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Request for Proposals

The Bren School invites any agency, company, organization, or individual facing an environmental challenge to submit a proposal for a Master's thesis project.

This is a valuable opportunity to have a group of talented master's students tackle the problem and make recommendations to address it. It is also an excellent opportunity to establish a working relationship with the Bren School. Projects give businesses, government agencies, NGOs, and other organizations the opportunity to have a group of talented students tackle their environmental problem and make specific and meaningful recommendations.

How it Works

Throughout the project, clients receive high-quality consulting work that is approximately equivalent to one full-time employee engaged for a year. This work helps students develop skills in project management, teamwork, leadership, financial management, organization and data presentation, and effective stakeholder communication. The projects also serve to expand both parties’ professional networks by connecting future and current environmental leaders.

The Bren School encourages creative, interdisciplinary proposals, and has supported a variety of projects, including (but not limited to): cost benefit analyses, life cycle assessments, spatial planning, carbon accounting, fisheries management, pollution remediation, supply chain efficiencies, strategic communication, and assessing community attitudes toward environmental problems.

Deadline & Procedures

All proposers must contact Group Project Coordinator Sean Kerr as a first step in proposal development. He also connects proposal authors with Bren faculty, staff, and students who can provide additional guidance and assistance in writing proposals. Given that projects must align with student interest to be selected, clients are encouraged to work with current Bren students and faculty on proposal development.

The Request for Proposals for the 2021-2022 Group Project Cycle are now open.

Proposals will be due by 5:00pm on Friday, January 22, 2021, submitted via email to

Man speaking to group of students outdoors

Desirable Project Attributes

Solution-Oriented. Group Projects prepare students to produce meaningful solutions to today’s environmental problems. To this end, projects should yield a specific policy or management recommendation, contain multidisciplinary elements, and align with student and faculty interest.

Data-Driven. Projects should also provide an existing dataset for students to analyze; projects that require extensive data collection or fieldwork are not desirable and will not be considered. Surveys or data collection can be a component of a project but should not be the primary focus.

Funding Support. External funding for the project (e.g., for summer internships, travel, or supplies, sampling and analysis) is one of several factors considered in project selection. If the proposal requires substantial resources, the client will need to include a clear commitment of financial support for the proposed project.

Collaborative, Yet Flexible. A spirit of trust and collaboration by all parties is expected; client involvement should support students while allowing them to develop their own ideas and approaches.

Project Timeline

Year 1

  • Fall: Client works independently or with students to identify an environmental problem and write a Group Project proposal.
  • Winter: Submit proposals by Friday, January 22, 2021. Projects are selected in late March; students and faculty advisors are assigned, clients are notified by end of March.
  • Spring: Client meets the team; students refine project objectives, gather data, review literature, and develop a work plan.
  • Summer: Students often continue Group Project work through internships.

Year 2

  • Fall: Students work on analysis and produce an outline for their Group Project.
  • Winter: Students complete an academic defense and their final reports
  • Spring: Students present findings to the public, produce a policy brief and poster, and additional deliverables as needed by the client.

Proposal Requirements

A successful project proposal will meet the following criteria:

  • Represent a significant environmental problem that requires the group to produce a solution
  • Focus on a clear science and policy or management question
  • Provide data for analysis
  • Match the interests, expertise and capabilities of students and faculty
  • Present a feasible project scope, given student experience and
    availability (must propose a manageable scope of work for a group of 4-5 master’s students spending about 25% of their time during three academic quarters, or 9 months)
  • Anticipate financial needs and provide adequate support
  • Support and prioritize open and professional communication among all parties; proposals should outline a clear client point of contact
  • Projects that require completion before March 2022 are not feasible and will not be considered
Three students stand by their research poster

Proposal Format & Content

Download a PDF of this format and content information.

Project proposals are limited to three pages (excluding references, budget and justification, and client letter of support).

  1. Title, descriptive of the environmental science and management problem to be solved.
  2. Name and contact information (email, phone, and affiliation) of the proposer(s). Proposers may be clients, faculty and/or Bren students. If you have worked actively with a faculty member or student(s) to write the proposal, please list them as co-authors. If more than two Bren students contribute to the proposal, the client and/or students must select two primary student authors. If the proposal is selected, the two primary student authors will have the option to be guaranteed membership in the group.
  3. Client, including name, email, phone, and affiliation. The client is the primary representative from the client organization and the main point of contact for students. All clients listed on the proposal will be notified at the end of winter quarter (late March 2021) regarding the status of the proposal. If you would prefer to limit notification of the proposal status to specific individuals, please note this in your proposal. 
  4. Proposed Project (3 pages):
    a. Objectives. What are the science and policy or management questions that need to be answered by the project? Focus on 1 to 3 concrete and achievable objectives.
    b. Significance. What is the context for this work? Why is this work important? Who is the target audience/client? Which other people (besides the client) would benefit from the results of this work
    c. Background. Where is the project location? In general, how did the problem arise? What has been done to date, if known.
    d. Equity. Does the proposed project have the potential to address environmental justice issues? The US Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as "the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. This goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys: (1) the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and (2) equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work."
    e. Available data. What data are available to address this problem? How and when can the students acquire the data for their analysis?
    f. Possible approaches. Briefly describe likely approaches that may be used to address the project objectives. One task for the students in a group project is to more fully develop the approaches that will best meet the project objectives, but suggestions from the client are useful in focusing early work.
    g. Deliverables. Are there specific products that the client expects from the project, in addition to the final written report, policy brief, poster and oral presentation? What types of recommendations does the client expect to have as an outcome from the project?
    h. Internships. Clients are expected to provide at least one paid summer internship to a student(s) in the Group Project to further the goals of the project, help the student(s) develop professional skills, and build stronger relationships with the client. Please describe the number of internships and duties in the client’s letter of support. Note: The Bren School offers Summer Internship Funding (SIF) for students completing low-paying or unpaid internships. The small stipend offsets a portion of the students travel and living expenses. This funding is not a work stipend, is not guaranteed, and depends on financial resources in a given year.
  5. SUPPORTING MATERIALS (not counted toward 3-page limit):
    a. Citations. Due to the scientific and technical nature of many interdisciplinary environmental problems, authors are encouraged to include citations to support their proposal.
    b. Budget and justification. Each project chosen by the Group Project Committee will receive $1,300 from the Bren School to cover the group’s basic operations. This funding will be held at the school and only accessible by the students. The students
    will determine how to allocate the funds to cover expenses such as conference calls, travel, conference fees, poster printing, etc. If the proposed project requires additional funding for completion, the client must provide that funding. If needed, please include a budget with a description of anticipated costs that will be covered by the client.
    c. Client letter of support. Clients must submit a letter of support to clearly describe their commitment to sponsor at least one Bren student summer intern, provide data, additional funding, and/or any other resources for the project. The details of these commitments must be articulated clearly in the letter of support addressed to the Group Project Committee.
       c-i. Internships: Only include an internship in the proposal if the opportunity definitely will be offered by the client if the project is selected. Internships should not only further the objectives of the Group Project but also must provide students with opportunities to develop professional skills. An internship requires that the client or another individual in the client's organization mentor the student in a professional capacity. Ideally, internship opportunities will be paid. However, please include an unpaid internship if a valuable summer opportunity exists but funding is unavailable. If paid internships are offered, it is highly encouraged that the client pays the interns directly.
       c-ii. Funding: If the proposed Group Project requires more funding than provided to the students by the Bren School, then the client is responsible for providing those funds. Please clearly describe the client's financial commitment in the letter of support. Funds provided by the client for a specific group project ideally should be managed by the client. Grants to the University of California for specific Group Projects would require a Bren faculty principal investigator, preauthorization by UCSB's Office of Research, and additional indirect costs up to 55%; gifts to the Bren School for a specific group project require an additional 6% for indirect costs. (If you are interested in making a gift to the Bren School, please contact Assistant Dean for Development Lotus Vermeer)
       c-iii. Data: If the client intends to provide data or facilitate acquisition to data, the client should specify the type and content of the data and when it will be available to students. It is preferable for the data to be provided to the students with no stipulation for a non-disclosure agreement or restriction for publication. If a non disclosure agreement is required, please describe the constraints around the use of the data. 

Limited Intellectual Property License

By participating in the Group Project, the client agrees that: (1) its logo and other "publicly available" intellectual property may be used by the Bren School (e.g., its students, faculty and staff) solely in connection with the specific Group Project in which the client participates, and (2) any Group Project’s deliverables containing the client’s logo or other intellectual property may be made publicly available via the Bren School’s website and other formats. Upon written request by the client, a Group Project incorporating the client’s intellectual property will include a disclaimer identifying the client as the owner of the intellectual property and that all rights are reserved by the client. The client may, upon written request, withhold consent to use certain intellectual property owned by the client.


Contact Group Project Coordinator Sean Kerr using the form below. Sean answers questions and provides guidance regarding proposal format. He also connects proposal authors with Bren faculty, staff, and students who can provide additional guidance and assistance in writing the proposal, as needed.