Sustainable Environments


Program Information:

Program Statement:
    The Master of Design in Sustainable Environments (M.Des.S.E.) is an advanced interdisciplinary degree that focuses on holistic design strategies for the production of sustainable, resilient environments and artifacts. MDesSE Students and faculty constitute a highly interactive multi-disciplinary community that is deeply engaged in understanding, promoting and conceiving sustainable practices in design, planning and artistic production. Students engage faculty-led research projects and are challenged to develop individual sustainable design strategies for issues of current relevance that conserve resources, ameliorate ecological problems and promote social, political and economic justice. Coursework focuses on developing skills in modes of representation and information dissemination, foundational and emerging theoretical discourse, research methods and design interventions. The degree concludes with an integrated capstone experience through a student-defined thematic project. Capstone projects are situated in different parts of the world and include themes such as (1) addressing the impact of climate change on communities and the built environment; (2) integrating informal economies within contemporary modes of urbanization; (3) developing strategies to reinvigorate waterways and enhance water quality; (4) integrating waste as a resource in contemporary infrastructures; and (5) rethinking disaster mitigation processes that promote resilience, social equity and expedited relief. The Master of Design in Sustainable Environments degree consists of 35 credits, typically distributed over three semesters (fall, spring and summer); however students may choose to distribute these credits over four or five semesters. The degree is geared toward students with professional degrees in art (BFA, MFA), architecture (BArch, MArch), Graphic Design (BFA, MFA), Interior Design (BFA, MFA), Industrial Design (BID, MID), landscape architecture (BLA, MLA), planning (BSCRP, MCRP, MUP) or Engineering. Graduate students can also pursue the following double degrees in the College of Design: M Arch/MDesSE, MCRP/MDesSE, MFA in IVA/MDesSE and MLA/MDesSE.
Degrees Offered:
  • Master of Design in Sustainable Environments (M.D.S.)
Learning Goals:
  • Have a thorough understanding of factors contributing to development of the sustainability movement.
  • Understand and critically assess the state of their own home discipline as it is related to sustainability.
  • Develop design processes and successfully apply communication tactics to scenarios related to sustainable design.
  • Have the ability to spatially analyze basic and advanced metrics related to elements of sustainability.
  • Analyze the impacts of sustainability and potential solutions at multiple human scales: individual, communal, systemic and global.
  • Think critically about the relationship between a research problem and a research method.
  • Have knowledge of a broad range of methods of research used in the design of sustainable environments.
  • Be prepared to work successfully in interdisciplinary teams.
  • Have strong verbal, visual and written communication skills.
How long does it take to earn a degree?
  • Median time to earn the master’s: 2.8 years (Methods)

Program Contact:

Contact: Melissa Stenstrom
Phone: 515-294-3366
E-mail Address:

Mailing Address:

    Iowa State University
    Attn: Graduate Programs Support
    715 Bissell Road
    146 Design
    Ames, IA 50011

Admission Requirements:

Graduate College Requirements:
  • 4 year Bachelor’s degree (or equivalent)
  • Academic Records/Transcripts
  • Minimum 3.0 GPA (Program may alter requirement.)
  • Proof of English Proficiency.
Program Specific Requirements:
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Statement of purpose
  • Resume/CV
  • Program Requires GRE: No
  • Program Requires GMAT: No
  • Program Will Review Without TOEFL or IELTS: No
International Requirements:
  • Financial Statement: Application
  • English Proficiency Minimum:
    TOEFL Paper (PBT) 550
    TOEFL Internet (iBT) 79
    IELTS 6.5
    PTE 53
    Duolingo (approved through spring 2025) 105

Application Information:

Application Deadlines:
    February 1 for full consideration for assistantships. Applications received after February 1 will be reviewed until fall class is full. Spring and summer entry not available.
Application Details:
    This program is open to domestic and international students.

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