Certificate Program in Urban Science & Sustainable Development

Creating a new pathway for graduate students at the University of Chicago interested in Sustainable Urban Development.


The University of Chicago’s Certificate in Urban Science and Sustainable Development recognizes graduate student work addressing one of the most challenging and important issues of our time: Sustainable Urban Development. 

The Certificate is awarded in conjunction with existing UChicago graduate degree programs. It establishes the scientific and intellectual underpinnings for a career in this emerging field. The program is built as a cohort experience for graduate students supported by the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation. Participants from different backgrounds and with diverse objectives will meet and engage in constructive debate, collaboration and synthesis.

This program is open to all UChicago Master’s or PhD students enrolled in a full-time program who have completed their first year of coursework. The Certificate provides proof of specialization and will be noted on the student’s official transcript at the time of graduating from their degree program.


Program Overview

Urban Science and associated Sustainable Development are the systemic and computational study of how cities work, grow and develop to advance a more sustainable and equitable future. Urban science offers a framework that is critical to accelerating a global understanding of cities to meet challenges, from climate change, pandemics, social inequities and more. This is by nature an interdisciplinary field, involving work across traditional disciplines, using diverse methods and addressing multiple scales from local issues to global challenges. For these reasons, presently the field is not well represented by any single academic unit or professional school. This research area does, however, have significant overlap with a number of Master’s and PhD Programs at the interface between the social sciences, mathematical modeling, data and computation, environmental sciences and public policy. The Certificate’s goal is to address growing student demand for coordinated, interdisciplinary training on the study of cities, and provide the foundations of methodological education and training to realize the global potential of cities and to improve the human condition in an increasingly urban world.

The anchor of the Certificate Program is a Seminar Course taught in Winter Quarter by Luis Bettencourt, with guest lectures from the Certificate Faculty Committee. During and after the Seminar Course, the program encourages each graduate student to determine – together with their faculty advisor – which aspects of urban research and practice they are interested in pursuing. The program promotes interaction, coherence and standards across diverse educational and training offerings (Masters and PhDs). Participants in the Certificate Program are integrated into the Mansueto Institute community of scholars and given access to a wide array of professional development programming and resources. Students are expected to engage in recurring events with their Certificate cohort as well as with Faculty Committee Members, and are encouraged to organize activities and discussions that enrich the Program’s experience.


All full-time graduate students at the University of Chicago who have completed the first year of coursework for their degree program are eligible to apply. For Master’s students, this means applying to the Certificate in the second (or third) year of their degree program. PhD students are encouraged to apply around the time they create their thesis proposal, though they may apply earlier. Applicants should speak with their graduate program advisor in conjunction with applying to the Certificate Program to confirm the Certificate aligns with their existing course of study.

Requirements for Certificate Completion

Students accepted into the Certificate Program are required to complete the following to be awarded the Certificate:

  • Participation in Winter Quarter Seminar Course taught by Luis Bettencourt
  • Two elected courses (at minimum) over the course of their degree program related to urban science and sustainable development out of offerings in any graduate program or possibly from advanced College offerings. View a list of current qualifying courses for the Certificate program.
  • Presentation of a Major Research Project and/or approved professional experience at a Faculty-Juried Symposium in the Spring that advances the student’s understanding of the field and ideally the state of the art in research or practice
  • Participation in cohort events during the academic year (held roughly twice per quarter in Fall and Spring)

The Major Research Project will emerge from activities in the Certificate Seminar Course. It can also be related to a Master’s thesis or PhD dissertation on a relevant subject of the student’s selection advised by a UChicago Faculty member in accordance with a degree program, and later reviewed by the Faculty Committee to satisfy Certificate requirements. Master’s students who are not required to complete a Master’s thesis (e.g. in the MSCAPP program) can substitute a high-level course project from the Certificate Seminar or another urban-focused course, or relevant professional experience, such as a full-time internship, with the approval of the Certificate Faculty Committee. Participants will be required to submit a formal proposal of their Major Research Project after acceptance into the Certificate Program.

An annual faculty-juried Symposium on Urban Science and Sustainable Development will be held during the Spring quarter, during which all Certificate Program Participants will present their completed Major Research Project or equivalent. Program participants will be required to submit a brief summary of their Major Research Project to the Faculty Committee prior to presenting at the Symposium.

Note: courses previously taken can be submitted for fulfillment of the Certificate requirement.

How to Join the Certificate Program

Interested students must complete an application, and should verify support from either their degree program supervisor or thesis advisor prior to applying. Each applicant will be considered by a multidisciplinary Faculty Committee in coordination with the relevant degree program supervisor.

Application materials include:

  1. A 750 word Statement of Purpose describing the student’s goals in pursuing the Certificate, as well as an anticipated approach for identifying a Major Research Project or equivalent. Applicants should briefly describe how their proposed work advances the areas of urban science and sustainable development.
  2. Two proposed courses that reflect the student’s interest in the field and will count toward certificate completion. Courses previously taken may be submitted. For the purposes of the application, students may indicate how their proposed courses relate to urban science, broadly defined and in conjunction with the student’s particular interests in urban research or practice.
  3. CV and brief professional bio

Applicants will be evaluated on the rigor and cohesion of their focus within urban scholarship and related goals, as well as their approach to determining a Major Research Project and complementary coursework.

Note: any Major Research Project described during the application process is not binding. Students accepted into the Certificate Program will be asked to submit a formal Major Research Project proposal later – as their work takes shape – for review and approval by the Faculty Committee.



Applications for the 2021-2022 Cohort are now closed. Applications for 2022-2023 will open in Spring 2022. 

View the slide presentation and video recording from the Virtual Information Session held on September 9, 2020.

For questions, email dpetty@uchicago.edu.


2021-2022 Cohort

Congratulations to our new cohort of Certificate in Urban Science and Sustainable Development graduate students.

Name Degree Department/School Expected Graduation Year
Javier Andres Rojas Aguilera MSCAPP Harris School of Public Policy 2022
Alexandria Cedergren MPP Harris School of Public Policy 2022
Coco Freling MPP Harris School of Public Policy 2022
Victor Gamarra MPP Harris School of Public Policy 2022
Alexis Levato MPP Harris School of Public Policy 2022
Emily Pape MPP Harris School of Public Policy 2022
Joshua Silver Ph.D. Department of Sociology 2024
Jeanne Sorin Ph.D. Department of Economics 2024
Andrew Stier Ph.D. Program in Integrative Neuroscience, Psychology Department 2023
Sirui Zhou MACSS Division of the Social Sciences 2022

Certificate Faculty Committee


  • Marc Berman | Associate Professor, Department of Psychology; Principal Investigator, Environmental Neuroscience Lab; Faculty Lead, Urban Cognition Lab Initiative, Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation; Faculty, Committee of Geographical Sciences
  • Luis Bettencourt | Inaugural Director; Faculty Lead, Kreisman Initiative for Housing Law and Policy, Million Neighborhoods Initiative; Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation; Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolution; Associated Faculty, Department of Sociology; External Professor of Complex Systems, Santa Fe Institute
  • Kavi Bhalla | Assistant Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, Biological Sciences Division; Affiliated Faculty, Harris School of Public Policy
  • Neil Brenner | Lucy Flower Professor of Urban Sociology, Department of Sociology
  • James Evans | Professor, Department of Sociology; Director, Knowledge Lab; Faculty Director, Masters Program in Computational Social Science (MACSS); External Professor, Santa Fe Institute
  • Micere Keels | Associate Professor, Department of Comparative Human Development
  • Anup Malani | Lee and Brena Freeman Professor at the University of Chicago Law School, Professor at the Pritzker School of Medicine, Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research in Boston, Senior Fellow at the Schaeffer Center at the University of Southern California, and editor at the Journal of Law and Economics.
  • Nicole Marwell | Associate Professor, Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice; Associated Faculty, Department of Sociology; Faculty Fellow, Center for Spatial Data Science
  • Elisabeth Moyer | Associate Professor, Atmospheric Science, Department of Geophysical Sciences; Faculty Lead, Environmental Frontiers Initiative, Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation; Affiliate, Energy Policy Institute
  • Mercedes Pascual | Louis Block Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolution
  • Trevor Price | Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolution
  • Bob Rosner | William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor, Departments of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Physics; Enrico Fermi Institute; and the College; Founding Co-Director, Energy Policy Institute; Faculty, Harris School of Public Policy
  • Emily Talen | Professor of Urbanism, Division of Social Sciences; Director, Urbanism Lab; Faculty, Committee of Geographical Sciences; Fellow, American Institute of Certified Planners