CFANS plans curriculum upgrade

Credit flexibility and experiential learning are part of the changes.

Hailey Colwell

The College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences is nearing the end of a five-year effort to develop curriculum changes intended to prepare students for the job market.

Starting fall 2013, the college will add three new policies that will require students to learn outside of the classroom. At least two new majors will also be implemented by 2014.

One of the new majors has grown out of the “local food movement,” said Roger Moon, entomology professor and chair of the college’s Curriculum Committee of the Undergraduate Policy Review Committee. The major will allow students to take part in community projects in food production and sustainability. He said students will also study the media’s portrayal of the local food movement.

Though the food movement major will cater to students currently in the Department of Horticultural Science, Moon said it’s likely to pull students from a variety of backgrounds.

The other new major is based in the plant sciences and will combine aspects of horticulture, agronomy and plant genetics. The science-heavy major will prepare students for careers in plant production or for graduate studies, Moon said.

“There’s a long list of potential careers that students with serious credentials in the plant sciences would be competitive for,” he said.

CFANS administrators are also looking into developing a renewable energy major but are in the very early stages, said Jay Bell, associate dean of CFANS academic programs and faculty affairs.

The new majors await approval by the CFANS Curriculum Committee in February. They may not be available to students until 2014, Moon said.

New experiences

In addition to the new majors, CFANS is initiating three policies that will push students to have experiences outside of their majors. The changes were approved spring 2011 but won’t take effect until fall 2013.

The $1 million in funding for two of the new policies will be generated over a three-year period from the state and student tuition, Bell said.

Starting this fall, all students who graduate from CFANS must have at least one “high-impact” learning experience, like internships, study abroad or community partnerships.

Making long-term learning experiences a requirement will benefit students, said animal science and dairy production student Aly Schwartau.

“Employers are always looking for out-of-class, real-life experience,” Schwartau said, “and this is one of the best ways to gain that experience.”

Though many CFANS internships are paid, Bell said the financial burden of these experiences will likely rest on students. He said the college may develop scholarships for students in the new social science majors looking to work with nonprofits.

“It does cost a little bit more,” Bell said, “but I think students get a lot more out of it, too.”

Environmental sciences, policy and management junior Laura Dorle said though these experiences could help students get a competitive edge, CFANS should help to finance these requirements.

“If that’s going to be a requirement for any major in CFANS, I think they should add more opportunities for financial support,” Dorle said. “Tuition is already a barrier to education for a lot of people, so adding this on top of other costs would make it very difficult.”

Another policy change will allot CFANS students 21 credits out of the required 120 to explore areas of interest outside of their majors.

 Frances Homans, director of the applied economics program, said she hopes this initiative will make it easier for students to complete their majors, add minors or study abroad.

“We’re hoping that students use those [credits] strategically to add meaning to their program of study,” Homans said.

The third new policy will increase collaboration between different disciplines to educate students on real-world problems.

“[Students] used to come in and major in one thing, but they end up working at problems that require other disciplines to be involved,” Moon said.

He said faculty members are developing courses that combine two or more areas of study in CFANS. For example, a course about world food problems will be taught jointly by faculty from the plant pathology and applied economics departments.

Bell said he hopes the changes will give CFANS undergraduates a “leg up” when it comes to finding jobs. He said the new initiatives will likely set the college apart from others of its kind.

“We’ve been trying to position ourselves to be national leaders in experiential and interdisciplinary education among land-grant schools,” he said. “We’re not quite ready to go out and show everybody what we’re up to yet, but we’re getting pretty close.”