Park Ranger to MNR to PhD


Online Master of Natural Resources (Online MNR) program alumnus Ernesto Acosta is now applying his sustainability education and experiences to his research efforts as a doctoral student in Virginia Tech’s Planning, Governance, and Globalization (PGG) program. As he works on his dissertation, he often reflects on why the MNR program was so integral to achieving his educational and research goals.

“Having worked as an Urban Park Ranger at NYC’s Department of Parks and Recreation about a year after completing my undergraduate education,” he explains, “I began five years of employment in environmental education and enforcement. Although I have worked at several other jobs since then, my environmental interests remained. I graduated from the MNR program and went straight into my PGG studies. Acosta adds, “Fortunately, I was able to work on my master’s in tandem to working full-time.”

With an educational background in urban planning, Acosta joined the Online MNR program to integrate his knowledge of urban issues with sustainability practices and decision-making. Now, as he moves toward completing his doctorate, Acosta is applying his critical thinking skills to a dissertation that will address environmental concerns in transportation.

Transportation planning is a diverse topic, and Acosta spent time reflecting on how his prior education and experience could inform a unique and specific research topic. In the end, Acosta decided to focus on transportation, food insecurity, and how these two factors impact urban communities.    

“I want to study the transportation options available to urban residents so they can access healthy food. The two academic programs [MNR and PGG] seem to overlap so much… I knew all of the skills I gained from the MNR degree would be used throughout my dissertation.”

While enrolled in the MNR degree, Acosta participated in an International Field Experience (IFE) to South Africa. This experience led him to seek out another study abroad opportunity at Virginia Tech, which was the 2018 Global Perspectives Program. Through this Graduate School offering, VT students visit universities in Switzerland, France, and Italy to learn about the teaching methods they employ.

“I learned a lot with the Global Perspectives Program,” Acosta explains. “I met with university personnel and students, and I learned about how I can teach others about my research. I now feel much more equipped in the pedagogy behind telling others about urban planning.”

While many students see the Online MNR program as an opportunity for quick career advancement and change, Acosta used the degree as a springboard into his doctoral studies. He’s set himself up to continue his interest in sustainability, which began with his earlier environmental jobs.

“I want to be a teacher,” he says. “My experiences in the MNR degree and now my PhD program have opened my mind up to many environmental discussions. I plan on continuing my research and developing solutions to issues that address urban planning and sustainability.”


Master of Natural Resources (MNR) alum Ernesto Acosta is in his second year of the Planning, Governance, and Globalization PhD program at Virginia Tech, in the National Capital Region. Ernesto earned a Master’s in Regional Planning from the University at Albany, State University of New York. He earned a BS in Urban and Regional Studies from Cornell University. Ernesto is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is specializing in transportation and environmental planning with the objective of teaching part-time in higher education following completion of his doctorate.

The Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability thanks the following photographers for sharing their work through the Creative Commons License: UGA CAES/Extension,, Michigan Municipal League, and Paul Sableman.