Community Organizing
& Social Activism

The Community Organizing and Social Activism (COSA) program curriculum may have special appeal for you given today's current events.

Social movements – and their end goals of such things as greater equality and equity – often directly motivate and positively impact students and their families, especially people of color, first-generation students, immigrants, those with temporary or permanent disabilities, and people who identify as LGBTQIA.

IPSL photo 4.webp

What is COSA?

COSA is an academic program facilitated by IPSL, created by our organization in the 1980s. More than a service-learning reflections course, it is designed to give globally minded students a foundation in the history and key practices of community-building and civic engagement worldwide.


This includes topics from domestic and international volunteerism to community organizing, grassroots social movements, and activism.

​​Similar to traditional international service learning programs, students in the COSA program engage as partners in direct service with community-based organizations in their country of service.  However, one of the many things that makes the IPSL COSA program unique is that they also enroll in complementary online and in-country coursework designed to provide them with a thorough understanding of and context for their service and future organizing efforts.


Classes cover topics ranging from local infrastructures for social change (non-governmental entities, social movements, etc.) to effective practices for leading and participating as a community organizer or activist.  Students learn from and reflect on their in-country experiences, ultimately preparing them to become civic leaders upon their return home, addressing needs in their own communities using global, multi-cultural tools and practices.


Reflections for social change

Crowd Cheering

"When we stand together, there is nothing, nothing, nothing we cannot accomplish."
-- Bernie Sanders

There is ample evidence demonstrating that peaceful social movements are highly successful in creating positive change worldwide.  Even in countries where voluntary action is more informally structured, there is still community organizing and social activism taking place in one form or another.  


It is therefore critical that students seeking to build their careers in global change know what these models are and how they work in order to be effective in their chosen fields. 


​Similarly, regardless of their career path, learning and developing community organizing and activism skills expands the slate of abilities for graduates to help them more effectively engage in empowerment and leadership in a variety of settings.



It is important to note that, like ethically practiced service-learning, COSA does not encourage or facilitate supplanting or replacing local leadership. COSA students will not participate in nor attempt to lead social activism efforts abroad.  Instead, they will learn *from* local movements in-country, in the classroom and through instructor-led activities in the field, in an effort to acquire knowledge and practices that they can implement in their own communities upon return home.


Students will engage in challenging, thoughtful reflections activities to help them root their in-country experiences in their academic learning as well as place their service and cultural experiences into the context of their own personal and professional goals and perspectives.  


These activities include such things as writing journals and essays, engaging in informational interviews with local and global leaders, and participating in classroom activities that encourage personal reflection through individual and group participation.

Undergraduate COSA course

This course is delivered virtually and begins before departure and completes after returning. The content includes both pre-departure and post departure information, discussion and reflection and serves to compliment the IPSL One Health Courses.

Contact Hours: 45 
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3


The course explores the theories and practical realities of intercultural service-learning to help make sense of the international experience and to develop intercultural competence. One credit will be awarded for 15 hours of academic reflections work and 2 credits for the hands-on service-learning volunteering.


In the undergraduate online course, students will learn about the following topics:  


  • What is international service (and how does it compare to domestic service)? 

  • How to be an ethical service partner 

  • The role of local leadership 

  • What is COSA and what are the effective practices of COSA?

  • What does it look like in the US vs. abroad? 

  • How can students learn from indirect service or service abroad?

    • What is an appropriate role for students while in-country? 

    • How can students leverage what they learn abroad to create change upon returning home (as a leader and/or activist)?


Graduate COSA program


IPSL Global Institute at NUNM offers graduate programs in a hybrid/online/onsite format. Choose a Master's of Arts in International Development & Service (IDS) or Community Organizing and Social Activism (COSA).

The COSA program is approximately one calendar year with four terms spent online and abroad. Students must do at least one term online and at least one term abroad. Students begin the program with a two-week ONLINE Residency, followed by four consecutive terms in a hybrid online or abroad format. Students finish the program with a one-week ONLINE Re-Entry Residency. 

Cohorts begin in September (Fall cohort), January (Winter cohort), April (Spring cohort), or July (Summer cohort). 

Coursework in the COSA program focuses primarily on three key areas: 

  • What is civic engagement, community organizing, and social activism? 

  • What does it look like in the United States and abroad? 

  • How might students engage in these activities – utilizing new skills and understanding while also leveraging international experiences – upon return home?


Whether taught online or virtually - by international faculty, scholars or scholar-practitioners - students learn the following: 

  • Cultural and social norms, history, political structures, etc. of their country of service.

  • Social institutions and how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and volunteers work within them (and how they relate to government) 

  • Domestic service in-country including how to be an ethical partner

  • History and current state of international volunteering in-country 

  • History and current state of COSA in-country (and how they are informed by local norms and institutions) 

  • Appropriate COSA roles for outsiders 

  • Leveraging what they’ve learned and lessons to implement upon return home

Flexible program fees (includes four terms/quarters):

IPSL offers flexible program fees depending on the number of terms a student wishes to study abroad. Some students need flexibility to take coursework online and remain wherever they live; others prefer to travel and maximize their time overseas. You get to choose!


Application Deadlines


  • The deadline for a FALL (September) start is AUGUST 1st of each year

  • The deadline for a WINTER (January) start is DECEMBER 1st of each year

  • The deadline for a SPRING (April) start is MARCH 1st of each year

  • The deadline for a SUMMER (July) start is MAY 1st of each year

Admission Requirements & Application Checklist

  • IPSL online application

  • An official, sealed transcript verifying a baccalaureate degree from an accredited post-secondary institution.

  • A recommended 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale, or the equivalent. Note that students below this recommended GPA will be provided with an opportunity to demonstrate the justification for a waiver.

  • Two confidential letters of recommendation. These can be mailed, faxed or emailed to IPSL from the recommender's email address.

  • $75 processing fee (waived for AmeriCorps alums, Peacecorps returnees and Veterans)

  • Once the IPSL online application is submitted, candidates are contacted to schedule an Interview with the review committee. 

  • Valid Passport. U.S. applicants must have a passport that is valid for at least six months BEYOND THE END DATE of your last term abroad. If you do not have a passport, apply immediately.

  • The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is NOT required for admission.


International Students


In addition to the requirements previously listed, international students must report a passing score of an English proficiency test and other pertinent information.

  • Paper-based = 575   

  • Internet-based = 88    

  • IELTS = 6