The STML Certification is a two year program for CIPA Fellows and/or Cornell graduate students who wish to dive more deeply into the systemic issues faced by policy makers, scientists, organizational leaders, activists, and social entrepreneurs. Systems Thinking is one of the most sought after skills of employers and it is a foundational skill in the modern world. 

STML Certificate Course Requirements:

Fellows are required to complete the following coursework (12 credits):

  1. PADM 5449 - Systems Thinking and Modeling in Public Affairs- 3 credits. It is best if you enroll in this course Fall Semester (of your first year of CIPA).
  2. PADM 5114 - Organizational Design, Change, and Leadership- 3 credits.  It is best if you enroll in this course Spring Semester (of your first year of CIPA).
  3. PADM 5949 - CIPA Systems Thinking, Mapping, and Leadership (STML) Practicum – 3 credits. You will enroll in this course Fall (year 2) and Spring (Year 2) for a total of 3 credits.
  4. One elective (3 credit) graduate-level course from the approved list. and confirm with your advisor. Substitutes will be considered on a case by case basis.

Additional Components of the STML Certificate include:

  1. Dinner Table Discussions: Fellows participate in a series of 12 monthly seminars in the form of dinner table discussions. These are lively debates on special topics of interest.
  2. Cohort Trip: An experiential, national or international 7-10 day trip to explore systemic policy analysis of a topic and trip chosen annually. The 2020 STML Cohort went to the Galapagos Archipelago to research the Galapagos as a System. During COVID-19 quarantine in 2021, the cohort identified a research project, attended a Research Bootcamp and published a book on their research results.
  3. Exit Project: Students must successfully complete an exit project (a capstone, thesis or professional report) on Systems Thinking, Systems Leadership, or Systems Mapping and present their report at the Cornell STML Symposium. The STML Exit Project meets the CIPA Capstone requirement.
  4. Optional: Internships with Cabrera Research Lab or other organizations. For students interested in deepening their knowledge and skills, there are limited internships available on a competitive basis.


During their first three semesters STML Fellows engage in their core coursework and four courses in their specialty area of systems thinking, systems mapping, and systems leadership. During this time, Fellows engage in a series of 12 monthly “Dinner Table Discussions”—lively debates on special topics of interest. Some Fellows engage in internships with Cabrera Research Lab for students interested in deepening their knowledge and skills.

After 1.5 years of coursework and engagement in their cohort, STML Fellows prepare for a semester to engage in an experiential trip to a unique part of the world that embodies systemic policy problems. The trip is an experiential, national or international 7-10 day trip to explore systemic policy analysis of a topic and trip chosen annually. In January 2020, the STML Cohort traveled to the Galapagos Archipelago to study the Galapagos as a System.

After the trip, Fellows engage with their cohort in their final semester to produce a comprehensive and systemic report with recommendations and present their report at the Cornell STML Symposium. 

During COVID-19, the STML program did not travel and instead engaged in a student-led research project including a high-intensity Research Methods Bootcamp and research design. The research program resulted in a report, several pending publications in peer-reviewed journals and a published book. Depending on COVID-19 restrictions, we will develop an appropriate program that is engaging, challenging, fun, and ultimately useful for our Fellows.

The basic timeline for STML is as follows:





First Year

  • October 31: Apply for STML
  • December 1: Notice of Acceptance
  • Take PADM 5449 
  • (Enroll other electives)
  • Take PADM 5114 
  • “Dinner Table” Discussions
  • (Enroll other electives)

Second Year

  • Take PADM 5949
  • “Dinner Table” Discussions
  • (Enroll other electives)

Experiential Project/Trip

  • “Dinner Table” Discussions
  • Write Up and Present Group Project
  • (Enroll other electives)


Faculty Directors:

For further information or questions about STML, please contact Faculty Directors, Laura Cabrera (lac19) and/or Derek Cabrera (dac66).

Application Deadline: 

The deadline for applying for admission to the program is October 31 of each academic year (first year of CIPA). 

Program Prerequisites: 

(1) Satisfaction of the general requirements for admission to CIPA or another Cornell graduate degree program, as outlined on the Cornell Graduate School website. 

(2) You must be in good academic standing at CIPA or in another Cornell graduate program. Applications should include the following materials. 

Application Process:

Submit the following electronically to Laura Cabrera (lac19) and Derek Cabrera (dac66).

  1. Your Resume/CV
  2. Submit an essay (<1 page) that provides us with an understanding of (a) your background (especially anything that gives you a unique perspective), (b) your passion/vision for change in the world, and (c) why this program will help you to take the next steps. 

If selected as a finalist, you may be asked to participate in an interview process with STML program faculty and staff. We may also request your transcripts. Applicants will be notified by December 15 of the year of application. 

Additional Materials:


I took the Systems Thinking course with the Cabreras during my first semester at CIPA and was deeply inspired. It merged the theory that I was familiar with from my background in cultural anthropology with the pragmatic and tactical skills I sought out at CIPA. I knew that pursuing the certificate would enhance my ability to understand and change systems which would be essential for my concentration in international development.

Jamila Daniel, MPA ‘20
Concentration: International Development