AIP Masters Program — Advancing Higher Ed Beyond the Classroom

As we search for ways to thrive along with the astounding biodiversity around us, some in St. Louis are expanding their understanding of human and ecological communities through the Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP).

AIP is a master’s degree program that links study at the Missouri Botanical Garden with online courses from Miami University in Ohio. Students in the program have flexibility to pursue their own interests and are encouraged to take meaningful action to support conservation and healthier communities as they work toward a master’s in biology or an MAT in teaching biological sciences. 

The AIP offers a unique opportunity for working professionals to attend school part time, interacting with students around the country while also being part of a local cohort working for conservation and better communities. 

The program is a unique, experiential way to expand your education. But don’t take our word for it. See what some of the current Garden-based AIP students had to say about the program.

Liz Clyne

As a high school teacher, I’ve wanted to start work on my master’s degree for many years but I’ve struggled to find a program that I was excited about and fit my schedule. The AIP program immediately caught my attention because it was designed for people who are working full time and gave me the opportunity to further my studies in biology.  I love the focus on community action. I’ve already implemented several projects in my classroom. One project I am working on this year is to find ways to increase students’ awareness of urban biodiversity and its importance in keeping our community and ecosystem healthy. Through my courses, I have learned about some great sustainability and conservation efforts happening in St. Louis and look forward to creating opportunities to involve students in these efforts. Although it is focused on connecting us to our local community, we explore these issues on the global level and work with other graduate students from all over the world in our online courses through Miami University. This unique program also gives us an opportunity to experience field research at various locations throughout the world through the Earth Expeditions courses. I am really looking forward to participating next summer and hope to to Kenya or South America to learn about efforts to conserve biodiversity throughout the world.

Jonathan Spencer

As a mid-career software developer, I wanted to do something positive to help with the climate crisis but felt I’d missed my opportunity by focusing on computer science in college. I read books and watched documentaries to learn about the issues, but I did not know how to get involved. Also, how could I justify the time and expense of going back to school?

Project Dragonfly’s Advanced Inquiry Program fit my needs perfectly. It honored my prior academic journey by placing me in a local cohort with diverse professionals — we draw on each other’s experiences to fill in the missing pieces in our own. Each course, whether in conservation science, biodiversity, biomes, or other topics, provides a thorough grounding in the science and  shares ways to get plugged into your community to make concrete changes.  In one course, I learned how to make an attractive website that includes GIS data to explain to local city leaders the causes and unique challenges of addressing water pollution and flooding in the St. Louis area.  In another, I researched and shared ways that my own city, Maplewood, could foster biodiversity in its urban green spaces to benefit its citizens and reduce its expenditures. 

The pacing and price of the program fit well with my schedule and budget, too. Working full-time is demanding, so I really appreciate the flexibility of online and hybrid courses. The ability to only take one or two classes per semester and still make meaningful progress has really helped. When I graduate, I will take with me not only a striking portfolio full of meaningful papers and projects, but actual connections in my community and the knowledge that I have made a difference.

Kristin Soifer

I found the AIP while looking for a way to stretch myself intellectually and give back to my community more now that my children are grown. I was looking for a “back door” into science a way to get a science degree without going back for a second bachelor’s degree. While on the Missouri Botanical Garden website to check out the Master Gardeners program, I saw a tab that said “Online Master’s Program.” I clicked on it, started reading, and got more and more excited with each paragraph. A program that can easily be individualized and focuses on the intersection of conservation and community was exactly what I wanted! I was also thrilled that there would be an in-person component to some of the classes. While that component so far hasn’t looked the way I hoped it would due to the pandemic, it’s been wonderful nonetheless. I still feel connected to my cohort in spite of the fact that I haven’t yet been in the same room with them. As an additional bonus, the AIP has been a steadying force as everything else around me has changed due to the pandemic.

Applications for the Advanced Inquiry Program are open until February 28, 2021, and there are information sessions scheduled in October, November, and January. See for more details or contact Susan Baron.

Susan Baron
AIP and Adult Programs Coordinator, Litzsinger Road Ecology Center

Leave a Reply