SIT reimagines sustainable development with revamped degree

October 4th, 2018   |   SIT Graduate Institute

Prompted by growing economic disparity and environmental destruction and the lack of visibility of existing alternatives, the School for International Training (SIT) is introducing a revamped Master of Arts in Sustainable Development.

The reimagined degree will focus on transformative and imaginative solutions from around the world to systemic problems. During the two-year, low-residency program that allows students to stay in jobs, students will receive hands-on training during brief residencies in Brattleboro, Vermont, and Oaxaca, Mexico, and will continue their practice in their own communities while continuing their studies online.

"This program emerges from many years of working, researching, and learning in the field, across many countries,” says the program chair, Udi Butler. “The serious ecological, economic, and social problems we face today around the world require a substantial shift in much of our thinking, practice, and ethics.”

Butler cites the creation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 as a “tremendous step” in bringing individuals and organizations from around the world together to engage with issues including poverty, hunger, maternal health, biodiversity, and climate change. But that’s just a start, he says. “For societies and ecologies to have a viable future we need to move beyond sustainable development. We need to develop ways of understanding problems and designing regenerative solutions that see the inseparable connections between human and ecological systems.”

As well as learning the concepts and tools within the field of sustainable development, students will witness cutting-edge regenerative solutions in a variety of contexts. In Vermont, students will learn from professionals working in transition towns, permaculture, community-owned forests, co-housing, local food industries, eco-architecture, and green energy.  In Mexico, students will learn from individuals in social movements and indigenous communities who are creatively responding to local and global challenges. Students may also participate in an optional field course in Washington, DC, where they will get firsthand experience in monitoring and evaluation and policy and advocacy.

For Butler, the most unique and important part of the program is the work students will do in their home communities and workplace during the online portions of the program. “Think of it as — your community is your primary learning context and campus.”

Ken Williams, graduate dean at SIT, calls the program “innovative.” “This program brings together cutting-edge developments in thinking and practice in sustainable development, connecting students with leading organizations on the ground, while equipping them with the skills and networks to bring about positive social and ecological change wherever they may be,” he says.

Both Williams and Butler envision the program preparing students to join other innovators and change agents in the fields of sustainable development and regenerative practice. As students practice the techniques they’re learning in their courses within their home communities and workplace, they’ll be trained to look out for opportunities to bring about positive social and ecological change. Graduates will be ready to take these skills into many arenas, including international and community development, agriculture, forest and land management, energy access, and businesses and social enterprises. The program will also provide students with networks that are important for starting their own socially and ecologically engaged enterprise.

For more information on the MA in Sustainable Development, including how to apply, please visit the program page at