Cornell Botanic Gardens in partnership with the Cornell CALS MPS degree program offers a one-year Masters of Professional Studies degree for individuals interested in leading botanical gardens, arboreta, and similar organizations.

Program Components

The Masters of Professional Studies (MPS) degree 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, students 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.

The MPS degree program has two main components:

  1. Coursework: The suggested MPS curriculum includes a balance of courses to build professional and disciplinary competencies. Students work with a faculty advisor to customize their course of study based on their area of interest. 
  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.

Students are part of a cohort of College of Agriculture and Life Sciences 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.

Program Enrichment


Students have opportunities to travel to visit other public gardens and meet current public garden professionals. Participation in professional meetings is encouraged.


Students have opportunities to gain public garden experience by working alongside professional staff at Cornell Botanic Gardens in plant conservation, horticulture, education, fundraising, and administration.


Mentoring for students is provided and students are connected with leaders in the field for mentoring related to the capstone project, students’ interest, and career development.


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.

Career options for graduates may include: 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.


Individuals accepted into the program are responsible for paying the required MPS program tuition and fees. Scholarships are available through Cornell Botanic Gardens and the Graduate School.

Admission 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. An undergraduate degree is required. Applications must be submitted by February 15.  Learn how to apply here.  Successful candidates are notified of their entry into the program by early April.

For more information

Visit the CALS MPS degree program website.

Contact Dr. Sonja Skelly, director of the Public Garden Leadership MPS program:
Dr. Sonja Skelly