Program Overview

According to the American Public Gardens Association, a public garden is “any institution that maintains collections of plants for the purposes of public education and enjoyment, in addition to research, conservation, and higher learning.”

The Public Garden Leadership concentration within the Integrative Plant Science MPS prepares students to lead botanical gardens, arboreta and similar organizations to positively impact the world through plant conservation, education, horticulture and community outreach.

Students complete coursework in organizational leadership, strategic decision-making, and garden management and work alongside world-renowned Cornell University faculty and field professionals in the forefront of garden management and development. Through applied, hands-on learning , students interact with Cornell Botanic Gardens staff and participate in in-depth study tours to public gardens in North America to learn from and network with field professionals.

CALS MPS program details

Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) Master of Professional Studies (MPS) program is an accredited, course-based, one-year master’s degree program that emphasizes professional development and intellectual investigation in the areas of agriculture, life sciences and global development. (The Integrative Plant Science MPS program is STEM-designated degree program.)

Though similar to a Master of Science (M.S.) degree in its academic rigor, the MPS degree differs from a traditional M.S. degree in its structure and focus. An M.S. is research-based, with students building a thesis over the course of two or three years. In contrast, the MPS degree is a one-year, course-based program where students study the intricacies and in-depth questions of their field of study. Instead of a thesis or research project, MPS students complete a capstone project during their final semester. To understand this difference in greater detail, please visit our FAQ page.

MPS students are part of a community of diverse students and faculty who share common goals, connecting research and practice to solve complex problems. 

The Integrative Plant Science Master of Professional Studies program is a STEM-designated degree with coursework requirements that differ slightly from other MPS programs at Cornell.


Field of Integrative Plant Science MPS Degree Requirements: 

Students earning the MPS in Integrative Plant Science complete 30 credits of graduate level courses (5000+), with at least 20 of these credits earned through the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, and at least 18 of these credits taken for letter grade. (Note that physical education courses and language courses do not count towards degree.)

Specific course requirements of the Integrative Plant Science MPS Degree are as follows:

  • Core Courses (13 credits required):
    • Professional Development (5 – 9 credits)
    • Quantitative Literacy (2 – 6 credits)
    • Capstone Project (2 – 6 credits)
    • View core course details. 
  • Concentration Courses (12 credits required):
    • Courses specific to your concentration - See details for this concentration below. 
  • Elective Courses (5 credits required)
    • Graduate level course you choose in consultation with your advisor.

Note: 2.5 GPA required for graduation.

This project may be an action program, the development of a plan to address a pertinent problem, the development of materials or methodology suited to the student's situation, or the development and execution of research appropriate to the profession. A formal project report must be submitted to and approved by the candidate's faculty advisor. 

Browse recent projects.

Next steps

Deadline to apply: January 15*

*For regular Fall Semester start. Late applications may be accepted under exceptional circumstances.  Contact Tara Reed for more information: tln2 [at] (tln2[at]cornell[dot]edu).

Student showing rhododendron blooms to others

Meet some of our Public Garden Leadership faculty

Faculty spotlight

Sonja Skelly

As director of education of Cornell Botanic Gardens and an adjunct associate professor of horticulture in the School of Integrative Plant Science, Sonja works with plants, nature, and gardens to help learners of all ages foster a deeper connection to plants, conserve and protect nature, and address climate change. She teaches classes on plants and human well-being, education in public gardens, and leads the MPS program in Public Garden Leadership.  

sonja skelly with flowering shrubs in the background
Ashley Humbolt
Ashley Helmholdt

Extension Associate, Adult Program Leader, Cornell Garden-Based Learning

School of Integrative Plant Science

Horticulture Section

Ashley Helmholdt
  • alm443 [at]
Garden-based learning
sonja skelly headshot
Sonja Skelly

Director of Education, Cornell Botanic Gardens and Adjunct Associate Professor

School of Integrative Plant Science

Horticulture Section

Sonja Skelly
  • sms92 [at]
Public garden leadership
Plants and human well being
School & youth gardening, adult education, climate change education

Questions about Integrative Plant Science MPS? Contact us:

Dan Buckley
Director of Graduate Studies
Graduate Field of Integrative Plant Science (IPS)
Phone: (607) 255-1716
Email: dhb28 [at] (dhb28[at]cornell[dot]edu)

Tara Reed
Program Coordinator
Graduate Field of Integrative Plant Science (IPS)
Phone: (607) 255-2131
Email: tln2 [at] (tln2[at]cornell[dot]edu)

Marvin Pritts
Student Experience Coordinator
Graduate Field of Integrative Plant Science (IPS)
Phone: (607) 255-1778
Email: mpp3 [at] (mpp3[at]cornell[dot]edu)