Master Class

Master Class Program: Education for Action

A unique program of Field Trips, Lectures, and Advocacy Training

Environmental Forum of Marin's highly acclaimed Master Class has been educating the general public for more than forty years as has over 1,000 graduates.


Participants in the Forum's Master Class can expect to develop an understanding of the natural world and adaptation to environmental change, learn what’s at stake for our ecosystems and what needs protection. Emphasis is placed on how citizens can participate in planning processes and develop tools to advocate for preserving a healthy environment for future generations.

The Master Class is presented in two Modules:

Module 1, beginning in August 2015 will consist of 9 full days of classes, field trips and advocacy training.

Module 2, beginning January 2016 will consist of 8 intensive lectures highlighting pressing environmental issues. 

Module 1—Classes and Field TripsEmpowering Advocates for the Natural World

Expert-led field excursions will take Master Class Students to talk with leaders in the forefront of creating agriculture history such as Albert Straus of Straus Dairy, one of the first organic dairies in the country, John Friend of Hog Island Oyster Farm, involved in efforts to protect the Tomales Bay watershed, and Sue Conley of Cowgirl Creamery who will show the connection between the quality of farm ingredients and the quality of food produced. 

The Master Class will include visits to local wetlands and uplands, major defenders against rising tides and providers of critical habitat along with the plant communities that they support. You will be provided an understanding of how these all come together, connecting the land and plants and the effect climate change will have upon them. 

Included in Module 1 is a session on Critical Thinking which has become a favorite session of Master Class participants. The lessons learned during this day, and reinforced throughout the program, have had a lasting impact on participants – both professionally and personally.

To be an effective advocate, communication skills are vital. Professional communications consultant, Kraemer Winslow, will teach public speaking skills. Kraemer is a graduate of the Forum and for several years has taught these techniques to Master Class participants. The skills she imparts turn reticence into competence. Each student will be given the techniques to deliver a concise, compelling speech.

Public speaking is only one aspect of the Forum’s Advocacy training. Students will also learn how to take effective action to protect the environment through first-hand experience of a project. Projects reflect each student’s concerns. A selection of past projects can be viewed by clicking here.

Participants will identify their projects during Module 1, individual or team projects will be worked on and completed in Module 2 with guidance provided. 

Module 2—LecturesIlluminating Environmental Issues 

Module 2 illuminates human impact upon the environment. Module 2 is comprised of 8 lectures on timely contemporary environmental topics.

The 2015 Lecture Series begin January 2015 and will be held on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. Lectures may be selected specifically to complete the Program or as electives and may be taken over the course of two years.

Discussions surrounding these issues will provide Master Class participants a chance to take the environmental training of Module 1 and directly apply it to issues of immediate concern.

Environmental Forum’s lectures are renown for their caliber of speakers and topic coverage. Speakers review the science underlying the topic and discuss the multiple issues associated with each topic. A question and answer period is included for attendees to participate.

Recent lectures have delved into Fracking, Sea Level Rise, GMO’s, Wildfires, Transportation and Land Use. A selection of past Lectures can be viewed by clicking here.

Module 2—Projects—Translating Passion into Action  

This part of the Master Class gives participants an opportunity to put knowledge to work. For some students this is the most meaningful part of the Master Class experience. Projects can range from small to large, an individual project or working as part of a team project, observational or practical, each student tailors the Project component to their interest. Many projects have resulted in lasting change for Marin. For example, MALT (Marin Agricultural Land Trust) started as a class project. MALT has been the primary tool used to preserve family farming in Marin County.

See here for a list of projects from MC40.

Completion of both Modules and the Project component are required for graduation.

Master Class 41 began in August, 2014.  

Module 1—Objectives and Schedule

Master Class—Module 1 Objectives 

  • Develop an understanding of our natural world and adaptation to environmental change,
  • Learn what’s at stake for our ecosystems and what needs protection,
  • Learn how citizens can participate in planning processes, and develop tools to advocate
    for preserving a healthy environment for future generations.

Master Class—Module 1 Schedule

Master Class 42 schedule planned for Fall 2015 tba.

Below is the Master Class 41 schedule:

8/26 Orientation day will be held at Richardson Bay Audubon. We will open with an introduction to the history of the Forum, how and why it came about, and why the reasons for its founding remain vibrantly relevant to today’s environmental challenges. Our founder, Dr. Marty Griffin, and Environmental Forum’s first teachers will be joining us in this presentation. A clip of the movie “Rebels with a Cause” will be shown.  We will lunch on the deck of the Lyford house overlooking Richardson Bay as we get to know each other.

9/9 Critical Thinking day will be held at Green Gulch Farm. The day will include a discussion on how we arrive at our own thinking, how we analyze what we read and hear, and how our values and our ethics frame what we hear and understand. This class will lay the groundwork for subsequent class discussions and will tie into Advocacy later in the Module 

9/16 Geology and Watersheds day John Karachewski and Rachel Kamman will discuss local geology, the impacts of water flowing through our landscapes and the critical role of soil in the environment. 

9/23 Plant Communities and Bay Lands day Kathy Cuneo and Nona Dennis will lead a tour of Marin’s plant communities, explaining how they function and the eco services they provide. We will visit oak woodlands, salt marsh, broadleaf evergreen and conifer, chaparral, and redwood forest communities and learn about the bay lands ecosystem. 

9/30 Agriculture and Mariculture Phyllis Faber will introduce sustainable farming operations at Straus Dairy and Hog Island Oyster Farm. We will learn about coastal management, environmental stewardship, and its relationship to agriculture. This day will end with Sue Conley at Cowgirl Creamery showing connection of environmental stewardship and the quality of food.

10/7 Rethinking Waste and Toxics day will cover producer responsibility, efforts towards zero waste in landfills, the most recent information on recycling and composting, an innovative program called Food to Energy, and the current technology of Marin’s sewage treatment and the problems associated with not being able to remove some toxins/pollutants from the sewage stream. 

10/14 Civics and Planning day, featuring Stephanie Moulton-Peters, Mayor of Mill Valley and Master Class 39 graduate, along with Bill Carney, President of Sustainable San Rafael, will focus on Marin's county and city governments, including general and countywide plans, local regulations and ordinances. Opportunities for citizen engagement will be discussed.

10/21 Participation and Advocacy day Kraemer Winslow will lead an interactive introduction to public speaking, framing a message, and techniques for delivering an effective speech in 2 minutes. Other forms of public advocacy and citizen participation will also be presented.

10/28 Advocacy Speeches by class participants will be conducted at the San Rafael City Council Chambers, followed by a celebratory lunch at Falkirk Mansion. This will conclude Module 1.


Total cost for Module 1 9-week course and Module 2 lectures is $500. This price includes a one year Environmental Forum paid membership upon completion of requirements. 

Complete the Scholarship Application by clicking here.

Sign Up—in Just 3 Steps 

If you are ready to sign up for the next Master Class just follow these steps: 

Step 1. Complete the online application. Application process will open in June 2015.
Step 2. Complete an interview with Master Class Program Directors. Introductory interviews will be scheduled upon receipt of your application.
Step 3. Complete the registration process by filling out registration and medical release forms (for field trips). Secure your place in class by paying a $50 non-refundable deposit. Total cost is $500. If you've already filled out the application and have had your interview you can make both your deposit and final payment by clicking here.
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