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Global Development Major

Working to improve lives, reduce inequality and protect the environment

The world is complex, and the challenges can seem overwhelming. Here in the Department of Global Development, we unlock the energies and talents of experts from a range of disciplines to address some of the biggest problems facing humanity. With a focus on education with impact, our transdisciplinary approach emphasizes real-world engagement with communities in New York state and around the globe. Our dynamic learning atmosphere and academic culture goes beyond purely technical work to provide deep analysis and transformative solutions. We develop next-generation leaders through engaged and active learning that connects students with field experiences. We are committed to justice, to science, to people and we never stop striving to make direct social impact all around the globe.

Major in Global Development

Bachelor of Science (B.S.)

The Global Development (GDEV) major responds to the need for innovative and critical thinking on the concept and practice of development. It prepares students to interpret problems, clarify solutions, develop leadership and foster positive social change. Students receive comprehensive training in the key ideas, issues, and debates central to global development. All GDEV students take a breadth of interdisciplinary coursework in development scholarship and practice and gain depth in a concentration of their choice, selecting from:

  • social and economic development
  • agriculture and food systems 
  • environment and development

As a Global Development major, students are required to spend at least eight weeks in a field-based internship. In their field experience, students work with and learn from innovative development practitioners and community leaders, crafting cutting-edge strategies to address some of the world’s most significant challenges and advance the well-being of people and the planet.

CALS seeks students who maintain a rigorous high school curriculum and demonstrate an outstanding record of academic achievement.

  • 4 units of English
  • 4 units of mathematics (including pre-calculus)
  • 3 units of science (biology, chemistry and physics recommended)
  • Also recommended: social science coursework; statistics

GDEV 1102: Introduction to Global Development
This course introduces students to the history of the idea of development and to key definitions, theories, measures and debates in the study and practice of Global Development. We draw upon a variety of disciplines to address some of the “big questions” of this field: What is development? How do we measure development? Why are some countries (and people) poorer than others? Who are the key actors in the field of Global Development and how have they changed over time? What are some promising development interventions? How should we think about our own role in development? In exploring these questions, we will draw upon a variety of social science perspectives and approaches.

DSOC/PLSCI 1300: Just Food
This course provides a comprehensive review of the modern food system from the green revolution to the industrialized model of today. It offers a critical perspective on existing paradigms and insights into alternative approaches for producing food security, environmental stewardship, and equity in an era of climate change. The course is taught by an interdisciplinary team of instructors who bring insights from both the biophysical and social sciences and will ask students to consider their food using a systems-thinking lens.

GDEV 2065: Environment and Development

This course examines the interface between development and environment issues in a global and international context. The ways we organize our economy, our culture, our social interactions, and the environment to meet our development needs have a profound impact on our ability to sustain ourselves, our society, and the planet. In this course, you will learn the theoretical and material linkages between environment and development issues and processes, and the multiple dimensions of sustainability and their synergies and tradeoffs. By taking a broad view of the development trajectory and the associated landscape transformation, you will explore various barriers and sustainability challenges, and critically examine the social, environmental, economic, and institutional dimensions of these challenges and proposed solutions.

GDEV 3010: Theories of Society and Development

This course explores the development of social theory from the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century to contemporary debates about the status and limits of sociological knowledge. It introduces the key texts of the most influential forerunners of modern sociological thought - Marx, Weber, Durkheim and Simmel - in the context of the social and political transformations of their time. The course is organized into two parts. The first part explores the contrasting accounts of modernity developed by these classical social theorists, placing particular emphasis on aspects of their thought concerned with the nature and direction of society as a whole. The second part examines contemporary critical engagements with the classical heritage from a variety of vantage points: globalization, postmodernism, feminism, race and cultural difference, and notions of multiple or alternative modernities.

The following learning outcomes are general learning outcomes for the Global Development major. By the completion of the program, students will be able to:

  1. Describe, critique and debate competing global development paradigms, and craft and defend a personal philosophy of development.
  2. Demonstrate an ability to apply systems perspectives to analyses of current and future development problems, and to draw upon multiple disciplines for supporting evidence.
  3. Exhibit basic skills appropriate to development practice, including group facilitation, team building, multi-stakeholder problem assessment and priority setting, and participatory learning and action.
  4. Demonstrate proficiency in applying at least one research or program evaluation approach (quantitative, qualitative, participatory learning and action, etc.) in a real-world situation.
  5. Propose, plan, secure and carry out an approved summer or semester-long internship or professional practice activity. As part of that experience, demonstrate skill in reflective writing and cross-cultural communication.
  6. Exhibit attitudes of tolerance, humility and respect in interactions with others, including those who hold different perspectives and world views, or who differ along lines of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual identity, socioeconomic class or political or religious affiliation.

For a full list of core and concentration requirements, please visit the Global Development requirements page.

Reflecting the overall vision of the Department of Global Development as a unit that marries the study of development with experiential learning and active engagement with development practice, students are afforded opportunities to participate in progressively advanced engaged and experiential learning opportunities over the course of the major, including a required internship with an organization, agency, or business.

The internship experience — whether domestic or international, and focused on policy, research or action — is intended to provide students with an opportunity to deepen their understanding of development while enhancing their skills as critical thinkers, communicators, collaborators, problem solvers and leaders.

As the internship is designed to complement classroom-based learning, enabling students to deepen and expand their understanding of and skills for advancing development, it is supported through preparation and learning in and across several core courses and related assignments.

Examples of experiences include:

  • A semester abroad with the Cornell SIT program in Ghana that involves an internship with a local organization supporting women entrepreneurs.
  • A summer internship with Cornell Cooperative Extension focused on understanding barriers and opportunities for colocation of solar installations and agriculture.
  • A CALS Global Fellows placement conducting research with Soils, Food, and Healthy Communities (SFHC), a farmer-led organization that uses agroecological methods to improve food security and nutrition in Malawi.
  • A summer internship with The Cornell Farmworker Program working with farmworkers to develop educational materials designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within farmworker housing.
  • A summer research assistantship with a Global Development faculty member examining circular economies in upstate New York communities.
  • An existing or self-designed summer internship opportunity, or study abroad program involving independent study or an internship, that is independent of Cornell and approved by the Department of Global Development (e.g., work with the World Bank, a community food security project; or a research institute examining climate change adaptation, etc.)

Cornell offers several excellent domestic and international development-focused, internship opportunities through its rich array of study abroad programs, institutes, centers, and faculty-led research and outreach projects. There are also several external educational organizations that offer semester-based and summer internships. Regardless of which internship is ultimately chosen, it must be approved by the department through the required internship registration process.

Explore our experiential learning opportunities.

Transfer Requirements

Learn about the challenges and opportunities within the field of global development, with concentrations in social and economic development, agriculture and food Systems and environment and development. Engaged and experiential learning opportunities are a key feature of this major. 

Rising sophomore applicants (i.e., those who apply in their freshman year) are eligible to transfer. Current sophomores, juniors and seniors are not eligible to transfer into the Global Development major but may want to consider our one-year Master of Professional Studies (MPS) program offered in the Global Development.

Academic record

  • Strong academic record at the college level. In general, competitive applicants have at least a 3.0 (B) average. CALS required coursework should be completed or in-progress with a “B” or better before applying.
  • The most competitive applicants are full-time students who have met the GPA and course requirements.
  • For information about AP/IB/GCE Credit, Visit our Cornell Policy on Advanced Placement Credit for English, Math, Science, and Foreign Language. CALS adheres to these guidelines unless otherwise noted by the major.  
Below are requirements for Transfer Students applying to CALS for Fall 2025 

(Or transfers with two full-time college semesters of study (post-high school) completed or in progress at time of application).


One semester of Introductory Biology (lab strongly encouraged) 

One semester of Introductory Environmental Science/Conservation 

  • Similar to NTRES 2010, GDEV 2065 
  • A course that gives an overview of Environmental Science and/or Conservation 

Statistics (AEM 2100) 

One College Writing/English Composition course or one Public Speaking course  


Strongly encouraged (but not required):  

  • Microeconomics 
  • Environmental Sociology 


This major is designed for students who are interested in tackling the unique and interdisciplinary challenges facing the world. All students take a set of core foundational courses in development scholarship and practice, and then choose to deepen their studies in one of three concentrations:

a close up of a palm leaf

Social & economic development

The social and economic development concentration provides students an opportunity to explore global development issues, theories, policies and practices in greater depth using the theories, approaches and analytical frameworks of multiple social science disciplines. Students can develop individualized pathways through the concentration in consultation with their academic advisors. In addition, this concentration provides students planning to pursue graduate study in economics or sociology an opportunity to take advanced undergraduate coursework in those disciplines.

Agriculture & food systems

This concentration is built on an integrative systems perspective that melds the biophysical, socio-economic and nutritional sciences towards the sustainable development of inclusive agriculture and food systems. Students will learn about how food is produced, significant trends and drivers of change and how to assess systems from an interdisciplinary perspective across cultural contexts. Critical contemporary debates about the future of food systems, such as sustainability, social justice and resilience, will be examined from various perspectives. Students will also gain foundational skills in agriculture and food systems, including analytics for decision-making, monitoring and evaluation and project management. This major is designed to support a range of career paths, including development practice, food policy, agricultural extension and academia.

Environment & development

Students in this concentration will build their capacity to analyze how development affects the environment and how the environment shapes development. Through a range of courses, students will explore how society makes difficult choices concerning the control, use and long-term management of land, freshwater and marine resources. In engaging with these ethically complex and politically laden issues, students also examine how these topics are inextricably intertwined with issues of global food security and health, culture and identity, livelihood security and intergenerational environmental justice.