MCL Program Schedule & Curriculum

The Master of Conservation Leadership is comprised of four learning units spread across the 24-month program. Online interactive learning modules will be interspersed with two field-based learning residencies.

In our program, you will have the opportunity to grow your network and collaborate with leading conservation professionals. The course culminates with a final project that helps address a real-world conservation challenge.

Unit 1: Foundations

Year 1 | Summer & Fall

After gaining a foundational understanding of treaty rights and responsibilities, students will participate in face-to-face land-based learning and lectures from Indigenous knowledge holders and scholars.

In this course, students examine the different components of knowledge systems, investigate how western knowledge systems have engaged with Indigenous knowledge, and explore conservation models rooted in Indigenous knowledge and governance.

This course will offer an overview of historical, contemporary, and emerging approaches to conservation governance and their consequences. It will focus on the shifting roles of key actors including government, non-governmental organizations, industry, science/academia, and the public.

The rationales for various conservation approaches will be considered, as well as their strengths and weaknesses, and discussions will allow for debate and exploration of contentious ideas and practices. The course will review a range of conceptual and theoretical approaches to conservation, using case studies to illustrate how they relate to specific conservation tools.

This course offers future conservation leaders an overview of conservation biology in the Anthropocene with an emphasis on mining peer-reviewed journals and data sets for increased comprehension of contemporary conservation challenges.

Students gain an appreciation for 'state of knowledge' for key areas of conservation science including migratory species, climate change, managing for resilience and disturbance ecology and explore the implications of uncertainty for conservation decision-making.

Unit 2: Leadership and Communications

Year 1 | Fall & Winter

This residency takes place with an Indigenous partner organizations/Nation, providing students an opportunity to apply and practice leadership and communication skills learned throughout the semester and the critical and nuanced understanding of past and present conservation governance and practice through engaging discussion and land-based learning.

This course provides an overview of leadership and leadership development. Students will learn about leadership competencies that foster the effectiveness of the leader and the engagement and performance of their followers and teams.

Students will complete self-assessments of some of their own leadership competencies and design tactics to improve them.

This course reviews the importance of public communications and engagement in mobilizing communities in support of environmental policy reform. Students will learn about the science-public interface in the field of conservation and interrogate issues including the public trust in conservation science, public understanding of conservation science, and different strategies for conservation education that includes science-based and values-based communication.

Through analysis of existing and proposed conservation campaigns, students will investigate the strategic importance of framing issues effectively to the public and identifying core messages in the development of a communications campaign.

This course builds leadership skills in the assessment, development and maintenance of effective conservation partnerships that span Crown and Indigenous governments, the private sector and civil society.

This course will deepen the understandings of the drivers behind why partnerships, often with atypical allies, are increasingly forging conservation solutions and how governments at all levels are shifting to more inclusive models of decision-making.

Unit 3: Innovation & Conservation

Year 2 | Summer

The residency focuses on the Conservation Tools and Technology course, making use of on-campus resources such as our computer lab to complete hands-on work with conservation GIS, and learning from international experts on the cutting-edge of conservation technology based in Guelph at the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics.

This course provides a critical review of classic and emerging tools for conservation planning and governance, such as:

  • GIS modelling for landscape assessment and planning
  • public participation GIS
  • integrated modelling
  • social science tools
  • cost effectiveness analysis
  • cost benefit analysis
  • drones
  • DNA barcoding
  • non-intrusive monitoring

This course examines measures for advancing conservation outcomes in intensively impacted and managed landscapes including agricultural, forested, and urban areas. Students will learn about regulatory measures such as standards, frameworks, and policies on land management.

This course also analyzes non-regulatory measures, including various mechanisms for incentivizing conservation actions such as cost-share payment in environmental farm plans; payment for ecosystem services; third party certification in agricultural, forestry and mining sectors; land trusts and other stewardship arrangements including conservation easements; volunteer agreements among stakeholders; and conservation opportunities in urbanized geographies including Greenbelts and nature features for green infrastructure.

Unit 4: Final Learning Portfolio

Year 2 | Fall & Winter

The final learning portfolio is the capstone experience where students demonstrate their ability to synthesize skills learned in the program. Students plan and execute a project that advances knowledge or practice to address a conservation or organizational challenge relevant to their current place of employment. The first semester is dedicated to a literature review and the development of a project proposal.

Example projects include creating a conservation plan for a particular area or species, creating a communications plan for an upcoming campaign, developing an educational program for their organization, writing a funding proposal for an innovative conservation intervention, or assessing a conservation intervention. The final portfolio will consist of the synthesis paper, the project report, an assessment of the student’s growth as a conservation leader and a revised individual development plan.