May 18, 2024  
University Catalog 2021-2022 
University Catalog 2021-2022 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Urban Sustainability, MA

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MA in Urban Sustainability
AU Los Angeles
Credits for Degree: 48 quarter credits
Standard Mode of Instruction: Low-residency
Standard time to completion: 25 months


AULA has a long-standing, deeply-rooted commitment to educating students by building their capacity to create a more just world. Consistent with this tradition, and in response to the challenges of global environmental change as well as social and economic inequality, Antioch’s Master of Arts in Urban Sustainability (USMA) trains the next generation of urban problem-solvers. The program prepares students for leadership positions in multiple sectors, including public policy, community-based urban planning, social justice organizing, and urban design.

Program Overview

The USMA program integrates theoretical learning with field-based practice in a two-year/four-semester, full-time, graduate-level curriculum. This 32- semester-credit degree program uses a low-residency format; instructors teach in virtual classrooms except for during on-campus residencies held at the beginning of each semester. Semesters are 16 weeks long and start at the end of August (Fall) and the end of January (Spring). During their first year, students engage in one 4-credit science-oriented course as well as three 3-credit content courses and a 2-unit research course. They also attend two residencies and begin their fieldwork during this first year. In their second year of the program, students complete their core coursework, continue their fieldwork, and launch a capstone project while taking practice-based workshops. Students participate in four residencies over the course of their time in the program, and are invited to present their capstone projects at the residency following their graduation.

In order to meet the program learning outcomes described above, students studying Urban Sustainability at AULA will acquire the following competencies:

Systems Thinking

Because today’s cities exist in a world that is more crowded, complex, interconnected, interdependent, and rapidly changing than ever before, we need to develop holistic ways of seeing and mapping key relationships and processes. Our students are taught to become adept systems thinkers who can:

  • address a problem at multiple scales
  • analyze social, scientific, and economic implications
  • transfer knowledge across disciplines
  • engage in creative problem-solving

Environmental Literacy

Building from a foundation of environmental science, students gain a strong understanding of cities as ecosystems. From this perspective, students explore diverse urban sectors such as food, land, transportation, energy, waste, and water within their cultural, political, and economic contexts, and configure ways and means for human settlements to become more compatible with nature.

Practitioner Skills

Through workshops, courses, and fieldwork, our students learn and practice technical skills including facilitation, policy analysis, mapping, research, graphic presentation, and evaluation as well as the habits of a reflective practitioner. Students review their progress in developing these skills with their faculty mentors and demonstrate their learning through a 2-unit career skills portfolio project during their final semester.

Social Justice Perspective

Reducing inequality at the local, regional, and global level is a prerequisite of urban sustainability. Students learn to apply a human rights lens to their ecosystems analysis and practice, in order to become global citizens who can help shape a more equitable world.

Current Tuition and Fees

University Tuition and Fees  

Degree Requirements

Students in the USMA program must earn a total of 32 semester credits to complete the degree.

Degree requirements include the following:

  • 20 credits required core curriculum coursework
  • 2 credits career skills portfolio
  • 5 credits fieldwork
  • 5 credit capstone project
  • 4 semesters of full-time enrollment (or the equivalent)
  • Attendance at 4 residencies plus presentation at a 5th residency

Over each semester’s 16 weeks of coursework, students are expected to spend 10 hours of face-to-face instruction during the residency and 75-100 hours online. Students are also required to attend 15-30 hours of additional lectures, special events, and site visits during the residency.

Students may withdraw or take a Leave of Absence but are required to complete the degree within five calendar years of initially entering the Master’s degree program.

Core Coursework

Each USMA student takes the following seven courses as part of their required core curriculum:

  • Science for Urban Sustainability (4 semester units)
  • Eco Systems Thinking (3 semester units)
  • Urban Infrastructure (3 semester units)
  • Research & Writing for Practitioners (2 semester units)
  • Capstone Proposal (2 semester units)
  • Democratizing Community Planning (3 semester units)
  • Sustainable Urban Economies (3 semester units)

Full-time students enroll in 5 to 8 units of core coursework each semester, completing these required 20 units by the end of their third semester. Note that students also enroll in fieldwork courses while completing their core curriculum.

Independent Learning Activities

Over the course of their first three semesters, students will participate in skill-building workshops that hone their competencies in key urban sustainability practices. In their fourth semester, students complete a career skills portfolio project that demonstrates their learning. The faculty adviser (mentor) evaluates this project.

Students can potentially enroll for elective units as independent learning activities, working under the mentorship of a faculty expert. These independent studies are learning activities conceived and crafted by students in collaboration with their evaluators (faculty at AULA or other accredited graduate programs) and approved by their USMA faculty mentors. Independent studies may be focused on content related aspects of a student’s field work, specific areas of interest arising from one or more of the required core courses, or an emerging topic of urban sustainability not covered in any of the required courses or electives.

Degree Program Schedule

Students who enroll full time will complete their degree requirements in two years. Students who do not enroll in all of the required graduate courses their first year will take more than two years to complete their degree.* Instruction follows a hybrid approach, meeting on campus or in the field during the Week 1 residency and meeting in virtual classrooms for the rest of the semester.

First Year Curriculum

During the first semester of the first year, students enroll in one 4-unit science-oriented class as well as one 3-credit course. During the second semester, students enroll in two 3-unit courses as well as a 2-unit research and writing course. Both semesters require students to participate in a 6-day residency during Week 1. In addition, 3 credits of fieldwork are required as part of the first-year curriculum. Students begin their fieldwork in the second semester. This first year curriculum totals 18 semester credits.

Second Year Curriculum

The second year curriculum includes a 3-unit participatory planning course, a 2-unit Capstone Proposal course, 2 units of elective coursework, and a 5- unit Capstone project. Students in their second year attend 6-day residencies during Week 1 in their third and fourth semesters. They also present their Capstone project at a public event during the residency of the following semester. This second year curriculum totals 14 semester credits.

Semester 4


The residencies constitute a key component of the USMA Program. Students are required to attend 4 residencies over the course of their studies in the program. On-campus residencies that occur at the beginning of each semester span six days, commencing on Monday and finishing on Saturday. New students are required to attend a one-day orientation, which takes place on the Sunday prior to the first day of their initial residency. All students attend six-day residencies at the start of each semester. Residencies include a combination of classroom learning, mentorship, site visits, guest lectures, panels, collaborative problem-solving sessions, workshops, cultural and social activities, and elective seminars. Students who have completed four semesters and have met all of the program requirements give public presentations of their capstone projects during the residency following their final semester. During campus residencies, students are responsible for their own room and board expenses and arrangements.

Online Learning Community

After each residency, students continue the semester as active members of a virtual learning community. Through the use of the Sakai learning management system, students post and discuss reactions to their assigned readings; receive new course-related content including websites, online video presentations, blogs, and images; submit drafts and completed assignments for peer and faculty review; and engage in ongoing discussions related to all of the above. Some classes meet regularly using the Zoom video conferencing platform. Instructors schedule class and individual meetings with students at the beginning of each semester. Students are expected to correspond with their mentors on a regular basis, further developing their fieldwork, elective, independent study, and capstone plans discussed and agreed upon during residencies and following through on them during the semester.


The USMA program requires students to engage in fieldwork in their second and third semesters in the program. Fieldwork planning is a part of the first semester curriculum and involves articulating students’ areas of focus and identifying appropriate placements that match their interests. These placements can take place in community settings of all types (including colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations, businesses, social enterprises, and government agencies). The program’s strong emphasis on fieldwork ensures that students have the opportunity to develop practical professional skills that they can integrate with theoretical learning while serving community needs related to issues of urban sustainability.


The Capstone is a semester-long comprehensive project in which students apply their integrated learning of social, economic, and scientific perspectives through the overarching lens of natural systems thinking. Through their capstone project, students demonstrate the habits of mind, breadth of knowledge, practitioner skills, and social justice perspective that comprise the mission of the Urban Sustainability program.

The capstone seminar ensures that students remain connected, receive feedback from their mentors and peers, and benefit from the wisdom of a larger community.

Through the capstone process, students:

  • identify and address an urban place-based question, problem, or initiative
  • work under the mentorship of a faculty member and content expert
  • design, create, record, and report on the processes of a significant project or research effort

An applicant with considerable related life and professional experience may, upon acceptance into the program, petition the program Chair for an exception to the four-semester requirement. If granted, the admitted student may complete the program in no fewer than three full-time semesters. The program unit requirements will remain the same. Contact the department for further details.

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