Program details

The Master of Design in Sustainable Environments (MDesSE) is an initial 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 in 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.

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. Students with an interest in this program but without an undergraduate background in these disciplines/degrees are encouraged to apply. Admission will be considered on an individual basis.


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:

  • Addressing the impact of climate change on communities and the built environment.
  • Integrating informal economies within contemporary modes of urbanization.
  • Developing strategies to reinvigorate waterways and enhance water quality.
  • Integrating waste as a resource in contemporary infrastructures.
  • Rethinking disaster mitigation processes that promote resilience, social equity and expedited relief.

The MDesSE 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.

We are pleased to offer the unique opportunity for you to pursue a double degree between our MDesSE and programs within and outside the College of Design. Earn the MDesSE and a second degree simultaneously while maintaining the high standards of both programs. In many cases, the time to degree completion is lengthened only by one or two semesters.

The MDesSE is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

Application requirements

Note for Fall 2024 Applicants: The Master of Design in Sustainable Environments is not taking applications for fall 2024.

Anyone applying for admission to the Master of Design in Sustainable Environments program must complete the Iowa State University Graduate College online application. As part of the application, you will be asked to provide:

  • Official academic transcripts
  • Statement of academic and professional interests (300-500 words)
  • Three letters of recommendation from individuals from your educational or professional background who can most directly speak about your ability to complete graduate level course work and teaching duties
    • You will be asked within the application to provide the names and email addresses for your three references; when you submit the application, the three individuals will receive an email notification from ISU Admissions with a link to the recommendation form
  • Digital portfolio
  • Resume/CV
  • English Proficiency Exam (international applicants only)
  • Financial statement (international applicants only)

Consideration date

The priority application consideration date for fall admission is Feb. 1. Applications will be accepted continually and evaluated until the cohort is full. While typical admission is in the fall, we will accept applications for spring or summer semester admission.

College of Design student working on class project.

A Cyclone in the Making

Find your place at Iowa State University’s College of Design, where we like to ask questions, poke and prod, create something new, and make a difference through design.