MSDP Curriculum

All students in the Master’s Sustainable Development Program must meet the same coursework and requirements as other Master's Civil Engineering students.

In addition to general degree requirements and elective credits, students in the Master’s Sustainable Development Program have two required classes and a nine-month international experience as part of their coursework at the University of Minnesota. The curriculum is outlined below, followed by a list of elective options.


Students spend their first semester at the University of Minnesota. They then have three options for their 9-month international experience:

  1. Pilot their own solution developed in GCC 5005 and CE 5572 to address a social or environmental problem abroad.
  2. Pursue a project with an existing organization abroad.
  3. Conduct an international research experience abroad.

Students should plan to identify their own international opportunity based on their interests. They should begin researching and discussing options with program faculty during their first fall semester or earlier.

Following their nine-month experience abroad, students return to the University of Minnesota to complete their final semester.

Typical Schedule

The following schedule represents a typical arrangement for students while in residence at the University of Minnesota.

Student standing over a trench

Fall semester, 1st year
GCC5005 — Global Venture Design: What Impact Can You Have?
2 Technical core courses
Elective (outside of CEGE)

Spring semester, 1st year
CEGE 5572 — Social Venture Launchpad (January)
CEGE 5570/5582 — Design for Sustainable Development: Discovery India or Nicaragua (May)

9-month International Experience — Leave in spring of 1st year, return December of 2nd year in the program.

Spring semester, 2nd year
2 Technical core-content courses
Elective(s) (outside of CEGE)

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Required Courses

CEGE 5570 — Design for Sustainable Development (3 credits). Two sections of this course are offered overseas every year during the May Session. One section takes place in Nicaragua and the other in India.

GCC 5005 — Global Venture Design: What Impact Can You Have? (4 credits; offered every year during fall semester).

International Project (9 months, from the spring of the first year through the fall of the second year, including the summer semester between year 1 and year 2) — Students will complete 3 semesters of this 1-credit fieldwork course during their 9-month assignment abroad with Acara. Those 3 fieldwork credits are required to complete the Master's Sustainable Development degree. Each term, students submit a report documenting technical and non-technical challenges they faced, approaches they used to address these challenges, the outcomes, and goals for the coming semester. We hope that this report will offer participants a useful chance to reflect on their experiences each semester, and to obtain guidance and advising from faculty. To facilitate this process for students overseas, students can enroll in the 1-credit fieldwork course online, and also can submit reports via email.


CEGE 5572 — Social Venture Launchpad (2 credits; offered every January term)

CEGE 5572 is an intensive one-week course on how to turn an idea into a viable social business model. No prior experience with a business class (or even an interest in taking one) is needed. The class is geared towards a multidisciplinary audience, with a wide variety of skills and backgrounds. The goal of the class is to work on technologies or ideas that address a grand challenge in a financially self-sustaining manner. The class assumes that students have an idea (potential solution) in mind, which they will explore and develop during the class. Students are encouraged to focus on a specific community – overseas or locally. Student teams are allowed and encouraged to take the course (i.e., students already working in a team can take the class together). The course features numerous guest lecturers, discussions and activities for the aspiring social entrepreneur. Students and teams from this course will be strongly encouraged to compete in the Acara Challenge for prizes and fellowship money to successfully launch their venture.

Technical Courses

The required core technical courses will depend on whether a student concentrates in environmental engineering or in water resources engineering.

For MSDP students emphasizing in environmental engineering, three of the four core technical courses are as follows:

  • Environmental Microbiology (with lab; 4 credits) or Air Quality Engineering (3 credits)
  • Theory of Unit Operations (4 credits)
  • Environmental Chemistry (3 credits)

For MSDP students emphasizing in water resources engineering, two of the four core technical courses are as follows:

  • Either Hydraulic Structures (3 credits) or Open Channel Hydraulics (4 credits)
  • Introduction to Stream Restoration (3 credits)

The Graduate Handbook and the Program Completion Procedures provide additional information on departmental requirements that all graduate students need to meet (for example, students must take two 8xxx-level courses of 3 or 4 credits each and must complete a minimum of 100 hours of project work).

Elective Courses (within and outside of CEGE)

Students are required to take a minimum of six graduate-level credits outside of the major (classes outside CEGE) in topics such as public health, development studies, economics, entrepreneurship, or other classes related to the student's interest and likely work overseas.

Below is a list of elective courses that may be of interest to MSDP students. Students must check the current schedule of classes from the registrar when selecting courses. The list below is meant to give applicants a general sense of the types of courses offered at University of Minnesota. The list below includes courses offered within and outside of CEGE.

Electives: CEGE

CEGE 4351 — Groundwater Mechanics (3.0 cr; fall, every year) Shallow confined and unconfined flows. Two-dimensional flow in vertical plane, transient flow. Flow toward wells. Determination of streamlines and pathlines in two and three dimensions. Introduction to contaminant transport. Elementary computer modeling.

CEGE 4352 — Groundwater Modeling (3.0 cr; spring, offered periodically) Analytic element method. Mathematical and computer modeling of single and multiple aquifer systems. Field problems. Theory and application of contaminant transport models, including capture zone analysis.

CEGE 4511 — Hydraulic Structures (3.0 cr; fall, alt. years) Hydraulic design procedures for culverts, dams, spillways, outlet works, and river control works. Drop structures, water intakes, bridge crossings.

CEGE 4512 — Open Channel Hydraulics (4.0 cr; fall or spring, alt. years) Theories of flow in open channels, including gradually varied and rapidly varied flows, steady and unsteady flows. Computational methods for unsteady open channel flows, applications to flood routing. Introduction to moveable bed mechanics.

CEGE 4561 — Solids and Hazardous Wastes (3.0 cr; fall or spring, every year) Solid and hazardous waste characterization; regulatory legislation; waste minimization; resource recovery; chemical, physical, and biological treatment; thermal processes; disposal practices. Analysis and design of systems for treatment and disposal.

CEGE 4562 — Environmental Remediation Technologies (3.0 cr; spring, every year) Technologies designed for removal of pollutants from groundwater and soils. Advances in technological design. Emerging technologies such as in situ bioremediation, phytoremediation. Role of environmental biotechnology in pollution abatement.

CEGE 5511 — Urban Hydrology and Water Quality (4.0 cr; fall, alt. years) Urban hydrology for small watersheds and the management of stormwater quality and quantity. Methods to access and improve  storage, infiltration, and pollutant removal.

CEGE 5541 — Environmental Water Chemistry (3.0 cr; fall, every year) Introduction to water chemistry. Physical chemical principles, geochemical processes controlling chemical composition of waters, behavior of contaminants that affect the suitability of water for beneficial uses.

CEGE 5542 — Experimental Methods in Environmental Engineering (3.0 cr; fall or spring, offered periodically) Tools necessary to conduct research in environmental engineering and chemistry. Theory of operation of analytical equipment. Sampling and data handling methods, statistical analyses, experimental design, laboratory safety. Lecture, laboratory.

CEGE 5551 — Environmental Microbiology (3.0 cr; fall, every year) Role of microorganisms in environmental bioremediation, pollution control, water/wastewater treatment, biogeochemistry, and human health. Lecture.

CEGE 5552 — Environmental Microbiology Laboratory (1.0 cr; fall, every year) Basic microbiological techniques: isolation, identification/enumeration of bacteria, BOD, biodegradable kinetics, disinfection. Lab.

CEGE 5581 — Water Resources: Individuals and Institutions (3.0 cr; fall or spring, every year) Control of water resources by natural system functions, user actions. Influence of social, economic, and political institutions. Water resource policy in the United States. Case studies (e.g., flood/drought management).

CEGE 8361 — Engineering Model Fitting (3.0 cr; fall, alt. years) Parameter estimation and inverse modeling for civil and geological engineering. Formulating engineering model fitting problems; comparing and selecting various fit criteria; implementing numerical algorithms; analyzing and interpreting results using both statistical and qualitative tools; designing future measurement plans.

CEGE 8500 — Environmental Seminar (1.0 cr spring, every year) Broad coverage of topics in environmental engineering and science. Speakers consist primarily of graduate students in these areas, but presentations may also be given by University faculty and guest speakers.

CEGE 8501 — Environmental Fluid Mechanics I (4.0 cr; fall, every year) Basic laws of mass, energy, and momentum transport in environmental fluid flow. Exact and approximate solutions for viscous flow. Irrotational flow; gravity waves. Similitude and inspectional analysis. Laminar boundary layers and slender flows. Application to engineering and environmental problems.

CEGE 8502 — Environmental Fluid Mechanics II (4.0 cr; spring, every year) Reynolds equations. Developed and developing turbulent boundary layers and slender flows, and their interaction with inviscid flow. Jets, plumes, wakes and shear layers. Statistical description of turbulence; data analysis.

CEGE 8503 — Environmental Mass Transport (4.0 cr; fall, alt. years) Principles of intraphase and interfacial chemical transport and fate in the environment, specifically the processes of diffusion, dispersion, and convection. Application to surface water and atmospheric mixing, dispersion in groundwater, and transport between these media.

CEGE 8504 — Theory of Unit Operations (4.0 cr; fall or spring, every year) Theoretical basis, design, and operation of chemical and physical processes used in treating and controlling water quality, including adsorption, ion exchange, sedimentation, thickening, filtration, gas transfer, coagulation, flocculation, membrane processes, and disinfection.

CEGE 8505 — Biological Processes (3.0 cr; spring, every year) Theoretical principles underlying chemical and biological wastewater treatment processes, including aerobic and anaerobic treatment for organic carbon and nutrient removal. Mathematical models of microbial growth kinetics and mass transport in suspended growth and attached film applications are developed.

CEGE 8506 — Stochastic Hydrology (4.0 cr; fall, alt. years) Analysis and synthesis of hydrologic series and systems; derived distributions; uncertainty and risk analysis; flood frequency analysis; multivariate time series analysis; correlation and spectral analysis; series of long-range dependence; linear estimation; geostatistics; sampling networks; hydrologic forecasting.

CEGE 8507 — Advanced Methods in Hydrology (4.0 cr; fall, alt. years) Notions of scale-invariance, scaling, and multiscaling in geophysical processes; methods of multiscale analysis; wavelet transforms; time-frequency-scale analysis and fractal analysis. Applications in atmospheric, hydrologic, and geomorphologic processes.

CEGE 8508 — Ecological Fluid Mechanics (4.0 cr; fall, alt. year) Fluid mechanics of microbiological processes in lakes, rivers, and wetlands. Small-scale fluid motion, nutrient uptake, growth kinetics, ecosystem metabolism, scaling, lab/field microstructure measurements.

CEGE 8511 — Mechanics of Sediment Transport (3.0 cr; fall or spring, alt. years) Particle motion in fluids. Criteria for incipient motion. Formulations for bedload and suspended load. Bedform mechanics and hydraulic resistance relations. Channel stability, aggradation and degradation, alluvial stream morphology.

CEGE 8541 — Aquatic Chemistry (3.0 cr; spring, offered periodically) Advanced course on water chemistry; physical chemical principles and geochemical processes controlling the chemical composition of natural waters, soil- and sediment-water interactions. Emphasizes behavior of inorganic contaminants in natural waters and engineered systems and dissolved natural organic matter.

CEGE 8542 — Chemistry of Organic Pollutants in Environmental Systems (3.0 cr; fall or spring, offered periodically) Structural characteristics and physico-chemical properties of organic contaminants in aquatic systems. Emphasizes PCBs, PAHs, dioxins, insecticides, herbicides, and chlorinated solvents. Factors affecting their transport/transformation. Structure- and property-activity relationships, their use in predicting organic chemical behavior.

CEGE 8551 — Environmental Microbiology: Molecular Theory and Methods (4.0 cr; fall, alt. years) Introduction to microbial genetics and molecular phylogeny. Application of nucleic-acid techniques in environmental microbiology and microbial ecology.

CEGE 8552 — Groundwater Microbiology: Laboratory (4.0 cr; offered periodically) Subsurface microbial ecology, biogeochemical cycling, metabolic classification of subsurface bacteria, modeling bacterial transport, diagnosis of microbial induced fouling (MIF) events, bioremediation of contaminated aquifers. Lectures and four lab hours per week.

CEGE 8553 — Biofilms (3.0 cr; offered periodically) Science/engineering concepts to investigate formation/function of biofilms. Properties/composition of biofilms, transport/transformation processes in biofilms, communication in biofilms, mathematical modeling. Applications in environmental engineering.

CEGE 8561 — Analysis and Modeling of Aquatic Environments I (3.0 cr; spring, every year) Introduction to hydrologic transport and water quality simulation in natural water systems. Deterministic, process-oriented water quality model development. Mixed cell models, advection, turbulent diffusion/dispersion. Chemical/biological kinetics in water quality models. Application of water quality models to management problems.

CEGE 8562 — Analysis and Modeling of Aquatic Environments II (3.0 cr, fall or spring, offered periodically) Models for transport/transformation of pollutants, nutrients, particulates, ecosystems, etc., from recently completed theses, articles, or research in progress. Students review assigned recent papers, make presentations, and analyze a topic of their choice.

CEGE 8563 — Industrial Waste Treatment (3.0 cr; fall or spring, offered periodically) Introduction to industrial waste treatment. Individual industries, emphasizing constituents of the waste-stream and how best to recycle, recover, or reduce wastes. Cost concerns and regulations. Field trips to various industries to gain first-hand knowledge of processes involved in treatment.

CEGE 8601 — Introduction to Stream Restoration (3.0 cr; fall, every year) Background material required to participate in a stream restoration project. How to assimilate geologic, hydrologic, and ecological data at watershed and reach scales to plan a restoration project and evaluate/critique existing stream restoration projects.

CEGE 8602 — Stream Restoration Practice (2.0 cr; summer, every year) Field experience, group design project. Students provide a stream restoration context for each other's elective coursework, complete critical assessments of stream restoration projects, and design a stream restoration site.

Electives: Public Health

PUBH 6101 — Environmental Health (2.0 cr; fall, spring, every year) Principles of environmental health relating to macro-/micro-environments and to products consumed or used by people.

PUBH 6104 — Environmental Health Effects: Introduction to Toxicology (2.0 cr; fall, every year) Environment as a determinant of disease in humans. Identifying biological mechanisms/effects of chemical, biological, and physical agents on human health. Principles of toxicology as they apply to toxicant-human interactions.

PUBH 6111 — Preventing Pollution: Innovative Approaches to Environmental Management (3.0 cr; fall or spring, offered periodically) Interdisciplinary approach to pollution problems, including sustainability, pollution prevention, risk assessment, regulatory reform, and strategic environmental management.

PUBH 6131 — Working in Global Health (2.0 cr; fall, every year) Introduction to key issues in global health. Global burden of disease. Cultural issues and health. Nutrition. Infectious diseases. Environmental problems. Women and children.

PUBH 6132 — Air, Water, and Health (2.0 cr; spring, every year) Issues related to providing adequate levels of clean air/water. Local water quantity/quality, air quality in developed/developing world, global air/water quality, policies meant to protect these resources.

PUBH 6171 — Exposure Assessment for Air Contaminants (3.0 cr; fall, every year) Airborne contaminants in outdoor/indoor environments. Emphasizes workplace environments. General physical properties of matter in gaseous/aerosol forms. Measurement/characterization of airborne concentrations of pollutants, human exposures to them. Setting of health-related environmental standards.

PUBH 6176 — Hazardous Materials and Waste Management (2.0 cr; fall, even years)

PUBH 6182 — Emerging Infectious Disease: Current Issues, Policies, and Controversies (3.0 cr; spring, every year) Issues/controversies surrounding emerging infectious diseases. Framework for considering realistic/innovative policies. Bioterrorism, public health preparedness. Pandemic influenza preparedness, smallpox vaccination, antibiotic resistance.

Electives: Development Studies

PA 5253 — Designing Planning and Participation Processes (3.0 cr; fall, every year; admission by non-PA students may require instructor’s permission) Theory/practice of design, implementation, and evaluation of planning/participation processes. Types of planning. Stakeholders, including underrepresented groups. Costs/benefits of participation. Participant roles. Planning/participation tools/techniques.

PA 5301 — Population Methods and Issues for the United States and Global South (3.0 cr; spring, offered periodically) Basic demographic measures/methodology. Demographic transition, mortality, fertility. Diverse perspectives on nonmarital fertility, marriage, divorce, and cohabitation. Cultural differences in family structure, aging, migration, refugee movements, population policies. Discussion of readings on population growth and environment.

PA 5401 — Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy (3.0 cr; fall, spring, offered periodically; admission by non-PA students may require instructor’s permission) Nature/extent of poverty/inequality in the United States, causes/consequences, impact of government programs/policies. Extent/causes of poverty/inequality in other developed/developing countries. Preventing hazards from chemicals that threaten occupational/environmental health. Lectures, case studies, workshops, field trips.

PA 5414 — Child Human Rights: Work and Education (3.0 cr; spring, even years) International child labor issues. Options for improving child well-being, including policies/programs that have potential to affect the lives of millions of children.

PA 5522 — International Development Policy, Families, and Health (3.0 cr; spring, every year) Implications of paid/unpaid labor for development policy, using household as prism. Legal/cultural use of property rights. Financial effects of ill health. Caregiving. Work-family conflict, policies that alleviate it. Role of gender. Qualitativequantitative methods. Readings, lectures, discussions.

GEOG 4121W — Latin America (4.0 cr; spring, every year) Interplay of natural environment and history in shaping contemporary Latin America. Political ecology of natural resources, food supply and distribution, urbanization and the informal economy, migration, ethnicity, and the role of the state and international agencies in domestic economies.

GEOG 5385 — Globalization and Development: Political Economy (4.0 cr; fall or spring, offered periodically) Nature/scope of modern world system (capitalism), its impact on regional development processes. Roles of state and of international financial institutions.

GEOG 5401 — Geography of Environmental Systems and Global Change (4.0 cr; fall or spring, offered periodically) Processes that create/change the spatial patterns of climate, vegetation, and soils. Potential of humans to alter climate, vegetation, and soil processes. Possible impacts of human-altered environmental conditions.

GEOG 5561 — Principles of Geographic Information Science (4.0 cr; fall, spring, every year) Introduction to the study of geographic information systems (GIS) for geography and non-geography students. Topics include GIS application domains, data models and sources, analysis methods and output techniques. Lectures, reading, and hands-on experience with GIS software.

APEC 4103 — World Food Problems (3.0 cr; spring, every year) A multi-disciplinary look at problems and possible solutions affecting food production, storage, and utilization in developing countries. Presentations and discussions introduce conflicting views on population, technology, and ethical and cultural values of people in various parts of the world.

APEC 5731 — Economic Growth and International Development (3.0 cr; spring, offered periodically) Economics of research/development. Technical change, productivity growth. Impact of technology on institutions. Science/technology policy.

Electives: Management/Entrepreneurship

PA 5190 — Topics in Public and Nonprofit Leadership and Management
This 4-day skills-based course will introduce participants to select integrative leadership strategies useful in addressing global grand challenges. Specifically, we will focus on leadership practices that foster collective action across diverse groups of people, including: 1. Hosting dialogue, debate and deliberation; 2. Mapping polarities and balancing paradox 3. Designing inclusive decision-making processes; Not surprisingly, grand challenges often emerge at the convergence of systems, sectors, or global institutions. For example, the grand challenges at the convergence of human health, animal health, economic development and environmental change include such issues as global food security, emerging infectious diseases, climate change, antimicrobial use and the control of catastrophic animal diseases with significant adverse effects on global economies. The course culminates on Thursday, January 17th with an opportunity for participants to apply key leadership skills in a public setting with multi-sector stakeholders. Students will serve as co-hosts along with course instructors for a day-long professional forum to address a contemporary food security grand challenge that is also a paradoxical dilemma conducive to polarity mapping: balancing animal well-being and agricultural worker safety. This Finding Common Ground Forum is hosted by the University of Minnesota's Center for Integrative Leadership (CIL) and the Global Initiative for Food Systems Leadership (GIFSL). Following the Forum, students will meet for dinner, a Forum de-brief, and discussion of course follow-up assignments (which will be completed on-line).

MGMT 6100 — STARTUP: Lean Venture Development
This class is offered to graduate students who are currently developing or launching their own business concept. This 2-credit full-semester course meets periodically (six times including presentations) early in the semester to share lean startup content and related materials. The bulk of the work will be done outside of the traditional classroom. An entrepreneurial mentor is provided to each student during the last half of the semester, along with legal support and an opportunity to seek small seed capital grants to co-fund prototype development. There will also be update/working presentations with the mentor group and faculty throughout the semester. The culmination of the class is a presentation — anything from an "investor-ready" business pitch to a launch plan or other status update — as agreed upon by faculty. Instructor approval required for registration: Toby Nord at