banner USF Home College of Arts & Sciences OASIS myUSF USF A-Z Index

USF Home > College of Arts and Sciences > School of Geosciences

Environmental Science and Policy (ESP) Graduate Program

Additional information for the MS and PhD programs can be found in the USF Tampa Graduate Catalog

Please contact the Graduate Director or Academic Program Specialist (see below) with any questions regarding the ESP Master's or Doctoral Degree Program.

Graduate Program Director:

Dr. Ruiliang Pu
Office: NES 213

Graduate Program Specialist:

Davina St. Catherine
Office: NES 206
Phone: 813-974-9854

MS Degree in Environmental Science & Policy

The Master's of Science degree in Environmental Science and Policy (ESP) is a unique interdisciplinary program that incorporates courses from various colleges across the University. Although there are courses in the core of ESP, the degree also offers students the opportunity to choose an area of concentration. This degree is intended to bring together faculty and students with a breadth of knowledge and curiosity about the environment. The program is broad in that it allows students to explore issues in both environmental science and policy, but it is specific in that students may specialize in an area that focuses on his/her unique interests.

Degree Requirements

Environmental Science and Policy Graduate Handbook

Credit Hours:

To earn an MS degree in ESP, students must complete at least 36 hours of coursework according to the guidelines specified in the current Graduate Catalog and in the Environmental Science and Policy Graduate Handbook. There are two options, a thesis option and a non-thesis option. The thesis option is designed for students who wish to complete original research as part of their graduate studies. The thesis option is a viable option for all students. Those intending to continue graduate work to the PhD level are strongly encouraged to complete a thesis. Thesis option students must pass a comprehensive oral exam to the satisfaction of the student’s Supervisory Committee. Students choosing the non-thesis option must include an additional 8-9 hours of elective coursework to replace the supervised research credit hours taken under a thesis option, keeping in mind that a minimum degree requirement is 16 hours at the 6000 level. Non-thesis option students must pass a six-hour written comprehensive exam during the semester they plan to graduate.

Required Courses

  1. Core courses: 15 credits
  2. Elective courses: 12 credits
  3. Supervised research (thesis preparation and research methods/design course): 8 or 9 credits
  4. Research Colloquium: 1 credit

Coursework in these categories is selected according to the guidelines specified in the Graduate Catalog and in discussion with your major professor or the Graduate Director


Students may choose to focus their elective coursework from the following areas of concentration (tracks):

  1. Ecology
  2. Environmental Policy and Management
  3. Geology
  4. Hydrogeology
  5. Hazards Assessment and Mitigation
  6. Urban Environment
  7. Water Quality and Policy
Please consult the Environmental Science and Policy Graduate Handbook for further details regarding an MS Degree in ESP.

PhD Degree Track in Environmental Science & Policy

The PhD Degree in Environmental Science and Policy is an interdisciplinary program. Emphasis is placed on providing theoretical rigor and methodological skills enabling students to make significant and original research and policy contributions in an interdisciplinary environment. In addition, the degree has a very strong applied component emphasizing working on solutions to real-world environmental problems.

Geography and Environmental Science and Policy Doctoral Program Handbook

Program Areas of Emphasis

Many organizations, including the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, have recognized the need for expanding interdisciplinary research to handle real-world problems. The ESP Doctoral Program distinctly focuses on developing state-of-the-art researchers able to navigate in today’s complex world. We anticipate that our students will address many important local, regional, national, and global issues that require a cross-disciplinary perspective. To that end, a PhD Degree in ESP serves their respective disciplines by expanding opportunities for students interested in complex social and environmental problems. The degree currently has five particular areas of emphasis that reflect the strengths of existing faculty and key research needs. The five current areas of emphasis are:

  1. Economic, Social, and Planning Issues in the Urban Environment
  2. Karst Science and Climate Change
  3. Natural/Technological Hazards and Health
  4. Biogeography and Landscape Ecology
  5. Water Resources and Policy

The Economic, Social, and Planning Issues in the Urban Environment emphasis provides a framework for studying the economic and social issues associated with urbanization. As much of the world is transitioning from rural to urban societies, there are a number of research questions that are critical to the understanding of this process and the overall implications of development to human society.

The Karst Science and Climate Change emphasis provides a unique niche for the department. There are only a handful of departments in the world that offer Ph.D. level instruction in the area of karst science, although approximately 20 percent of the earth’s land surface is considered a karst landscape. Similarly, the study of climate change is important at both the regional and global level. This area of the proposed degree program has a high-tech, applied orientation through which an understanding of emerging problems related to such change is gained.

The Natural/Technological Hazards and Health emphasis encourages research on a wide array of issues such as vulnerability of populations to hazards and the impact of pollution on health. This type of research is increasingly important as our societies become more susceptible to the impacts of hazards due to population locations and economic conditions. Risk assessment and management for natural/technological hazard mitigation is a growing area of concentration.

The Biogeography and Landscape Ecology emphasis builds on strengths of faculty engaged in examining ecological research and public policy questions associated with the geography of plant and animal communities and the conservation of rare and endangered species. This area of research is increasingly important as development and urban growth increasingly place humans and human activities in conflict with the habitats and ranges of native animal and plant species in different regions of the world.

The Water Resources and Policy emphasis provides a concentration in the science and policy study of water quality and water supply. Research and teaching topics include developing new and innovative methods to detect and evaluate changes to water quality and availability resulting from urban systems and other human impacts; and assessing effectiveness of protection and control measures that have been implemented or proposed to prevent or reverse these impacts.

New areas of emphasis can also be created that reflect student needs and desires, and additional faculty interests. There are a wide variety of graduate courses in the areas of emphasis available in the School of Geosciences and approved coursework can also be completed in other departments.

Note: Students entering the PhD program directly from a bachelor’s degree must take the courses required for MS Degree in the Environmental Science and Policy Program, and/or other courses designated by the Graduate Director of the program before taking core courses toward the PhD.

Please consult the Doctoral Program Handbook for further details regarding a PhD Degree in Environmental Science & Policy.