Graduate Certificate in Conservation Leadership

Overview (print)

For the official page of the graduate Certificate on ODU's web page, see ...


  1. Overview
  2. Program Structure
  3. Learning Outcomes
  4. Elective Courses
  5. Internships
  6. Courses
  7. Rationale
  8. Contacts
  9. Announcements


This interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Conservation Leadership was developed, and is implemented by Old Dominion University in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as part of a long-term, sustainable program of conservation-related service-learning, internships and leadership programs. The certificate focuses on conservation solutions in the context of our quickly changing planet. A goal of this program is to develop the next generation of conservation leaders with the ability to critically review underlying paradigms and to initiate paradigm shifts where they are needed to address the challenges of sea level rise and climate change in conservation roles, such as in local, state and federal agency and non-profit sectors. The core of this 15-credit certificate is built around two courses on Adaptation Studies and Sustainability Leadership. The Sustainability Leadership course is a Service Learning (SL) course that requires travel for fieldwork. An additional mandatory course focuses on skills to address wicked problems. This course introduces students to participatory and agent-based modeling and the use of simulations and visualizations in the deliberations on wicked problems. An additional course is an elective that can be selected from an interdisciplinary list to suit a wide-range of conservation interests. An internship is the capstone of this graduate certificate.

For the listing in ODU's catalog, see here ...

Note that there is also a Minor in Conservation Leadership that is taught together with the Graduate Certificate and facilitates interactions of undergraduate and graduate students.


The Graduate Certificate requires fifteen (15) credits, which are distributed over five 3-credits courses:
  • I. Core Courses
    • BIOL/OEAS 566 Mitigation and Adaptation Studies
    • BIOL/OEAS 567 Sustainability Leadership (Service learning class)
    • OEAS/ENMA 658 Participatory and Agent-Based Modeling, Simulations, and Visualizations
  • II. Electives
    • One elective Course (for details see below)
  • III. Internship
    • GRAD 669 Internship in Conservation Leadership (for details see below)


Graduates of this interdisciplinary graduate certificate will understand uncertainties in projection of climate and sea level and be able to develop foresight. They will possess the ability to identify assumptions and paradigms that are the basis of decision making, and to initiate shifts in those paradigms if needed, using a systems approach to address the complex challenges posed by climate change and sea level rise.


The electives should be selected to extend the leadership-focused contents of the core courses. SL indicates that the course is a service learning course.

  • (BIOL 504) Conservation Biology
  • (BIOL 545) Community Ecology
  • (BIOL 732) GIS in the Life Sciences
  • (COMM 600) Intercultural Communication: History, Theory and Application
  • (HLSC 778) Global Environmental Health
  • (POLS 555) The Politics of Climate Change
  • (PADM 632) Environmental Planning
  • (PHIL 542) Studies in Applied Ethics


The intership is conducted in the course GRAD 569. For most updated information consult the most recent version of GRAD 569. Students who want to register for this course first need to contact the instructors Eddie Hill (ehill at and Hans-Peter Plag (hpplag at To submit an inquiry, please fill in the Internship Inquiry Form and send it to the together with a resume to the instructors.

Prerequisite for the internship is a successful participation in the two mandatory courses with grades equal to or better than B.

The intership requires to work for 300 hours at a host institution. Host institutions are preferably at different facilities of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Opportunities are at local facilities and facilities distributed throughout the country. Part-time options may be available for those students who cannot work a fulltime 40-hour week. After submission of the application, an interview will be scheduled with the advisors to ensure that there is an optimal match between the host, project, location, etc. and the students interests and qualifications.

The internship will focus on a "real-world issue" that constitutes a leadership challenge in conservation. The student is expected to use the concepts of adaptation science to analyse the issue and to develop options of how to address the issue. The student will be mentored in the context of GRAD 569 and will have a dedicated supervisor at the host institution. Weekly reports and weekly skype conversations of mentor and student will ensure that the mentor can provide guidance and support the student, if needed.

The up-to-date list of deliverables is available at the IDS 369/GRAD 569 page.

There will be financial support for the internship, including travel costs, lodging, per diem for food, and insurance fees. The availability of funding is depending on economic needs and academic standing. A GPA of 3.0 is required to be eligible for funding. A form to request financial support is available on the most recent internship class page.


[2018/02/09 - updated on 2018/08/09] Internship Opportunities

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has partnered with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) for the FWS Directorate Resource Assistant Fellows Program (DFP). DFP in 2018 provided undergraduate rising seniors and graduate students who are interested in conservation or other related careers with a full-time, 11-week opportunity that supports FWS conservation priorities. Undergraduate rising seniors and seniors who had not yet completed their degree requirements prior to the completion of their fellowship were eligible to apply for all 55 projects. Graduate students were eligible to apply for 8 of the projects. Projects included 43 biology or fisheries projects, 12 outreach or human dimensions projects, and 3 in other fields. Participation in the DFP will offered the selected fellows an opportunity to demonstrate to supervisors and managers their potential for success. For more information about the DFP program and future opportunities, please visit the DFP webpage at

[2017/12/14] An InsideODU article reports in the Service learning experience in 2017. Read the article ...

[2016/10/21] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service visited ODU to inform students about job and internship opportunities


Interested in this graduate certificate? Please contact:
Dr. Tatyana Lobova,
Department of Biological Sciences, Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate Coordinator, tlobova at


Current Courses

The three mandatory courses for the graduate certificate in Conservation Leadership are available in Spring 2019, the first session in the Summer 2019 term, and in Fall 2019:

  • IDS/BIOL/OEAS 466W and BIOL/OEAS 566: Mitigation and Adaptation Studies. This course is offered in Spring Terms.
  • IDS/BIOL/OEAS 467 and BIOL/OEAS 567: Sustainability Leadership. This course is being offered in Summer sessions 1 as a Service learning course.
  • IDS 369/GRAD 569: Internship in Conservation Leadership. This course is being offered in Spring and Fall terms as well as the 2nd Summer term.
  • OEAS/ENMA 658: Participatory and Agent-Based Modeling, Simulations, and Visualizations. This course is being offered in Fall terms.

Web Pages of previous courses

  • Fall 2017: IDS 368 Internship; see course page for details.
  • Summer 2017 session 2: IDS 368 Internship; see course page for details.
  • Summer 2017 session 1: BIOL/OEAS 495: Sustainability Leadership; see course page for details.
  • Spring 2017: IDS/BIOL/OEAS 466: Mitigation and Adaptation Studies; see course page for details.
  • Fall 2016: IDS/BIOL/OEAS 466: Mitigation and Adaptation Studies; see course page.


A minor in Conservation Leadership with a strong service-learning component has the potential to help spread knowledge about conservation issues to students across campus, and will offer opportunities to engage in service-learning projects that address key conservation issues. There is a growing need to educate a workforce that can lead the design and implementation of adaptive conservation programs that are resilient with respect to the impacts on natural resources of climate change and sea level rise. Leadership in conservation is particularly challenged by the need to review underlying paradigms and to initiate paradigm shifts where needed. The interdisciplinary minor in Conservation Leadership seeks to provide students with a greater depth of experience and understanding of the role that integrated natural science and social science can play in developing conservation policy, especially under the circumstances of a changing climate and environment. This interdisciplinary minor offers an integrated approach to managing natural resources from a coupled human-ecological perspective, and addresses the diverse biological, physical, social, economic, and political aspects of natural resources management, community resilience, and stewardship.

This interdisciplinary minor in Conservation Leadership was developed by Old Dominion University in collaboration with the US Fish and Wildlife Service as part of a long-term, sustainable program of conservation-related service-learning, internships and leadership programs. The minor in Conservation Leadership facilitates the development of the next generation of professionals who can address conservation issues and challenges posed by a changing climate and sea level rise.

Students who could benefit from adding the Minor to their portfolio include but are not limited to Biology (Wetland Biology and Biotech), Chemistry, Oceanography (Biological, Chemical, Geological, Physical), Civil and Environmental Engineering, Earth Science Education, Economics, Environmental Health, Geography, Interdisciplinary Studies (Professional Writing, Work & Professional Studies), International Studies, Leadership, Management, Marine Biology, Park, Recreation and Tourism Studies, Political and Legal Studies, Political Science, Print and Photo Media, Public Health.

A survey of job skills required for coping with the challenge of climate change and sea level rise to conservation revealed needs related to four areas:

  1. Scientific understanding: In particular, systems thinking, understanding of uncertainties and probabilities, accepting the limited predictability of a system in rapid transition, insight into resilience, fragility, and hazards, ability to develop transformation knowledge, and a stronger focus on adaptation over mitigation were emphasized.
  2. Technical skills: Understanding the physical, chemical and biological processes and the ability to translate them into models, combining the understanding with strong computational skills, handling and visualizing of data and assimilation of data into models, understanding and using new approaches such as crowd-sourcing and big data, and developing web communications.
  3. Interfacing of science and society: The understanding of the decision making process in society and insight into human behavior are important. Particularly for contentious topics like climate change, being able to communicate scientific evidence including uncertainties and probabilities is a necessary skill. Climate change also invalidates many of the paradigms developed in times of stability. Recognizing the paradigms that are implicit in decision making and assessing their validity is increasingly important. Being able to develop foresight and assess possible futures are important skills for conservation leaders.
  4. Personal skills: Among the personal skills identified are the ability to integrate into a transdisciplinary problem-focused environment, i.e., not being an expert in all fields but being able to recognize the expertise required to solve a problem and to communicate with experts in the required fields. Reflective capabilities are important. Understanding and accepting personal, community and cultural biases are all important traits for addressing a challenging problem such as conservation under climate change. Also important is to gain an understanding of the ethical and moral implications of climate change and conservation under rapidly changing conditions. Adaptive capabilities include the ability to modify plans and activities if circumstance change and knowledge evolves. A note about understanding and communicating with other cultures: Ninety five million acres of tribal land in the US are held in trust by the government including the USFWS. Protecting and preserving this land and its many ecosystems, must take into account tribal customs, mores and values. Understanding and being able to communicate about tribal cultural norms is essential to the federal government’s stewardship of these lands.