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Program Overview

According to the American Public Gardens Association, a public garden is “any institution that maintains collections of plants for the purposes of public education and enjoyment, in addition to research, conservation, and higher learning.”

The MPS specialization in Public Garden Leadership prepares students to lead botanical gardens, arboreta and similar organizations to positively impact the world through plant conservation, education, horticulture and community outreach.

Offered through the Section of Horticulture in partnership with Cornell Botanic Gardens, the specialization in Public Garden Leadership focuses on coursework in organizational leadership, strategic decision-making, and garden management. Students study and work alongside world renowned Cornell University faculty and field professionals in the forefront of garden management and development.  And, because of the importance of hands-on learning, enrollees regularly interact with Cornell Botanic Gardens staff and participate in in-depth study tours to public gardens in North America to learn from and network with field professionals.

Careers in Public Garden Management

As countries around the globe become heavily urbanized and the world’s plant diversity increasingly threatened, public gardens become even more indispensable institutions.  In addition to their roles in conserving rare and endangered species and educating the public on topics ranging from sustainable gardening to identifying the local flora, gardens are also increasingly vital green oases, sanctuaries to rejuvenate and reconnect with nature.

Among the career options are: horticulturist, greenhouse grower, conservation manager, plant biologist, soil scientist, botanist, outreach coordinator, volunteer manager, fundraising specialist, plant record manager, educator, marketing and communications specialist and leadership positions in key areas of public garden management such as horticulture, conservation, education and research.

The CALS MPS degree program in SIPS has two main components to complete the 30-credit degree requirement: 

  1. Coursework: The suggested SIPS MPS curriculum includes a balance of courses to build both professional and disciplinary competencies. Students work with a faculty advisor to customize their course of study based on their area(s) of interest.  While the majority of the courses (20 of the required 30 credits) will be in CALS, students have the flexibility to take electives across Cornell.
  2. Capstone project: With the guidance of a faculty advisor, students work on solving a real-world problem, building project management and team leadership skills sought by employers.

MPS students are part of a cohort of CALS professional master’s students specializing in diverse fields of study. The program is fast-paced and rigorous. Professional master’s students have a dedicated support organization, offering career guidance and professional skill development

Public Garden leadership alum Emily Detrick leading a conversation in a public garden

Read the MPS degree requirements

Public Garden Leadership Sample Curriculum

Fall Semester

course title
PLHRT 4910 Planting Urban Eden I
PADM 5410 Non Profit Management and Finance 
NBA 5150 Leadership Theory & Practice 
NCC 5540 Managing and Leading Organizations 
ALS 5211  Career Readiness for CALS Professional Master's Students
PLSCI 5900       MPS Project

Spring Semester

course title
PLHRT 4920 Planting Urban Eden II
PLHRT 4850 Public Garden Management
PLHRT 6000 Seminar in Horticulture
LEAD 5100 Leadership Skills for Graduate Students
COMM 4660 Public Communication of Science and Technology
PLSCI 5900 MPS Project
PLSCI 5940 Skills for Public Engagement 

Admissions Requirements

Students are selected for the program based on their demonstrated dedication to the public garden field, their work and life experiences, leadership qualities, and academic excellence. Admission requirements include:

  • Complete an application through Cornell graduate school by February 15. Successful candidates are notified of their entry into the program by early April. 
  • Undergraduate degree
  • Current résumé
  • Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores are not required but may be submitted to strengthen candidacy
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • TOEFL for non-native English speakers

Connect with us to discuss the admissions process

Learn more about all the Masters of Professional Studies specializations offered in the School of Integrative Plant Science