CFANS looks to change curriculum for 2013

The changes await final approval and would be effective fall 2013.

Rachel Raveling

To meet local employersâÄô demand for more experienced students, the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences is rolling out a slew of changes.

The change in direction for the college could bring new policies for experiential and interdisciplinary education, and changes to the curriculum effective fall 2013.

The faculty voted to approve the policies in May. Now the college is encouraging faculty to develop proposals to meet the new curriculum standards. The arrangement is still in development and pending final approval.

CFANS is supplying $1 million to fund the initiative, which will ultimately come from studentsâÄô tuition, said Jay Bell, associate dean for academic programs and faculty affairs for CFANS. The funding will be used over the course of three years. After that, a long-term plan should be in place to continue the initiative independently, he added.

The new requirements are being arranged with three new policies in mind, voted in by the CFANS faculty, Bell said.

First, each student must have at least one high-impact learning experience to graduate. This can be through community outreach, a study abroad program, working at a research and outreach station or completing an internship. Bell said the expectation is a semester- or summer-long experience.

Students will also be required to take part in at least one interdisciplinary class to encourage students to spend time in many different fields, Bell said.

Every CFANS student will be granted at least 21 âÄúfree creditsâÄù to take whatever they want. Bell explained that this can bring breadth or depth to the curriculum, whichever the student prefers. They can use the free credits to take more classes in their major, earn unrelated credits or complete a minor.

Local industry employers know CFANS provides students with an education that focuses on content, Bell said. But they also said they wished students had more in-the-field experience.

After hearing this from a number of employers, Bell said he designed the strategic plan to change the collegeâÄôs major requirements and curriculum. He said he hopes the changes will provide students with the skills needed to perform after graduation.

Dan Gallaher, a food science and nutrition professor, thinks the idea will benefit the UniversityâÄôs undergraduate students. Evidence suggests that the experiences students have away from campus are what they remember most and what influences their career goals, he said.

Currently, CFANS majors need 120 credits to graduate. Only about 10-15 of those credits are allowed to be outside the major, Gallaher said. As part of the initiative, he plans to incorporate a series of reflections into his labs so students look for ways the class will further their future educations and careers.

âÄúThe change will put education into the studentsâÄô hands,âÄù Bell said.

The majority of students coming into CFANS each year are transfer students and the free credits will make transferring credits easier.

To develop the initiative, faculty members have been asked to propose classes and experiences for undergraduate students.

Faculty members from research centers around the state are developing ways to incorporate undergraduate students into their centers for the first time.

Jeff Strock, an associate professor of soil science, works at the Southwest Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton, Minn. He said some of their ideas range from collaborations with on-campus courses to summer internships at research centers or on a farm. Students would get an interdisciplinary look at the life of a product from seed to consumer.

âÄúIt is my job to encourage [faculty members] to make some of these changes âÄî some people like it and some of them donâÄôt,âÄù Bell said.

Although many faculty members said the new direction will be beneficial, at least one CFANS student is not yet convinced.

âÄúAny student who is career-minded would go out and get those experiences on their own,âÄù said Emily Vong, a senior studying nutrition.

Even though the proposal sounds helpful, students are told over and over that they need experiences outside the classroom, Vong said.

âÄúThose who find them on their own deserve to have that extra edge.âÄù

Bell said the changes would make opportunities more visible to students.

In addition to the new policies, three majors will be removed from the college and three broader ones will be added.

One of the new majors Bell described will combine several areas of plant science including horticulture, entomology, plant pathology and agronomy.

Another will draw inspiration from the âÄúlocal foods movement.âÄù Studying everything from local to international scales of food systems, it will cover the whole spectrum, Bell said.

Bell also mentioned that, for the first time, they are considering the possibility of limiting the number of students accepted into each major. He said if CFANS does not create enough opportunities for students, it will be challenging for everyone to meet the major requirements.

âÄúIt is almost like a giant experiment,âÄù Gallaher said. âÄúItâÄôs pretty daring, but it will set our college apart.âÄù