Skip to main content
Decorative Header Image

Community Development and Action (M.Ed.)

Department of Human and Organizational Development

Program Overview

Lead social change and transform the world. 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.

The Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Community Development and Action is a two-year graduate program through the Department of Human and Organizational Development. It attracts students from around the world committed to learning how to create positive, community-level change in a collaborative and participatory way.

Department faculty, staff, and students strive to hold each other accountable to promote:

  • People’s rights, dignity, learning, and growth
  • Relationships based on caring and respect
  • Communities of inclusion and support
  • Societies built on democratic participation, justice, and equality

Part of what makes our graduate program unique is students' involvement in program goals, committees, and initiatives. As a student, you are a citizen of the department, of the university, and of the broader community, meaning you’ll take an active role in determining our collective future.

  • Students represent the program on each of the graduate program committees: admissions, curriculum, minority recruitment, mediation, and more.
  • You have the opportunity to join existing initiatives that connect you with students and faculty engaged in researching and addressing real-world problems.
  • A colloquium series is presented each semester in which students are invited to both attend and present. Attendance is highly valuable and strongly encouraged.

Dual Degree

The master’s degree in Community Development and Action may be pursued concurrently with studies for the Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.) or Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree in the Vanderbilt Divinity School.

The dual degree program draws on common interests in promoting ethical, effective, and sustainable community-level change. The program enables you to complete the M.Ed/M.T.S. degree in three years and the M.Ed./M.Div. degree in four years, saving one year in school for both scenarios.

Program at a Glance

Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Community Development and Action

Department of Human and Organizational Development

Program Director: Sarah Suiter, Ph.D.
Admissions Coordinator: Sherrie Lane
Admission Term: Fall
Credit Hours: 30
Priority Application Deadline: December 31* for fall entrance

* We will continue to accept applications after this date, but applications will be evaluated for admission and scholarships as space and funds are available .
95% of job-seeking Peabody graduates were employed or attending graduate school within four months of graduation.

Click here to see a list of recent career placements:

Professional Positions

Recent graduates of the M.Ed. program in Community Development and Action are employed in leadership positions in state and local government, non-profit, and for-profit settings. Examples of positions held by CDA graduates include:

CEO, Nashville Civic Design Center
Associate Director, Alignment Nashville
Active Mobility Planner, Metro Nashville-Davidson County Planning Department
Director of the Transitional Homeless Shelter, Salvation Army 
Program Manager, Individuals with Disabilities Act, Tennessee Department of Education

United States
Special Projects Administrator, Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition, Medford, Mass.
Recruiter, Green Dot Public Schools, Los Angeles, Calif.
Director of Operations, Pittsburgh Bike Share, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Partnership Manager, Turning the Page, Washington, D.C.
Analyst, Community Science, Washington, D.C.

Burundi Program Advisor, Hope International
Research Assistant, NPS Dominican Republic Research Project
Global Director of Innovation, Bridge International Academies
Doctoral Study

In addition to professional positions, several CDA graduates have gone on to doctoral study at Vanderbilt and other top-ranked universities across the U.S. Our most recent graduates are attending the following programs:

  • Community Research and Action, Vanderbilt University
  • Community Psychology, Michigan State University
  • Policy Analysis and Management, Cornell University
  • History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania
  • Health Policy, Harvard University

Learn more about Peabody Career Services.

Practicum Experience

Supervised field experience is a critical component for your learning and development. Through the practicum experience, you will apply foundational community development principles and coursework to develop your own professional skill sets.

Most frequently, these experiences take place in off-campus organizational or public agency settings. The final form of your practicum is determined in consultation with your advisor.

Practicum Requirements

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

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

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.

Fall - Year One

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

Spring - Year One

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

Fall - Year Two

  • Theories of Inequality
  • Program Evaluation

Spring - Year Two

  • Community Organizing
  • Global Dimensions of Community Development
*Denotes required course

In addition to the four required courses indicated above, you must take two theory courses, two skills courses, a diversity course, and at least one elective course to fulfill your 30-hour degree requirement.

You may also take an additional six hours to complete a concentration of your choice. Examples of concentrations include Leadership and Management, International Development, Education, Public Policy, Community Health and Wellness, and Program Evaluation.

Final Assessment

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.
Program Curriculum


All core and affiliated faculty are engaged in a variety of interdisciplinary teaching and professional activities.

Sandra Barnes
  • Professor, Department of Human and Organizational Development
Kimberly Bess
  • Associate Professor of the Practice, Department of Human and Organizational Development
Mark Cannon
  • Professor of the Practice, Department of Human and Organizational Development
  • Professor of the Practice and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations
Ashley Carse
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Human and Organizational Development
Brian D. Christens
  • Associate Professor, Department of Human and Organizational Development
  • Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Human and Organizational Development
David Diehl
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Human and Organizational Development
Yolanda J. McDonald
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Human and Organizational Development
Velma McBride Murry
  • University Professor of Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, Department of Human and Organizational Development
  • University Professor of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Department of Health Policy.
Douglas Perkins
  • Professor, Department of Human and Organizational Development
Jessica M. Perkins
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Human and Organizational Development
Sara Safransky
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Human and Organizational Development
Beth Shinn
  • Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair, Department of Human and Organizational Development
Paul W. Speer
  • Professor and Chair, Department of Human and Organizational Development
Sarah V. Suiter
  • Assistant Professor of the Practice, Department of Human and Organizational Development