Masters of Marine Affairs (MMA) Curriculum

New Choices Are Coming to the MMA Program at SMEA

Beginning with the class admitted for Autumn Quarter 2015, SMEA has established two curriculum tracks for completion of the MMA degree: the Professional track and the Thesis track. Students choosing the Professional track will complete a capstone project, while those choosing the Thesis track will perform research leading to a scholarly publication. Students in both tracks must complete coursework in addition to their capstone or thesis research, and all students must complete a total of 59 credits to graduate. Prior to this change, all MMA students were required to write a thesis except those few students who qualified and petitioned to complete the degree without writing a thesis.

Why the New Choices?

SMEA has implemented these curriculum changes to better meet the needs of today's MMA students. SMEA has always served students preparing for careers as practitioners as well as those who are focused on academic or research-oriented careers. The Professional track will allow practice-oriented students to obtain vital "real-world" experience through applied learning via the capstone project, which will typically be performed by small groups in service to a real-world client. The Thesis track will allow research-oriented students to develop and hone research skills appropriate for academic careers. Regardless of which track a student chooses, all MMA students will graduate with the same well-rounded, interdisciplinary training that SMEA has provided for 35 years.

Will the MMA Curriculum Remain Human-Dimensions Focused?

Yes, the human-dimensions focus of the SMEA MMA curriculum will continue in both tracks. This curriculum is designed to familiarize students with a diversity of conceptual and methodological approaches and substantive areas in the field of marine and environmental affairs. The field focuses on the connections between marine and terrestrial environmental and the surrounding communities. To encompass such a broad field, the School utilizes a framework called “Human Dimensions of Global Change in the Marine Environment” (HDGCME).

What Does the MMA Curriculum Look Like?

The curriculum can be divided into two categories: Core and Elective classes.

The Core is comprised of three broad areas:

  1. The Introductory Sequence which addresses SMEA’s HDGCME theme;
  2. Subject Areas such as marine science, marine law, economics, etc.; and
  3. Analytic Skills including quantitative analysis, policy analysis, etc.

Elective courses are intended to enhance the student's knowledge of marine and environmental affairs in areas pertinent to the Capstone or Thesis project and the student's special interests. Electives provide the needed depth of understanding in substantive fields of inquiry and in methods of research and analysis.

The SMEA faculty have identified the following topical areas of concentration students can pursue, but others can be developed and pursued as student interest dictates:

  • Climate change and ocean acidification
  • Coastal and marine environmental law and policy
  • Coastal and marine tourism governance
  • Integrated coastal management and planning
  • Living marine resources conservation, planning, and policy
  • Marine ecosystems and their management
  • Marine environmental protection and restoration
  • Marine policy analysis and marine policy processes
  • Marine transportation and maritime policy

The first year of study is devoted to developing a comprehensive understanding of marine and environmental affairs including how the HDGCME construct applies to the field, as well as to strengthening analytical skills, demonstrated by making substantial progress toward the completion of the core course requirements and electives. For students in the Professional track, a major first year task will be to identify the capstone project they want to complete, while for Thesis track students they will identify a thesis chair and develop a thesis topic and thesis prospectus by the end of spring quarter.

During the second year of study, students in the different tracks will not only focus on their culminating project (capstone for Professional track students and thesis for Thesis track students), but also will continue to take electives and core courses as required and not completed in the first year of study.

What Are the Two Tracks' Degree Requirements?

All students must complete 59 credits to graduate, but the two tracks differ in the balance of coursework versus research and in the number of elective versus required courses that comprise those 59 credits. Also, in selected cases, and with faculty approval, students in the Professional track may complete the degree through a "courses only" approach. The table below illustrates the difference degree requirements for the two tracks:


  Course Number

Professional Track credits

Thesis Track credits





    Introduction to the HDGCME

  SMEA 500



    Tools for Integrated Marine Affairs Practice

  SMEA 501



    Decision Making & Action Taking 

  SMEA 502



    Marine Law

  SMEA 506 or 515



    Policy Analysis

  SMEA 519



    Environmental/Resource Economics

  SMEA 530 or 538



    Policy Processes 

  SMEA 507 or 521



    Marine Science

  SMEA 510 or 591



    Research Skills (Statistics)

  TBD with advisor



    First Year Advising

  SMEA 600B




  TBD with advisor




  SMEA 650/651or 700







The curriculum is an evolving process, as such, requirements vary among entering class. The entering class of 2013, for example, has slightly different requirements from the entering class of 2014. The entering class of 2015 will have different requirements because of the new curriculum choices, and so on. Please refer to the appropriate Program of Studies for explicit requirements for your entering class.

Selecting a Track

Students will self-select into either the Professional or Thesis track at the time they apply for admission to the MMA program. Adjustments can be made within the first three quarters of study, following petition by the student and approval by faculty. Admission to the Thesis track requires concurrence of a faculty advisor, and students in the Thesis track must propose a research project and establish their thesis committee by the end of spring quarter of their first year.


Please contact Tiffany Dion, Graduate Program Advisor, at or 206-543-0106.