River Studies & Leadership Certificate

The River Management Society (RMS) is proud to be partnering with a cohort of 12 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. 


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 Fuhrmann, 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.)

RSLC Institutions & Advisors

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 through a foundation of knowledge, skills and experience in river-based science, policy, conservation, education, and recreation. 

The following universities and colleges 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.

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.

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

Eastern Washington University 

Western Colorado University

Fort Lewis College 


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

These resources were updated August 2021 for advisors' use at their schools. Please fill in your contact information before printing! Contact Bekah Price at [email protected]  to request additional promotional materials or media coverage of RSLC news at your school. We LOVE to share your news, photos and videos and are available to coordinate media coverage with your school's press office, local and national media, RMS members and friends on social media. Please don't hesitate to reach out!

What graduates are saying...


  • "The RSLC program provided me an opportunity to get unique hands-on learning experiences that I was seeking during my college career. I was able to learn about many river related topics ranging from river safety to macro-invertebrate sampling. Being able to learn how to use those skills while in the river allowed me to gain experience performing tasks that directly relate to my career goals now that I have graduated college. I also was able to build relationships with fellow students who have interests in river studies and was able to work with them on several projects. Overall, I am very pleased with my experience with the RSLC program and will remember it as a highlight of my time at VCU." - Brian Dagliano
  • "The independent research I performed as an undergrad helped boost my resume and made me noticeable to laboratories in Portland, Oregon. The field of study I wanted to pursue was vague and the professional experience provided really helped my undergraduate experience flourish."
  • "I will be graduating from NAU with a Master of Science in Environmental Science and Policy. I will be working as a fish ecologist contractor with USGS after graduation, working with conservation, monitoring and management of native fish and trout in the Grand Canyon Colorado River. The coursework and trainings that were requirements for the RSLC program really helped give me the skills necessary for successfully completing the work I will be doing." - Lindsay Hansen
  • "It allowed me to network when I worked with the USFS and BLM as a River Ranger."
  • "The RSLC Certification Program has allowed for ample connections to working professionals in my field as well as closely related fields. This program creates networking connections while you are a student that are easy to continue into the professional world."
  • "I was informed via RMS about the Forest Service hiring period last fall which led me to my current position as a hydrology technician with the Bridger-Teton National Forest."
  • "Participation in the RSLC program allowed me to meet potential employers, specifically at the RMS conference that I attended."
  • "It led me down the path of being a River Ranger for the USFS and BLM. I am currently a middle school teacher at Hemingway STEAM School in Ketchum, ID."
  • "Attending the RMS Symposium to present my work, publishing an article in the RMS Journal, and being a part of the RMS Job Board are all components of the program that helped me in networking and obtaining employment in my field. The support of RMS was fundamental in my career development."
  • "It allowed me to perform undergraduate research, and gain scientific experience."