River Studies & Leadership Certificate 

The River Management Society (RMS) is proud to partner with a cohort of 14 universities and colleges to offer the River Studies and Leadership Certificate (RSLC) program, awarded upon completion of river-focused coursework and a river-related professional project by RMS. 

The RSLC is designed to offer undergraduate and graduate students who have become inspired to join the next generation of river professionals a foundation of knowledge, skills and experience in river-based science, policy, conservation, education, and recreation. 

Rivers play a central role in shaping landscapes and creating biologically diverse and unique ecosystems; they also form the foundation of cultures, economies, and communities.  Indeed, rivers connect us to nature, to our past, and to each other. Leaders with an understanding of the fundamentals of river sciences, river-related policy and management, and river-based recreation and education will be best equipped to make sustainable decisions about future uses, studies and management of river systems around the world. RMS and the founders of this program believe a new generation of young leaders is essential to create a brighter future for our nation’s rivers. 


Get Involved!

Offer the Certificate at Your University

We would love to work with your university to offer this program! Our graduates have gone on to work for the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and several private companies in fields including aquatic science, fisheries management, hydrology, geographic information systems (GIS), and outdoor recreation. Please contact Angie Braley, River Training Center Coordinator, or Risa Shimoda, RMS Executive Director, to get started. Click here for an RSLC (PowerPoint plus audio) introduction presentation by RMS and RSLC Advisors Gigi Richard, Ph.D, and Joel Barnes, Ph.D. (Note: participating institutions have partially changed since this presentation was recorded.)

Enroll as a Student

Use the map below to connect with your advisor and enroll today. If it's not offered at your school, reach out to RMS by emailing [email protected].


RSLC Institutions & Advisors

The following universities and colleges offer courses that fulfill the certificate requirements: Colorado Mesa University, Fort Lewis College, Northern Arizona University, Northeastern State University, Prescott College, University of Tennessee Chattanooga, University of Montana Western, University of Northern Colorado, Utah State University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Western Carolina University, Western Colorado University, West Virginia University, and Western Washington University. 

Faculty members from these institutions collaborate with students to design and complete a personalized academic program that empowers them to address the real-world challenges facing our nation’s rivers. Each student’s program is vetted by industry professionals, practitioners, and academics from RMS and the partner institutions.



  • RMS Announces 2024 RSLC Recipients - Read more (May 2024)
  • Students, early career professionals invited to free River Careers Discussion Series September - November 2023 (Register)
  • Nation’s Only River Certificate Program Propels 17 Students into River Management, Science and Stewardship Careers - Read more (June 2023)
  • RSLC Student Trip to Canyon Lake, TX - Video (April 2023)
  • Northeastern State University offers new pathway to river-based careers - Read more (Jan. 2023)
  • Utah State University, University of Montana Western Offer New Pathway to River Careers - Read more (Sep. 2022)
  • Career Prep Discussion Series - Read more (Aug. 2022)
  • Certificate Recipients Aim to Make a Splash in Water Conservation, Environmental Justice - Read more (Aug. 2022)
  • Graduates earn River Studies and Leadership Certificate, pursue river management careers - Read more (June 2021)


Program Overview

River Studies and Leadership Certificate coursework is focused specifically on river systems, yet it is interdisciplinary in nature; students explore and study river systems in ways that integrate the life and earth sciences, policy and conservation, socio-cultural and economic factors, as well as education and recreation. Ultimately, the RSLC adds valued focus to a student’s degree and presents employment advantages through networking with the River Management Society. 

As a part of the RSLC program, RMS offers students exciting opportunities for professional networking and collaboration. Students are encouraged to use RMS as a source for their river studies and professional networking. Each RSLC student receives a free one-year membership to the River Management Society, which includes a subscription to the RMS Journal and access to national and regional chapter events (e.g. chapter floats, river field trips & workshops, swiftwater rescue courses, etc.).

RSLC students are required to share aspects of their river studies with the RMS community by either presenting at the biennial RMS Symposium or publishing an article in the RMS Journal. Current RSLC students are invited to attend either the RMS Symposium or the River Management Workshop (held on alternate years) for which their conference registration fees are waived. Financial assistance may be available to RSLC students to help with conference and workshop travel and expenses: please read the scholarship policy details before applying.

Course Requirements

The River Studies and Leadership Certificate is an interdisciplinary program that combines learning about river science, geographic information systems (GIS), policy and river field experience with a chosen emphasis in one of three areas: river science, river-based policy, or river-based education, recreation and tourism. RSLC students demonstrate “real-world” application of their knowledge and skills through professional experience or an internship with a river project. The River Studies and Leadership Certificate program is structured as follows:

Core Courses (4 courses):

Students must successfully complete approved* courses in the following subjects:

  • Geographic Information Systems (1 course)
  • River Science (1 course)
  • River Policy (1 course)
  • Swiftwater Rescue (1 course)
Emphasis Courses (2 courses):

Students must take at least two approved* courses from ONE of the following emphasis areas:

  • River Science
  • River-based Policy and Management
  • River-based Recreation, Education, and Tourism
Professional Experience Requirement

In order to enable students to become effective leaders and river professionals, one of the requirements of the River Studies and Leadership Certificate is that “learning must be applied in a professional context”.  This requirement may be met through a credit-earning internship, paid internship, paid professional experience, independent study or course-related professional experience.  The experience must encompass a minimum of 90 hours of work (or 2 credit-hours) and will be reviewed and approved by the River Studies and Leadership Certificate Committee to certify the adequacy of the experience for the professional experience program requirement.  Students with relevant, recent professional or internship experience may request that those experiences be used to fulfill this requirement. 

Oral/Written Presentation Requirement

Students are required to either present aspects of their work at an RMS Symposium or sponsored conference, or write an article for the RMS Journal about their experiences.


  1. Many of the courses have prerequisites and students should plan accordingly.
  2. Students may (but are not required to) take coursework from any of the participating institutions.  When doing so, these students must follow all standard procedures & policy at that institution.
  3. Each student’s program must be approved by the River Studies and Leadership Standing Committee, in consultation with faculty at the student’s home institution. 

Learning Outcomes

  1. Students will have a working knowledge of Geographical information Systems with potential application to river systems.
  2. Students will have a working knowledge of the basic physical and biological environment and processes of river systems.
  3. Students will have a working knowledge of river safety and rescue, and basic river navigation and travel, including river-based Leave No Trace.
  4. Students will choose an emphasis within river studies and take courses that support that specialization.
  5. Students will acquire hands-on experience with river-related project(s) via an internship, professional employment or independent study.

*The courses that are considered applicable to the RSLC have been identified at each institution by its members and the RSLC Standing Committee. 

RSLC Graduate Quotes

Advisor Resources

Contact Bekah Price at [email protected] to request additional promotional materials or assistance with media outreach about RSLC news and opportunities at your school. Please don't hesitate to reach out!

RSLC Students at the 2023 pre-Symposium trip to Canyon Lake, TX. Photo by James Vonesh.