River Studies & Leadership Certificate

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


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 of the future 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!

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 Furhmann, River Training Center Coordinator, or Risa Shimoda, RMS Executive Director, to get started.

RSLC Institutions

The River Studies and Leadership Certificate (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. 

Colorado Mesa University, Minnesota State University at Mankato, Northern Arizona University, Prescott College, Sierra Nevada University, University of Utah, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Western Carolina University and Western Washington University offer courses that fulfill the certificate requirements. 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.

Colorado Mesa Prescott College Virginia Commonwealth University
Sierra Nevada College University of Tennessee Chattanooga University of Utah
Northern Arizona University Western Carolina University Western Washington University


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. The links below include the Certificate, Accepted Classes and Student Program Sheet

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 studends 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. 


Advisor Resources

Contact Your Advisor

The River Studies and Leadership Committee members who are faculty at their respective institutions serve as advisors to students interested in and pursuing the Certificate.