Graduate Certificate in Public Interest Design

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 to address issues such as inadequate shelter, food and water scarcity, disaster preparedness and recovery, and economic well-being.

The Certificate in Public Interest Design will be 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.

For course and application information, please visit:


Is the program open to non-graduate students who hold Bachelor's degrees from other schools?  

Any student already holding an undergraduate degree is eligible to enter PSU as a graduate student if accepted, and thus eligible to apply to the Graduate Certificate in Public Interest Design program. 

How long does it take to complete the program?

The length of the program is intended to be flexible. The 2 core courses are the Introduction to Public Interest Design Seminar offered in the spring and the fieldwork/practicum component, which is most easily completed in the summer but can be accomplished at any time. The other courses are electives that are offered at different times to accommodate students’ individual schedules and goal. A scenario is possible where a student completes the certificate in just two quarters (one quarter would certainly be spring in order to take the intro seminar), while another student might choose to take just one course per quarter over five quarters.

Are the classes offered during the day or evening or both? 

Classes are offered at different times with more offerings during the day. The classes are offered from several different departments to accommodate a range of interests and schedules, but that means we don't have control over when the courses are offered. It is worth checking before each quarter, but past schedules are great predictors for when they will be offered next.

Can the certificate be completed online for distance learners?

While we currently offer two online courses as part of the certificate through the Business School's Impact Entrepreneurs, at least some of the work requires a presence in Portland. A significant aspect of public interest design is community engagement and participatory design, which requires working with instructors and collaborators in person.

What graduate degrees have students taken at PSU in conjunction with the certificate other than the Master of Architecture?

This Certificate can be taken on its own or in conjunction with any other graduate program at PSU. While Architecture offers the most course options because it is run through the School of Architecture, there are a number of courses in other disciplines included in the curriculum. In addition to students solely taking the certificate, recent students have also pursued degrees in architecture, urban planning, engineering, and public health.

How much is the cost of tuition?

In terms of cost, PSU has an online Tuition Estimator tool that should help give you a ballpark figure. The certificate is offered through the School of Architecture but we have courses in many different colleges at the university, and for this reason the cost may vary based on individual course. For additional tuition questions, the folks at financial services would be much more equipped to answer this question.

Are scholarships currently available for the Certificate in Public Interest Design?

Unfortunately, there are no scholarships currently available to students in the certificate program. 


CPID Student Fellows Program

The CPID Student Fellows program represents a key initiative that contributes to a more vigorous program and provides additional opportunities for students to practice public interest design. The CPID Student Fellows program gives outstanding students the opportunity to gain valuable experience outside of the classroom through participation in a meaningful public interest design project for a minimum of one year. Student Fellows are each given a leadership role on an active CPID project under the guidance of one of its Faculty Fellows or professional collaborators. This program provides consistency with our community partners and truly fosters the esprit de corps of the organization. The fellowship begins with a one-week intensive trip to one of CPID’s project sites to examine broad issues of public interest design, tackle a small project that responds to an issue the group identifies, and meet with stakeholders to evaluate recently completed work by the CPID. More information on the CPID Student Fellows is available HERE.


Architecture Summer Immersion Program

The Architecture Summer Immersion Program at the Portland State University School of Architecture offers those interested in architecture as a potential career and/or field of study the opportunity to explore the subject in an intensive 4-week experience. Led by faculty of the school’s Center for Public Interest Design, the program also explores the question of how principles of public interest design can be incorporated into a design education from the very first time a student picks up a lead holder, rather than adding these concepts toward the end of a design education. In its inaugural year, students learned foundational design skills while also exploring issues of homelessness, environmental sustainability, conflict resolution, and universal design. For more on the Architecture Summer Immersion Program, please visit: