Community Development and Action (M.Ed.)

Lead social change and transform the world.


Program Overview

Join students from around the world committed to learning how to create positive, community-level change in a collaborative and participatory way. 

The master's degree in Community Development and Action (CDA) combines theory, research, and practice to equip you to become a change agent in organizations and communities that support positive human development.

You can earn a dual degree, combining your studies to earn a Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.) or Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree in the Vanderbilt Divinity School.

Recent CDA graduates work in diverse organizational settings, including:

  • Advocacy and Outreach Lead, Clean Virginia
  • Coordinator of Government and External Affairs, Tennessee Disability Coalition
  • Founder and CIO, Fathom PBC
  • Senior Manager of Business Development, Project Return
  • Strategy Analyst, ByteDance 
Keith Barnes

"To be truly effective in this kind of work, to be a change agent, to make the world a better place, you've got to be flexible."

Keith Barnes, M.Ed., Associate Director, Workforce & Education, The Family Collective, United Way of Nashville

Program Facts

Program Director: David Carlone
Admissions Coordinator: Tonya Brown
Admission Term: Fall
Credit Hours: 30

Application Dates

  • Application Deadline 1

    Jan 3, 2024

  • Application Deadline 2

    Feb 3, 2024 

  • Rolling Admissions

    After Feb 3, 2024*

    *Applications received after the Feb 3rd second deadline are reviewed on a rolling basis and accepted as space and funds allow.

Program Curriculum

The graduate degree in Community Action and Development includes a minimum of 30 credit hours of required and elective classes in content areas of your interest. 

As a student, we expect you to make a strong commitment to your education by recognizing the intention behind program goals and making an effort to learn and grow beyond the minimum degree requirements.


  • Sample Program of Studies

    Sample Program of Studies

    The following represents a sample of what the two-year program may entail. You'll choose specific courses based on your career objectives, with recommendations from your advisor.


    • Professional Seminar - Becoming a Change Agent*
    • Community Inquiry*
    • Community Development Theory*


    • Consulting
    • Pre-Practicum*
    • Community Intervention and Change


    • Theories of Inequality
    • Program Evaluation


    • Community Organizing
    • Global Dimensions of Community Development
    *Denotes required course
    In addition to the required coursework and practicum, you are required to complete one of the following assessment options in order to complete your degree:
    • Master's Thesis - An experience in independent scholarly research that contributes to the field of community development
    • Final Project - An opportunity to integrate core program philosophy, coursework, and field experience. You'll communicate how these three elements are related and how they have contributed to your personal and professional growth.
  • Practicum

    The practicum requires a minimum of 300 hours over the course of your two-year degree. Although the timeline varies from student to student, the basic structure for practicum work includes the following:

    • First semester: You'll enroll in HOD 6100: Becoming an Agent of Change. We'll discuss critical skills, knowledge, and approaches that align with your individual practice goals and begin to connect you with change initiatives happening in the department and the broader Nashville community.
    • Second semester: You'll enroll in HOD 6600: Pre-Practicum. Through this course, you'll learn Nashville's organizational landscape around various social justice issues, as determined by your interests and existing faculty connections. You'll select practicum placements based on what you learn, make initial contact with practicum organizations, and design your practicum work using an action research cycle.
    • Summer and/or third semester: You'll complete your remaining practicum hours during this time. Many students use this practicum work as the basis for their thesis or final project. At the end of the practicum, you'll be required to complete a final practicum report that describes your work and accomplishments within the placement. The report should integrate the experience with theory, research, and practice-based skills you learned through the program.

    Practicum placements occur in a broad variety of settings in Nashville and beyond. A small sample of practicum organizations includes the following:

    • Community Food Advocates
    • The Contributor
    • Magdalene and Thistle Farms
    • Monroe Harding
    • Nashville Opera Association
    • Project Return
    • Safe Haven Family Shelter
    • Tennessee Environmental Council
    • Tennessee Voices for Children
    • Worker's Dignity

Our Commitment to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Students and faculty in CDA work in partnership with communities and organizations to counter the interlocking oppressions that threaten individual and collective human potential. We are continually learning how to bring these commitments and values to bear on our teaching, scholarship, and service.

Selected Faculty Research

Velma McBride Murry

Velma McBride Murry, University Professor of Human and Organizational Development

Professor Murray conducts research on African-American parents and youth to identify proximal, malleable protective factors that deter emotional problems and risk engagement.

Marybeth Shinn

Marybeth Shinn, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Human, Organizational and Community Development

Professor Shinn's research focuses on how to prevent and end homelessness and create opportunities for groups that face social exclusion.


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