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.

Students work with a faculty advisor to map out their individualized course of study based on their areas of interest, and complete a minimum of 30 credit hours related to their concentration of study. While 20 credit hours must be taken within CALS, there is flexibility to take courses across Cornell.

13 credits in the core:

  • 5 credits of professional development
  • 2 credits of quantitative literacy
  • 2-6 credits for project

(If project is less than 6 credits, students must complete more credits in professional development and/or quantitative literacy.)

  • 12 credits in concentration-specific courses
  • 5 credits of elective courses
  • 30 credits total
  • 30 credits in graduate level classes (5000+)
  • 20 credits in CALS courses
  • 18 credits for letter grade
  • Gym/language courses do not count towards degree

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: February 15*

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

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 in bioswale garden
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
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]

Tara Reed
Plant Science IPS-MPS Program Coordinator
Phone: (607) 255-2131
Email: tln2 [at]

Marvin Pritts
IPS-MPS Student Experience Coordinator
Phone: (607) 255-1778
Email: mpp3 [at]