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Unique degrees make job-ready graduates
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Earning a college degree is a rather traditional pursuit, but Mississippi State University offers several degrees in some fairly non-traditional fields.
In addition to engineering, education, mathematics and science, MSU students can earn degrees in such varied areas as sports turf, precision agriculture, cotton ginning, landscape architecture, retail floristry and food science.
Gary Jackson, associate dean of MSU's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said these degrees fill specific needs of graduates and of the agricultural and life sciences fields. Many of these degrees and specializations are found in the curricula of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
"We offer a variety of degrees to prepare our students to meet the demands of the workplace," Jackson said. "Our faculty is heavily involved with private industry, public agencies, the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and the MSU Extension Service. They know what our clientele needs, and that knowledge helps us design and offer degree programs that boost our graduate's success rate."
The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences maintains a job placement rate at graduation of about 90 percent. Jackson contends that this rate reflects the real-world usefulness of these speciality-area degrees, along with all the more traditional fields of study.
"Our curriculum is very contemporary," Jackson said.
A degree in human sciences with a specialization in interior design is one of several degrees that bring out the artistry in students. Others are degrees in landscape architecture and landscape contracting and management. These landscape design programs have about 300 students each year who shape people's relationship with the environment.
"Students study the ecosystem and focus on physical properties that are installed in the environment that accommodates people," Jackson said. "The graduates' designs are both functional and aesthetic while being environmentally sound and sustainable."
These graduates go to work for private landscape firms, architectural firms and contractors, as well as go into business for themselves.
Within the traditional field of horticulture is a little-known retail floristry management specialization. These graduates combine design skills in floral arrangements with a plant science and floriculture knowledge base. Students also study business and management.
The food science and technology degree program prepares students to enter the wide-ranging food industry. This field encompasses all food processing, taking raw food from the farm and preparing products for consumers, with emphasis on quality and safety. Students do ingredient testing and tasting, working with such things as fat-free hot dogs, fruit, sweet potatoes, catfish, seafood and dairy products.
Charles White, Food Science and Technology Department head, said the three options within this program are science, processing/business and food safety. These prepare students to work in product development and research, or in various positions in the food processing industry. The food safety option is a pre-vet major for students trying to enter veterinary college.
"We teach a course called food products evaluation that teaches students the mechanics of tasting, how to use taste panels, how to correct off-flavors and how to make a good product taste even better," White said. "Another course is new food development that combines basic sciences such as microbiology and chemistry as students try to develop new food products."
Students can pursue several agriculture-related degrees at MSU. One of these in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering is an emphasis in cotton ginning through a degree known as agricultural engineering technology and business, with an option in gin management and technology. This specialization came at the request of a major industry organization which was having trouble recruiting competent gin managers.
"Another relatively new option offered in with this degree is that of precision agriculture, which uses remote sensing and high-tech instrumentation to address problems in agricultural production," said Jerry Gilbert, Agricultural and Biological Engineering department head.
MSU offers a degree in biochemistry and molecular biology that includes bioengineering.
"This field is in the forefront of the revolution we're seeing in biology," Jackson said. "With its heavy emphasis in natural sciences, biochemical methods, cell physiology, tissue cultures and related fields, it is probably the leading degree in the rapid changes in biology."
On a lighter note, students can earn specializations in golf and sports turf management while pursing degrees in agronomy. Mike Goatley, professor and agronomist, is an advisor for this program.
"We have a mandatory cooperative education requirement where our students have to complete three semesters of on-the-job training while maintaining a 2.5 cumulative grade point average," Goatley said.
He said most students in this major intend to manage a golf course or maintain athletic fields. Some go into sales of turf equipment and chemicals, while others with this degree have started their own commercial sod operations.
The course load includes numerous horticultural topics, ornamental and turf pathology, entomology, machinery management, conversational Spanish and golf course design.
"This is a very popular curriculum across the country, and we place every one of our graduates. Usually there are more jobs than there are students ready to fill them," Goatley said.
Not only is MSU's program one of the largest of its kind in the country with about 100 students per semester, it is also unique in that under supervision, the students maintain both the MSU golf course and the athletic fields.
These and other non-traditional degrees offered at MSU equip graduates with the tools they need to compete and succeed in the workforce.
For more information, contact: Dr. Gary Jackson, (662) 325-2110