Perspectives Online

New graduate certification programs soon available

Certification programs in horticultural science, coordinated by Dennis Osborne (above), and stream restoration (below) are offered through distance education. The molecular biotechnology certification is an on-campus study program.
Photo by Becky Kirkland

Three new graduate certificate programs, the first offered by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, will be open this fall in the areas of watershed assessment and restoration, horticultural science and molecular biotechnology.

Graduate certificate programs offer adult learners the opportunity for graduate-level education with fewer hours and without the graduate thesis typically required for full master's degree programs, said Dr. Ken Esbenshade, associate dean for Academic Programs. Two of the three programs - horticultural science and watershed restoration - are offered through distance education and are aimed at non-traditional students, Esbenshade said. The molecular biotechnology certificate is geared toward on-campus work because of the need for laboratory instruction. "Distance education will permit the student without the time or means to come to campus the opportunity to learn wherever they are," Esbenshade said.

Photo by Art Latham
All three programs are open to students who have completed undergraduate degree programs and want to pursue professional development in specific subject matter areas. The certificate programs require only 12 to 15 hours of course credit, and some course work may be taken online.

Some students may be interested in pursuing a graduate program in the certificate areas but want a taste of the coursework first. The certificate program gives them a chance to experience graduate study without committing to a degree.

"These programs give professionals the chance to gain new knowledge and increase their skills so they can be more productive and effective in their jobs," Esbenshade said. "To me, it's a great opportunity to build a relationship with non-traditional students."

Watershed assessment and restoration

Before creating this certificate program, the Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department surveyed employees and employers in environmental programs to learn what areas of instruction they needed and how they would like to receive that instruction, said Dr. John Parsons, professor.

The survey showed a preference for distance education programs, fewer course hours and program emphasis on water quality areas. The certificate program in design and analysis of environmental systems will focus on water quality issues related to watersheds and on stream restoration. The program offers a mixture of on-campus and distance education courses to meet participants' interests and learning styles.

The program was approved in February, so Parsons isn't sure how many students will enroll for fall. "This is one of those efforts that will probably be a small program but will fill a very important niche," he said.

Participants must complete at least 12 hours in the certificate program, with at least nine hours in the Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department. The program also includes courses in chemical engineering and soil science. The BAE course on soil water movement is required.

Information on the certificate program.

Horticultural science

The horticultural science graduate certificate program, three years in the making, is designed to provide advanced training through distance education for those working in or wanting to work in the horticultural industry, says Dennis Osborne, program coordinator. With the help of an adviser, students can tailor their courses to match their interests in general horticulture, food horticulture or ornamental horticulture.

Osborne said the program should be of interest to recent graduates who want to continue their education, county agricultural agents, vocational agricultural teachers, Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners or home gardeners and regulatory or government workers with food safety responsibilities.

Students in the program must have an undergraduate degree, preferably in a plant-related field such as horticulture, crop science, plant science, plant biology or agricultural education with a plant science emphasis.

The Horticultural Science Department has hired Greg Kraus, an instructional resource designer, to help horticulture faculty transition their course material from a classroom to a distance education format.

Fifteen credit hours are required for this certificate program. A variety of courses are available, including seven core courses in horticultural science and others in the disciplines of plant pathology, entomology, soil science, food science, crop science, biological and agricultural engineering, and agricultural and extension education.

More information on the certificate program is available on the Web at

Molecular biotechnology

The graduate certificate program in molecular biotechnology will provide training essential for those in a number of scientific or engineering fields, from plant and animal microbiology to chemical engineering. The program is geared toward non-traditional students in the workforce. Those enrolled in the program will gain hands-on training in many of the laboratory skills involved in molecular biotechnology.

The program is open to those with an undergraduate degree in a science or engineering field. Students are required to take at least 12 credit hours, including two required courses, Core Technologies in Molecular and Cellular Biotechnology and Issues in Biotechnology or an approved research ethics or bioethics course. Beyond that, students may choose from a range of biotechnology courses and related electives in a number of departments, including genetics, statistics, chemistry, food science, biochemistry and botany.

The Web site for the certificate program.

- Natalie Hampton