Agricultural college to change curriculum

Faculty, staff and students from the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences are in the beginning of a multi-year process to redesign the school’s curriculum.

Formed out of three different colleges in 2006, the University of MinnesotaâÄôs College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, or CFANS, has launched a multi-year effort to re-envision the college and revamp the undergraduate curriculum with a focus on flexibility and hands-on learning. Faculty, staff and students are working to update the collegeâÄôs structure and curriculum in response to changes in industry and student needs, Jay Bell , associate dean of academic programs and faculty affairs, said. A strategic plan for the college was released in February and task forces are beginning to meet to discuss changes to majors, minors and the overall structure of undergraduate education in the program. Members of the task force will work to lay out a road map over the next year or so, Bell said, and implementation of suggested changes will take place over two or three years. CFANS was formed July 1, 2006 when the College of Natural Resources merged with the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences. An additional major, nutrition, was also moved to the school from the College of Human Ecology. Today, CFANS comprises 13 majors and 22 minors and has a total enrollment of 1,800 undergraduate students. Bell said the merger âÄúmade senseâÄù because it brought together related programs of study under one roof, making administration easier while encouraging more interdisciplinary work between the different fields. Although CFANS programs âÄúare doing well now,âÄù agronomy and plant genetics professor Tom Michaels , who is participating in the redesign, said, instead of making numerous small changes to existing programs, reorganization is an opportunity for the college to be innovative and imaginative in designing curriculum for students. âÄúTweaks donâÄôt really move us that much,âÄù he said. âÄúThis is a pause to step back and say âÄòis there something that we can do that really takes us to another level?âÄôâÄù Bell said the redesign will affect programs at all levels of the college, but specific attention is being paid to making major requirements less rigid and giving students the freedom to explore other disciplines. The redesign will also focus on making learning more hands-on through labs, fieldwork and research opportunities, he said. Currently, many majors in CFANS involve âÄúrelatively narrowâÄù disciplines, but employers are looking more and more for students with a variety of experiences, something Bell said the redesign will help provide. âÄúWe donâÄôt want to do away with the disciplines, but on the other hand students are going to need the ability to do more cross-disciplinary work and be more flexible,âÄù he said. âÄúWhen we talk to some of the potential employers âĦ theyâÄôre looking for somebody who has a broad understanding.âÄù Shanika Ruberu , a bio-based products, marketing and management senior, said the required curriculum is âÄúa bit too broadâÄù and she would like to see some flexibility to avoid being forced to take classes that donâÄôt line up with her interests. With the high number of transfer students CFANS gets, Michaels said the task forces are also working to design majors that are accessible to new students without delaying their graduation too much. Although he had no trouble transferring into CFANS, nutrition senior John Wharton said he knew students who had trouble getting transfer credits accepted. He said the curriculum is a bit rigid, but he doesnâÄôt mind because heâÄôs focused on getting a degree and graduating, not exploring other disciplines. One change Michaels said he could see happening is keeping transfer students in mind when redesigning majors instead of assuming all new majors will be freshman. Although concrete changes are a few years away, Bell said current plans include a new center to help faculty make their courses more hands-on. Another possible result of the redesign could be a new five-year program where students would receive an undergraduate and graduate degree, he said.