MSoE’s site in Dali, China - on the eastern edge of the Himalayas - holds spectacular environmental and cultural resources. This region of Yunnan province is a melting pot of ethnic minorities and a world renowned biodiversity hotspot. Likewise, MSoE’s home in Kunming takes advantage of one of China’s loveliest Capital cities. Together, these geographies make for an ideal location to host an experiential learning program that merges the fields of environmental science and studies, with student leadership development and early career preparation.

In order to study the complexity of China’s environment, one must take an interdisciplinary approach. Our MSoE faculty represent fields as diverse as geology and chemistry, religious studies, geography, planning, filmmaking, and biodiversity conservation. At MSoE in Yunnan your learning will occur in forests, wetlands and mountains; temples, kitchens, and homes; shops, alleys, and markets; laboratories, libraries and museums.

The MSoE pedagogy is problem-based. We tackle significant environmental problems from various angles, bringing the knowledge of many disciplines together to investigate the causes of environmental challenges, and generate creative, sustainable solutions by dissolving traditional disciplinary boundaries.

MSoE’s core pedagogical goals are to:

  • Embed courses, teaching and learning in place by immersing students in local environmental resources and institutional context;
  • Encourage field-based and experiential education;
  • Take a problem-based approach to exploring environmental conflicts;
  • Integrate leadership development into coursework through conversations and workshops with local and international experts;
  • Maintain a 6/1 student/faculty ratio;
  • Maximize interdisciplinary interaction among students and faculty through co-teaching and creation of a dynamic living and learning community;
  • Leverage faculty expertise to provide students with choice and flexibility in their course selection.

Course descriptions

MSoE in Yunnan offers three required courses: Understanding Place, Sustainability Leadership Seminar and Environmental Analysis.

The following table provides an example of our six-week curricular structure and courses:

Six-week MSoE Term (3 weeks in Dali, 3 weeks in Kunming).

Understanding Place Section 1. 12 students. 3 faculty. 6 weeks.

Understanding Place Section 2. 13 students. 3 faculty. 6 weeks.

Sustainability Leadership Seminar. 25 students. 2 faculty. 6 weeks.

Environmental Analysis. 25 students. 4 faculty. 4 3-week modules. Students select 2 (1 in Dali, 1 in Kunming). 6 weeks.

Dali Module 1. 12 students. 2 faculty (Biodiversity, Arts). 3 weeks.

Kunming Module 3. 12 students. 2 faculty (Biodiversity, Ethics). 3 weeks.

Dali Module 2. 13 students. 2 faculty (Environmental Science,   Ethics). 3 weeks.

Kunming Module 4. 13 students. 2 faculty (Environmental Science,   Arts). 3 weeks.

Course Descriptions and Learning Outcomes

MSoE in Yunnan will offer three required courses: Understanding Place, Sustainability Leadership Seminar and Environmental Analysis. Understanding Place will be split into two sections with 13 students each, with each section facilitated by three instructors. Sustainability Leadership Seminar will include all students in one seminar style course, facilitated by two faculty, Curt and Liou, who have been building connections with local institutions and experts and have the language proficiency to invite and facilitate guest speakers. All students will enroll in Environmental Analysis, but choose their path of study by selecting from two of four modules (students will select one of two in Dali and one of two in Kunming). Each module will be taught by two instructors. 

Understanding Place

Manifesting solutions to environmental challenges requires a deep understanding of “place,” by which we mean a sense of the history, culture, economy, and ecology of a location. Facing environmental challenges cannot be divorced from understanding either the people or the ecological realities of the location where the challenge is situated or from where the solution is to emerge. This is best understood by focusing first on a single place, and then examining that place in its global context. This course will explore a specific place through both ecological and cultural narratives (in other words, through geography, history, biology, literature, geology, and political science) to understand how this place came to be in the condition it is today; its global connections on multiple temporal and spatial scales; and how to improve conditions for both itself and the human communities associated with it. Two sections. Section 1. team taught by geographer, geologist, environmental filmmaker. Section 2. Team taught by environmental planner, conservationist, humanist. 1 Unit (3 semester-hours).

Sustainability Leadership Seminar

Governance and administration in China. Wicked problems. Sustainable communities. Spatial and systems thinking. Structured decision making. Persuasive communication. These are just a few of the topics this course will cover. Through a series of field-based exercises intended to hone your observational and analytical skills, and workshops from environmental leaders and practitioners based in the US and China, such as The Nature Conservancy, this course will enhance, amplify and elevate your sustainability leadership skills. Team taught by environmental planner and geographer. 1 Unit (3 semester-hours).

Environmental Analysis

Using a case study method, students in this course will use an interdisciplinary lens to explore critical environmental issues from both scientific and humanitarian perspectives. The class will explore pollution monitoring and management, and biodiversity conservation in the field and in the lab. Students will also learn the art of storytelling and filmmaking, while exploring the role of the arts in communicating about environmental problems and solutions, especially in a history- and culture-rich local context. Students will come away from this course with a solid background in the physical and natural sciences, as well as appreciating the role of environmental ethics in problem solving. Four modules, students select two. Modules 1-2 in Dali. Modules 3-4 in Kunming. 1 Unit (3 semester-hours).