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 Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Agriculture and LIfe Sciences Public Garden Leadership focus area 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.

Focus Area details

As countries around the globe become heavily urbanized and the world’s plant diversity increasingly threatened, public gardens become even more indispensable institutions.  In addition to their roles in conserving rare and endangered species and educating the public on topics ranging from sustainable gardening to identifying the local flora, gardens are also increasingly vital green oases, sanctuaries to rejuvenate and reconnect with nature.

Among the career options are: horticulturist, greenhouse grower, conservation manager, plant biologist, soil scientist, botanist, outreach coordinator, volunteer manager, fundraising specialist, plant record manager, educator, marketing and communications specialist and leadership positions in key areas of public garden management such as horticulture, conservation, education and research.

To learn more about these courses,  visit the Courses of Study website.

Fall Semester

  • PLHRT 4910: Planting Urban Eden I
  • PADM 5410: Non Profit Management and Finance 
  • NBA 5150: Leadership Theory & Practice 
  • NCC 5540: Managing and Leading Organizations 
  • ALS 5211: Career Readiness for CALS Professional Master's Students
  • PLSCI 5900: MPS Project

Spring Semester

 

  • PLHRT 4920: Planting Urban Eden II
  • PLHRT 4850: Public Garden Management
  • PLHRT 6000: Seminar in Horticulture
  • LEAD 5100: Leadership Skills for Graduate Students
  • COMM 4660: Public Communication of Science and Technology
  • PLSCI 5900: MPS Project
  • PLSCI 5940: Skills for Public Engagement 

Students are selected for the program based on their demonstrated dedication to the public garden field, their work and life experiences, leadership qualities, and academic excellence. 

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.

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 Master of Professional Studies program has two main components:

  • Coursework: Students work with a faculty advisor to map out their individualized course of study based on their areas of interest. The majority of courses (20 credits) will be within CALS; however, students have the opportunity to take courses across Cornell.
  • Capstone project: With the guidance of a faculty advisor, students work on solving a real-world problem.
  • Satisfactory completion of a minimum of 30 credit hours related to the candidate's professional interest, as agreed upon with the faculty advisor.
    (a)   Twenty credit hours must be taken within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and at least 24 credits must be in courses numbered 5000 or higher. 
    (b)   A maximum of 6 of the required 30 credit hours may be earned through the student's problem-solving project (see third bullet).
    (c)   A maximum of 6 credit hours earned outside the program, at Cornell University or elsewhere, may be counted toward these requirements at the discretion of the student's faculty advisor. These credits must be appropriate to the subject of study and completed not more than five years before admission.
  • Completion of a minimum of two semesters. One semester must be earned by carrying a minimum of 12 credit hours. In certain circumstances, the second semester credit may be earned by accumulating the remaining credit hours in the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions at Cornell University or through transfer of credit (see item c above).
  • Satisfactory completion of a problem-solving project under the supervision of the faculty advisor. 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. 
  • A minimum grade point average of 2.5 (minimum of 18 credit hours with letter grades at Cornell).
  • Completion of the degree within four years of admission. Some fields of study may have special requirements, so students should check with the field's director of graduate studies for specific details.

Students work with top-ranked faculty who are leaders in their field on an experiential project that fosters professional skill development through the creation of solutions to real-world problems.

Next steps

Fall 2021 application deadlines: February 1 (priority), March 15 (general)

Student showing rhododendron blooms to others

Faculty spotlight

Don Rakow

A global authority in public garden leadership, Don literally wrote the books on the subject, including Public Garden Management. A Complete Guide to the Planning and Administration of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta and Public Gardens and Livable Cities Partnerships Connecting People, Plants, and Place. He also directs the Nature Rx@Cornell program and the nationwide Campus Nature Rx Network, and is the author of Nature Rx: Improving College-Student Mental Health.

don rakow with rhododendrons in the background

Meet some of our Public Garden Leadership faculty

Nina Bassuk
Nina Bassuk

Professor

School of Integrative Plant Science

Horticulture Section

Nina Bassuk
Urban horticulture
Woody plants, landscape management and propagation,
Cornell Structural Soil
Donald Rakow
Don Rakow

Associate Professor

School of Integrative Plant Science

Horticulture Section

Don Rakow
Public garden management and social impact
Botanical history
Equitable access to parks and green spaces
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] cornell.edu
Public garden management
School & youth gardening, adult education
Plants and human well being