Graduate Programs


Master of Arts in Environmental Education

Education is, by nature, interdisciplinary and integrates many fields

A graduate student asks students a question during a program. Photo by Merry Lea.

Throughout Merry Lea’s graduate program, ecological learning and pedagogical skills are enmeshed.

Our approach depends on knowing and understanding systems-thinking. We learn about natural history, research methods and land management to understand ecological systems. Drawing from principles, history, and issues of environmental education and from leadership skills, we learn to work in social systems. In the faith and peacemaking seminar we think about how to communicate between worldviews, and in Arizona or the Bahamas we put it all together.

“Merry Lea’s focus on interdisciplinary, inclusive, experiential, and constructivist teaching and learning makes the program stand out from other graduate programs. They don’t just talk about learning through action and participation–they do it.” 

Hannah Miller, 2010 grad

For an overview of the year see the academic schedule.


A study of the plants and animals of this region and the ecosystems in which they are found. Emphases on:

  1. interrelationships in ecosystems
  2. the function of ecosystems, both how they operate and how they impact surrounding systems and humans
  3. identity of the organisms that comprise the ecological community. Students will investigate the ecological relationships of the organisms identified as well as behaviors and life cycles.

This course investigates a wide range of research strategies that an environmental educator may use and/or encounter in the course of their career. The applied approach is primarily as a leader or director who is either evaluating an existing program, or designing a new program. We will also review and interpret both qualitative and quantitative studies (i.e. gathering information on people or natural resources) in ecological, social, and educational research and spend significant time conceptualizing your year-long project.

This is an introductory environmental education course for students from a broad range of backgrounds. Throughout the course we consider the foundations, present, and future of the field of environmental education and its interconnections with other educational and social movements. We will also interact with theories of human learning, and teaching strategies. Students experiment with the process of curriculum design in this course, writing an educational program for an audience of their choice. Students also collaboratively design and implement an educational program for the Elkhart County Fair.

Education students will join the Merry Lea Environmental Education Outreach team in the delivery of a variety of high quality environmental education programs. Through the practicum, participants will gain experience teaching a wide range of age groups from kindergarten through high school, and adults. Educational programs include onsite day programs for public, private, and/or home school students, after-school environmental education programs for elementary school students, and selected public programs. Participants will catalyze their growth as environmental education practitioners through reflective writing, academic study, dialogue and conversation, and a culture of feedback.

Your project is designed to investigate a topic, issue, strategy, methodology or practice in environmental and sustainability education. This is an investigation that requires creative insight and creative output, intended to be driven by your passion and interest in a topic within one of the following themes: an environmental issue, an ecological problem, or pedagogical challenges and possible solutions. You will have FOUR major components:

  1. The work itself whether you are conducting a question driven investigation, or you are problem solving with an organization
  2. A major, thesis length paper
  3. Curriculum designed for two distinct audiences
  4. A presentation. This is an applied experience and project that can be useful long into your career. Throughout it all ask yourself, “What does this mean for me as an educator?”

Learn more about this yearlong project and past graduate students’ projects.

A study of current environmental issues facing society. Topics include ethics, citizenry, environmental justice, theological implications and organizations addressing issues. The various facets of the history of environmental education and outdoor education will be reviewed. A study of important literature relevant to all topics will be included.

A study of essential skills and practices for leadership in an environmental education center. Topics include knowing self, leadership models and patterns, personnel management, strategic planning, personality styles, financial and resource management, budget preparation, board utilization, fundraising and capital campaign, day-to-day functioning of a nature center, and team development.

The overall objective is to increase our ability to communicate with people who may or may not share our worldview about the environment. Specifically, we will investigate the nexus of faith, peacemaking and the environment. The topic is infinitely large so we can only start the conversation. We will ask: “How does faith inform the relationship between humans and their environment? How does peacemaking work in the context of the environment? How do people with different worldviews communicate peacefully to benefit the environment?”

This three-week, immersion style, cross-cultural, experience is designed to learn about a new ecosystem, work with intercultural groups, and design EE curriculum within an intercultural context. Participants will investigate a broad spectrum of opportunities and challenges for international and/or intercultural non-profits delivering EE to local students, and/or in conjunction with tourism. Although the stay is relatively brief, students will work with local organizations to design place-based curriculum; learn about the relationships between NGOs, government agencies, and businesses; apply natural history skills in a different ecosystem; and investigate first hand the implications of climate change in an intercultural perspective. Courses have and/or may take place in Andros, Bahamas, working with tribal groups in the southwest, the big island of Hawaii, or another suitable location with a different ecosystem from northern Indiana that includes intercultural opportunities.

This is a study of both the theory and practice of managing the “place” for various ecological functions and human values that enhance an environmental education experience. Includes how land management practices need to reflect the economic/social/spiritual values of humans, and the biological functions of the ecosystems it encompasses.

In this course students travel with several faculty members throughout the region to introduce students to a wide range of programs, nature centers, pedagogies, leadership styles, and management strategies in Environmental Education (EE). Visits at organizations range from 1 hour to two days, but typically are 90 -120 minutes. We also investigate critical issues in EE, the interdisciplinary nature of EE, the variations that EE may take, and the decision-making process that will affect them as educators throughout their career. Each student develops professional connections, practical resources, and through written reflections an understanding of EE in the broadest sense.

Ten students sit and smile at the camera underneath a large, tan rock that hangs over them.

Professional Field Studies

Intercultural Environmental Education

  • Three students with backpacks and notepads look towards a woman in a work uniform who talks to them. They are on a dirt path with green vegetation in the background.

Live and Learn at Merry Lea