Coastal Science and Policy M.S.


Students in the University of California, Santa Cruz's Coastal Science and Policy Program (CSP) will develop a range of skills, interdisciplinary knowledge, and pragmatic approaches to become more effective leaders at solving coastal sustainability challenges, from watersheds to the open ocean. We offer in-depth interaction with faculty members, professionals and practitioners for small cohorts of diverse students hailing from California, additional U.S. states and other nations. The curriculum and composition of student cohorts aim to advance justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in coastal sustainability.

In year one of the two-year master's degree program, students take courses on concepts and approaches from the natural and social sciences, including biophysical, ecological, social, economic, policy, leadership, and communication dimensions. The first year also entails a guided, strategic process for each student to develop their second-year capstone project and to identify capstone partner organizations from the non-governmental, government or private sectors. Students additionally participate in workshops to strengthen communication, technical, and leadership skills and in seminars with diverse leaders to build their professional networks. In the second year, each student works full-time alongside their selected partner organization to conduct the solutions-focused capstone project and participates weekly in a video-link capstone seminar. Students also use a summer placement (between years one and two) to gain training in specific skills or to start the capstone project. At the end of the second year, students present their capstone deliverables in writing and via an oral public presentation. With the combination of focused courses, skill set development, and practical experience, graduates will be well prepared and highly competitive for the diverse job opportunities in the growing fields of coastal science and policy. Although the focus of most material will be coastal or marine, the principles and practices learned by the students will be applicable in any geographical location or sector.

The program focuses on practical training to provide integrated, scalable solutions to social and ecological challenges under four interconnected themes that leverage UCSC’s existing leadership in coastal sustainability:

  • Conserving biodiversity, sustaining ecosystem processes, and ensuring human well-being
  • Mitigating hazards to nature and society; fostering climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Sustaining marine, freshwater, and terrestrial food and energy systems
  • Advancing innovative economic and policy approaches in business, government and civil society


Preparation for Graduate Work in Coastal Science and Policy

Students admitted to the Master of Science (M.S.) in Coastal Science and Policy Program will have completed a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university in a field relevant to coastal sustainability. Relevant fields are diverse and include the natural sciences (e.g., biology, earth sciences, chemistry, oceanography), social sciences (e.g., economics or business, human ecology, political science, sociology), interdisciplinary programs (e.g., environmental studies and sciences) and engineering. Regardless of undergraduate major and/or minors, specific additional requirements prior to admission include at least one course in writing and one course in statistics; as well as coursework in at least two of the following three areas: biological sciences, physical sciences, and the social sciences (including policy and economics). Students are not expected to have identified a faculty adviser prior to joining the program. Students from underrepresented and diverse racial, ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic, and disciplinary backgrounds are encouraged to apply. We anticipate that competitive applicants to the program will have additional experience, such as a combination of coursework, internships, professional jobs and research, in relevant fields.


Course Requirements

The master's degree in coastal science and policy is a Plan II (capstone project) degree.

Core Courses

The M.S. program will include a core set of three foundational and seven developmental courses.

Foundational Courses
CSP 200Natural Sciences for Coastal Sustainability


CSP 210Social Sciences for Coastal Sustainability


CSP 220Economics for Coastal Sustainability


Developmental Courses

These courses cut across multiple disciplines and will be taught by core faculty, partner practitioner-scientists, and specialist trainers.

CSP 230Integrated Problem-Based Discussion


CSP 231ACSP Year 1 Capstone Planning & Design Fall


CSP 231BCSP Year 1 Capstone Planning & Design Winter


ENVS 240
/CSP 242
Public Policy and Conservation


ENVS 250
/CSP 243
Coastal Governance


CSP 244Adaptation and Planning


BIOE 262
/CSP 245
Facilitating Change in Coastal Science Policy


The core sequence serves many objectives, including creating and maintaining a strong program community, teaching core skills and topics, preparing for and building on the summer placement experience, linking new and returning students, and generating a lively, ongoing set of intellectual conversations to explore, define, and pursue transformative contributions to conservation and sustainability science. In order to assure a strong interdisciplinary approach, courses are taught by natural and social science faculty. In addition, all coursework will strengthen practical knowledge and solution-based thinking.

Methods and Elective Courses

M.S. students are also required to take one methods course and one elective course in their first year. The methods and elective courses can be drawn from courses currently offered across the UCSC campus. The methods course should provide training in quantitative or qualitative research design, tools, and analysis; and help prepare the student for methods used in their capstone project. Electives help  broaden the student's disciplinary knowledge. For example, incoming students with an undergraduate degree in the natural sciences (e.g., ecology) may be encouraged  to take a graduate-level elective course in the social sciences (e.g., politics, economics).

The methods requirement can be met by taking CSP 241/CSP 241L (cross-listed with BIOE 286/BIOE 286L), another course from the list of approved methods courses found here, or by approval of the program director. The selection of the methods and elective courses will be made in consultation with the student’s faculty adviser and program, with final approval from the program director. 

CSP 281AHacking for Oceans—Lean Design Methods


CSP 292Special Topics in Coastal Science and Policy


CSP 297Independent Study in Coastal Science and Policy


BIOE 286
/CSP 241
Experimental Design and Data Analysis


/CSP 241L
Experimental Design and Data Analysis Lab


Other Requirements

Summer Placement

During the summer at the end of their first year, M.S. students will be required to participate in an intensive summer placement program. Students may use the summer placement to gain training in specific skills or to start the capstone project. This placement will consist of working within a partner agency, nongovernmental organization, or business to provide students with practical awareness in the conservation and sustainability science field and give them firsthand immersion in the processes involved in implementing scientific knowledge and innovations as components of solutions to the complex challenges of domestic or international coastal sustainability. Placement projects will be required to include: 1) a real concern of the institutional partner, 2) research and/or solutions development, and implementation, and 3) strong interdisciplinary elements. A faculty adviser will oversee the placement. The intent is that, in collaboration with institutional partners and CSP advisers, students’ capstone projects will emerge from, or be heavily informed by this summer placement experience.

Capstone Project

In the second year, students will implement a capstone project by enrolling in and fulfilling the requirements for CSP 290, Coastal Science and Policy Capstone Project (10 credits/quarter). This project is typically developed during Year 1 of the program in collaboration with a practitioner partner and a CSP faculty adviser, and with oversight from the program. The project should: a) address a real concern of the institutional partner; and b) include research, solutions development, and implementation, and be strongly interdisciplinary in nature. A program team consisting of the student’s CSP faculty adviser and practitioner partner mentor will advise on the capstone project, with programmatic guidance from the CSP assistant director. In the final quarter (spring, Year 2) students will provide a final written report and oral presentation of the capstone project to CSP students, faculty and institutional partners. The final presentations will be required to address both the social science and natural science elements of the selected project.

CSP 290ACoastal Science and Policy Capstone Project


CSP 290BCoastal Science and Policy Capstone Project


CSP 290CCoastal Science and Policy Capstone Project


Capstone Project Seminar

Each quarter of the second year, students will enroll in CSP 291, Coastal Science and Policy Capstone Seminar (2 credits/quarter). This seminar will serve as a forum, led by an interdisciplinary team of social/natural science faculty, for students to discuss current topics and approaches in sustainability science as well as an opportunity for students to present issues, topics, and proposals relevant to their capstone projects. Students enrolled in this course will provide oral and written peer review of other students’ projects and presentations.

CSP 291Coastal Science and Policy Capstone Seminar



  Fall Winter Spring
1st Year CSP 200 ENVS 240 CSP 244
CSP 210 ENVS 250 BIOE 262
CSP 220 CSP 231B Methods or Elective Course
CSP 230 Methods or Elective Course  
CSP 231A    
2nd Year CSP 290A (10 credits) CSP 290B (10 credits) CSP 290C (10 credits)
CSP 291 (2 credits) CSP 291 (2 credits) CSP 291 (2 credits)