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NAU's First PSM Degree
Melissa Hatfield Riggs

MS in Applied Geospatial Sciences Approved for
Professional Science Master’s Affiliation

Professional Science Masters logo
GIS student in the field

A new kind of science program at Northern Arizona University (NAU) offers students a way to thrive in the growing global economy.

NAU’s first Professional Science Master’s (PSM) degree provides students a direct path to industry, government, or non-profit careers. The MS in applied geospatial sciences, geospatial technologies emphasis, was approved for PSM affiliation this month by the Council of Graduate Schools.

PSM degrees supply advanced training in sciences, technology, and mathematics while developing practical workplace skills such as business fundamentals and project management. These interdisciplinary degrees may also include training in intellectual property law, technology transfer, regulatory affairs, information technology, product marketing, leadership, entrepreneurship, and/or communications.

“The U.S. needs well-rounded science professionals with an in-depth understanding of their field as well as the skills to communicate effectively, solve problems, manage projects, and take new products to commercial success,” said Pam Foti, department chair for Geography, Planning and Recreation. “PSM degrees prepare students for work in a variety of cutting-edge fields and yield a highly marketable degree and competitive salary after only two years of postgraduate study.”

The National Research Council, Council of Graduate Schools and the U.S. Congress support PSM degrees as a means of enhancing American innovation and competitiveness. Sheila Tobias, consultant with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, calls the PSM “the 21st-century MBA.”

“NAU’s MS in Applied Geographic Information Sciences provided me with the opportunity to explore how GIS could be integrated into multiple disciplines, most notably recreation,” said Sydney Schoepke, NAU alumna and a recreation technician for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. “The program taught advanced knowledge in GIS and had the flexibility for me to take courses in recreation and land resource management. Before I even graduated, I was offered multiple jobs related to both recreation and GIS fields.”

"The PSM is an exciting degree option for bachelor’s graduates in the sciences, mathematics, or engineering who choose not to pursue a Ph.D. but need additional training and skills to compete in today’s global marketplace."

Council of Graduate Schools

Like the MBA, the PSM is a professional rather than a research degree. A master's degree in many natural science fields traditionally is a stepping stone to a doctorate rather than an end in itself. But over the past 13 years, foundations and universities have worked together to develop new master's programs for students seeking professional skills for the 21st century. PSM programs do not replace traditional master's programs, reports the National Council on Research, but augment them by serving students with a different scientific career path in mind.

Foti is enthusiastic about the opportunities presented by PSM affiliation. “We see this as a chance to make a formal connection with a national organization and initiative while working in conjunction with private and public enterprises,” Foti said. “These kinds of partnerships will only enhance the quality of our program and add to the future employment opportunities for our graduates."

GIS students in the field
GIS students in the field
GIS student in the field
Students and faculty in the field (Photos courtesy Pam Foti)

See for information on NAU’s MS in Applied Geospatial Sciences.  Further information on the PSM initiative can be found at and

—Melissa Hatfield Riggs, Graduate College