Graduate Certificate in Public Interest Design


Children at Montesinos Orphanage in Titanyen, Haiti

With communities around the world facing an increasing number of natural disasters, poverty, community displacement, access to healthy food and safe spaces, and a host of other threats to their stability and well-being, the need for sustainable, human-centered solutions is growing. Responding to an urgent need for educated leaders who can help these communities respond to crises and become more resilient, Portland State University’s School of Architecture now offers the Graduate Certificate in Public Interest Design. The program, led by PSU’s Center for Public Interest Design, is the first academic certificate in public interest design in the United States, with an innovative combination of fieldwork and cross-disciplinary coursework in carefully selected fields at Portland State University.

The Graduate Certificate in Public Interest Design has been created as a means to prepare future leaders in architecture, urban planning, sustainability, community development and other fields to aid currently underserved populations through sustainable, human-centered design methods. The Certificate will provide an educational foundation for entry into the emerging field of Public Interest Design, through academic studies and hands-on experience in the field, working directly with communities in need, addressing issues such as inadequate shelter, food and water scarcity, disaster preparedness and recovery, and economic well-being.

Community engagement event in Sacramento, California

The Certificate in Public Interest Design is offered to both graduate students and professionals in Portland and beyond. The certificate consists of 18 credit hours of course options from several disciplines, with a focus on the “triple bottom line” of sustainability (social, environmental and economic), ranging from Social Entrepreneurship to Environmental Sustainability to Creating Collaborative Communities . The coursework is anchored by a seminar in public interest design and culminates in fieldwork or practicum on a real-world public interest design project. 

To learn more about the requirements for the Certificate and view the terms in which the included courses will be offered, download the 2017-2018 Graduate Certificate in Public Interest Design Curriculum (PDF).

COURSEWORK (minimum of 14 credits)

Public Interest Design
(Required Course) 
ARCH 533 Contemporary Issues Seminar: Public Interest Design in Practice (4)

Social (Choose 1)*
ARCH 585       Design Thesis (w/ PID focus; Master of Architecture students only) (6)
MGMT 521      Design Thinking for Social Innovation (online) (4)                                                
PA 543            Creating Collaborative Communities (3)
USP 550           Participatory Planning (3) 
USP 552           Urban Poverty in Critical Perspective (3) 

Environmental (Choose 1)*
ARCH 563       Building Science Research Topics (w/ PID focus) (4)    
ESM 588          Environmental Sustainability (4)  
ESM 528          Urban Ecology (4)   
GEOG 532       Urban Landscapes (4)                                                                                          
USP 588           Sustainable Development Practices (3)  

Economic (Choose 1)*
ARCH 543       Topics in Professional Practice (w/ PID focus) (4)  
PA 525             Grantwriting for Nonprofit Organizations (3) 
PA 541             Social Entrepreneurship (3) 
MGMT 522      Money Matters for Social Innovation (online) (4)   
USP 580           Political Economy of Nonprofit Organizations (3) 
USP 590           Green Economics and Sustainable Development (3) 

Minimum coursework total (made up of courses from the above 4 categories): 14 credits  

Design-build project with Northern Cheyenne community in Lame Deer, MontanaFIELDWORK (4 credits)

(Required Course)                                                                     

ARCH 541       Fieldwork/Practicum (4)        

Minimum fieldwork total: 4 credits


GRAND TOTAL REQUIRED**: Minimum of 18 credits


 * Terms when courses are offered are subject to change. Students are responsible for checking course prerequisites and availability. Elective course may be substituted for equivalent course with advance approval.

** A minimum of five (5) courses, one from each category (Public Interest Design [ARCH 533], Social, Environmental, Economic, and Fieldwork [ARCH 541]), is required for completion of certificate.



Applications for the Certificate program are accepted on a rolling basis throughout the year, but all materials should be submitted by January 16, 2019 for Spring 2019 admission, and July 15, 2019 for Fall 2019 admission.

If you are not currently enrolled as a graduate student at Portland State University, follow the instructions on the program's application page (or click on the "Apply Now" button above), proceed to the online application, and select the Graduate Certificate in Public Interest Design when asked to indicate the program to which you are applying. 

If you are currently enrolled as a graduate student at Portland State University, use thApplication for Current PSU Graduate Students form (pdf)

Shade structures designed for Montesinos Orphanage, Haiti Montesinos Orphanage, Haiti: Courtyard shade structures designed and built by PSU Architecture students



To learn more about the Graduate Certificate in Public Interest Design program and application process, please contact the Center for Public Interest Design at