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The Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Global Development (GD) is a one-year, interdisciplinary graduate-level degree program combining a flexible course-based curriculum with a capstone or problem-solving project. The program is designed to enhance practical and technical skills and to prepare students for careers in field-based development and development policy roles serving low-income and rural communities globally. Featuring senior faculty advisors with strong global experience and international reputations, Cornell’s GD MPS program provides opportunities for critically analyzing development strategies and learning about practices, technologies, approaches and trends in development worldwide.

Communities around the world are faced with rapid change and complex and unprecedented challenges that require creative solutions and urgent attention. However, government agencies and private sector enterprise often lack personnel trained to deal with these emerging challenges.  Similarly, professionals with disciplinary training often find themselves working on development issues for which they have limited preparation or technical knowledge. The goal of the MPS program is to provide graduates with the ability to effectively assess development challenges and address them by applying up to date technical skills and working as part of transdisciplinary teams.


Students in the MPS in Global Development custom build courses of study in consultation with their faculty advisors. A strength of our program is its flexibility; students are able to tailor their coursework to fill gaps based on previous studies, field experiences, and desired career paths.

The general areas of study we describe below are neither prescriptive nor exhaustive. We offer them to illustrate some of the areas of specialization or focus available to incoming students:

International Agriculture and Rural Development

One of the grand challenges of the 21st century is how to secure enough food to feed growing world populations in ways that ensure access for all and are environmentally sustainable. Students interested in gaining practical knowledge and skills related to agriculture and food production systems, including agro-ecology, regenerative agriculture, and agro-forestry, will find a rich array of relevant courses and opportunities for field-based learning. We have a long history of training students in IARD and a vast alumni network. Courses related to this specialization that students have taken in the recent past include:  

  • Agriculture in Developing Nations
  • Climate Change and the Future of Food
  • Ecology of Agricultural Systems
  • Field Crop Systems
  • Food, Ecology and Agrarian Change
  • Nutrient Management in Agro-Ecosystems
  • Soil Ecology
  • Special Topics Courses on Agroforestry
  • The Planning and Management of Agricultural and Rural Development
  • Traditional Agriculture in Developing Nations
  • Tropical Cropping Systems

International Environmental Management

Global climate change has focused attention like never before on the need for careful stewardship of the world’s natural resources. Students interested in ecology, environmental sciences, and sustainability studies and in careers in international environmental management have access to a wide array of relevant courses at Cornell – the top-ranking Ivy League institution in national sustainability rankings. The Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability is an important extra-curricular resource for students; the Center hosts prominent speakers and offers additional opportunities for students to be involved in sustainability work. Courses related to this specialization that students have taken in the recent past include:

  • Community-Based Research Methods in Southeast Asia
  • Ecology of Agricultural Systems
  • Environmental Conservation
  • Environmental Economics
  • Environmental Governance
  • Global Citizenship and Sustainability
  • Global Food, Energy and Water Nexus
  • Natural Resources and Economic Development
  • Research Data Management Seminar in the Environmental Sciences

Social Enterprise

As aid budgets have shrunk, the development sector has increasingly promoted social enterprise as a way for the world’s poor and middle classes to make a living, gain skills, create jobs, and substitute local products for imported goods and services. Our students, some of them entrepreneurs themselves, can learn practical skills related to starting and running social enterprises or measuring the impacts of these enterprises on families and communities. Students can also apply to participate in hands-on, field-based, student-led projects that contribute to small business development in emerging markets through the SMART Program. Courses related to this specialization that students have taken in the recent past include:

  • Emerging Markets
  • Introduction to Business Management
  • Invention and Technology Commercialization: IP Management for Scientists, Engineers and Entrepreneurs
  • Leaders in Sustainable Global Enterprises
  • Perspectives in International Development and Emerging Markets
  • Research and Strategy in Emerging Markets
  • Social Entrepreneurship
  • Strategic Stakeholder Engagement

Migration and Mobility

We live, more than ever before, in a world on the move. As people are forced from their homes due to climate change, conflict, and lack of economic opportunities, migrants, refugees, and diasporic populations have emerged as groups with specific and urgent needs. Students interested in preparing for careers in the humanitarian sector or in crafting policy or implementing programs to deal with the needs of migrants, refugees, diasporic populations, and host communities may focus their coursework in this area. Outside formal coursework, The Cornell Farmworker Program provides volunteer and other opportunities for students to be engaged in related issues in upstate New York. Courses related to this specialization that students have taken in the recent past include:

  • Advanced Research in Migration Studies
  • Community, Place and Environment
  • Farmworkers: Contemporary Issues and Their Implications
  • Human Migration
  • Immigration and Refugee Law
  • Immigrant Incorporation
  • Labor Migration and Trafficking
  • Migration: Histories, Controversies and Perspectives
  • Migration in the Americas: Engaged Research Methods and Practice
  • Peacebuilding in Conflict Regions

Non-Profit and NGO Management

Non-profit and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are key actors in global development and poverty reduction projects. Students interested in gaining practical skills in leading these organizations may take courses to acquire the knowledge, skills, and strategic sensibilities needed to become effective leaders in the non-profit and NGO sectors. Courses related to this specialization that students have taken in the recent past include:

  • Consulting for Non-Profit and Government Organizations
  • Evaluation of International Programs and Projects
  • Fundraising
  • Impact Evaluation in Developing Countries
  • International Public and NGO Management
  • Introduction to Evaluation
  • Management Communication
  • Non-Profit Management and Finance
  • The Planning and Management of Agricultural and Rural Development

Gender and Development

The impacts of development programs and policies have differed based on gender as well as other identities. Development projects carry with them understandings of gender and shape gender relations in ways that need to be critically evaluated and addressed. Students interested in working across sectors to make development projects more inclusive and egalitarian can learn about the history of such efforts, as well as current frameworks for gender analysis. Additional opportunities for student engagement – in the form of seminars, travel grants, and resource databases – are available to students through the Advancing Women in Agriculture through Research and Education (AWARE) program. Courses related to this specialization that students have taken in the recent past include:

  • Ecofeminism: Gender and Ecology in a World on Fire
  • Feminist Theory
  • Gender and Global Change
  • Gender and Health: Concepts, Data, Theories and Evidence
  • Islam and Gender
  • Worlding Sex and Gender

Education and Development

Education, in its many forms, is a key component of development projects. Students interested in gaining expertise in agricultural, extension, or youth or adult education will find a robust set of course offerings from which to choose.  Outside the classroom, students have opportunities to learn from Cornell Cooperative Extension, a world-class extension service covering the state, and extension and outreach institutes such as CaRDI, the Community and Regional Development Institute. Courses related to this specialization that students have taken in the recent past include:

  • Digital Technologies for Research and Communication
  • Farmer-Centered Research and Extension
  • Introduction to Adult Learning
  • Skills for Public Engagement
  • Special Methods of Instruction in Agricultural Science Education

Demographic Change and Global Development

Demographic changes – from aging populations to youth bulges – provide opportunities as well as constraints on economic development. Students interested in understanding population-level influences on development and working to shape or analyze population policies and social or economic programs to respond to these changes will find a robust selection of relevant courses and deep faculty expertise at Cornell. Outside formal coursework, students may take advantage of the extensive programming of the Cornell Population Center. Courses related to this specialization that students have taken in the recent past include:

  • Fundamentals of Population Health
  • Population and Development
  • Population Dynamics
  • Principles of Demography
  • Seminar in Spatial Population Ecology
  • The Global City

International Development Economics and Policy

Cornell faculty and students have a long history studying the economics of development in low-income countries and advising governments in the area of economic policy. The university-wide community of those interested in economic issues surrounding development is vast, providing students unparalleled opportunities for studying these issues.  Among the courses of interest to Global Development MPS students are:

  • Agricultural and Food Policy
  • Economics of Food and Malnutrition
  • Global Food, Energy, and Water Nexus: Engage the US, China, and India for Sustainability
  • Impact Evaluation in Developing Countries
  • Political Economy of the WTO
  • Toward a Sustainable Global Food System: Food Policy for Developing Countries

Each specialization differs in its orientation while providing a multi-faceted educational opportunity for individuals committed to finding sustainable approaches to community development. Common curricular components include an MPS seminar and up to six capstone project development and completion credits.

Most applicants accepted into the Global Development MPS program have at least two years of relevant field or administrative experience. Many are returning Peace Corps volunteers (RPCVs) or experienced international professionals seeking to expand their knowledge and graduate credentials. Applicants with limited professional experience are also considered for admission, but must have fieldwork or other proficiencies aligned with the mission of the program.

Applicants need to obtain their own funding for the program, though we do offer a limited number of competitive fellowships, including one teaching assistantship and one full-tuition Coverdell Fellowship. The Coverdell Fellowship is awarded to an RPCV and may be granted to a single individual or shared among up to four fellows. All students enrolled in the program have the opportunity to apply for travel grants to support capstone project research and professional development workshops.

MPS students in the program have access to dedicated career services support in the CALS Office of Professional Programs and Extended Learning and through the vast network of Cornell alumni worldwide.