activity while 27% believe it is mostly caused by natural patterns – and 7% believe climate change isn't happening at all.

To develop professionals who have the skills to respond to these changes, the U of A offers graduate programs online focused on environmental resilience and sustainability.

What is environmental resilience?

"Environmental resilience is a way of coming to understand the places where we live and the communities where we live in a much more robust way," McCown explains. "We can't solve these challenges through very simple mathematical formulas. There are no quick fixes. We need a robust toolset to respond to these challenges, change, and the transformations that we need to make."


U of A Alumni Offer Insight on Sustainability Graduate Programs

To help people develop these skill sets, McCown and Jo Ann Kvamme, assistant director of the U of A Environmental Dynamics Program, teamed up to create and deliver the Environmental Resiliency and Sustainability graduate programs offered online through the U of A. They leaned heavily on input from U of A graduates who are out in the field.

Kvamme says when she asked Environmental Dynamics Program graduates what skills they feel are lacking – both in the workplace and in job applicants – they came back with 30 different online courses for U of A to offer.

"Most of them actually stepped up to create and teach those courses," Kvamme notes.

Adds McCown: "This is a faculty that's complained, so to speak, about not having the workforce they want, but they also stepped up and said, 'We're willing to train that workforce.'"

Students who are choosing U of A's environmental resilience and sustainability certification are often in the workforce and recognize a need to "skill up" to be effective in their jobs and advance their careers, McCown adds.

"This program exposes students to the ideas that exist within resiliency as a way to frame the problems that we're facing. It then gives them a set of both social and scientific tools. The social aspect includes leadership, and the scientific aspect includes certification, accounting, and metrics," McCown explains. "That's what we're trying to do."


Sustainability Graduate Programs Combine Two U of A Powerhouses

Kvamme says students benefit from the fact that the online programs in environmental resilience and sustainability involve both U of A's Landscape Architecture Department and the Environmental Dynamics Program. McCown and Kvamme were creating online programs independently when they decided to combine their efforts.

"There was amazing overlap," Kvamme says. "We're looking at things from a different angle, and so students get a better, well-rounded view of what they're learning."

"They have the scientific method," McCown says of the Environmental Dynamics Program. "They have the science, which provides evidence for policy, and then we use that policy to do planning and design. So, we have this comprehensive way of looking at the environment. Then when we design, we can measure it and come back and recalibrate the policies. It is an amazing connection that we have between our departments."

Everybody on the faculty has a Ph.D. and actively practices in the private, nonprofit or government sector. That's a significant benefit to students, McCown adds.

"Students get access to a world-class faculty that have a strong grounding in the knowledge of the ideas and the areas that the students are interested in exploring," he says. "Because they're learning from faculty who are all practicing, the students have a tangible means of understanding how to take those ideas and deploy them in the workforce.

"We're not dealing with people that are just in the workforce and not keeping up with the latest news, practices and ideas. And we're not dealing with people that just live in the ideas realm but aren't applying that knowledge. We have this faculty that has a beautiful middle ground, and they're going to connect with our students and really benefit them."


Graduate Programs Help Students Advance in Their Sustainability Careers

Students who are interested in the U of A's online programs are people who want to change jobs and move into sustainability and resiliency careers. They are looking to advance their current skills such as land management, they are working in government roles, or they choose to continue their education at the graduate level to help them advance in their careers, Kvamme says.

Another benefit: "Many of these individuals are making really important decisions that are going to affect our future. The more information they learn from a program like this, the better decisions they're going to make," Kvamme maintains.

U of A offers a Master of Science in Environmental Resiliency as well as graduate certificates in:

U of A's newest offerings are 100% online graduate microcertificates. They are designed to help you build specific skills and knowledge so you can stand out for environmental resilience and sustainability jobs – whether you're looking to change jobs or otherwise advance your career. U of A offers these four graduate-level microcertificates online:

You will need a bachelor's degree from an accredited university to pursue the microcertificates, which are each three courses (9 credit hours) and take two semesters to complete. The microcertificates are stackable. That means you can put two microcertificates together (or one microcertificate and two extra classes) to earn a graduate certificate. By completing 10 courses online, you'll earn the U of A's M.S. in Environmental Resiliency.


Which Online Program is Best for You?

If you're looking to change sustainability jobs or get promoted in the field of environmental resilience, the microcertificates are a great place to start. You can focus on the one that will have an immediate impact and, if desired, continue on to earn the M.S. in environmental resiliency.

"We have a lot of mixing and matching available," Kvamme says. "People can take courses that would benefit their situation. I would be surprised if people stop at (earning) one microcertificate. They're going to start stacking them because there are things in each one that really add value to what they want to achieve."

Each microcertificate is distinctive. Here's a short synopsis of each to help you choose the best one to select first.

  • Environmental resiliency: If you're a professional who is looking to better understand resiliency, this microcertificate will give you a strong foundation. You'll learn about environmental resilience, socially catalyzed resilience and socio- environmental resilience.
  • Environmental resiliency, certifications, accounting and metrics: If you're interested in taking on a more impactful role, this microcertificate will help you master the certifications being used to move companies and governments toward a more sustainable and resilient future. You'll expand your expertise in resiliency and sustainability certifications, accounting and metrics.
  • Environmental resiliency leadership: If you want to unlock your potential as a leader in sustainability, this microcertificate will teach you to understand the critical aspects of environmental resilience and leadership. You'll be prepared to make a more meaningful impact in your role and in your community.
  • Sustainability: If you want to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive understanding of sustainability, this is the ideal sustainability certification for you. You'll learn to apply sustainability principles to real-world case studies, ranging from local to global.

If you don't have any sustainability experience, McCown suggests starting with the sustainability microcertificate.

"You need to play checkers before you play chess," he says. "Start with sustainability, which includes a course called the Foundations of Resiliency. That course is our hub for the entire program. If your intent is to do anything past one microcertificate, you're going to take that course. It forms a common way of looking at resiliency through all the microcertificates and electives."


Learn More About U of A ONLINE Sustainability Graduate Programs

Ken McCown
Ken McCown
Jo Ann Kvamme
Jo Ann Kvamme

If you want to become a leader in sustainability and environmental resilience efforts, start with the microcertificates and stack them toward graduate certificates and the Master of Science in Environmental Resiliency.

If you're unsure which microcertificate is best for you, reach out to Jo Ann Kvamme (; 479-575-6603) or Ken McCown (; 479-575-4907). They're both happy to assist you.

"If you're passionate and want to make change through sustainability and environmental resilience, this is an opportunity to convene with a group of people that have that same passion," McCown says. "I think everybody says, well, I'll recycle, but this is for people who really, really want to step forward and help."

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Heidi Wells

Content Strategist

Heidi Wells is the content strategist for the Global Campus at the University of Arkansas and editor of The Online Learner. Her writing spans more than 30 years as a communicator at the U of A and a reporter and editor at Arkansas newspapers. Wells earned two degrees from the U of A: a master's in 2013 and a bachelor's in 1988.

Wells can be reached at or 479-575-7239.

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Master of Science in Environmental Resiliency

Coursework will prepare professionals to lead sustainability and resiliency efforts through their work and community roles. It provides a comprehensive understanding of the science, theory, and methods needed to assist them in making policy decisions and to realize the potential implications of their organizations’ policies.

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