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University of Florida: Nurturing future leaders in Agribusiness and Food and Resource Economics

Erik Tietig’s journey into agriculture began right in his backyard. Growing up, he accompanied his mother, Colleen Boggs, to gatherings of the Florida Farm Bureau and the Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association. These events were more than just meetings; they were where his passion for the nursery industry and agriculture was sown.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Florida (UF), Tietig and entered the workforce. After many years, he realised he needed more specialized training to further grow his businesses in the horticultural industry. Hence, he returned to his alma mater, UF, to pursue the Master of Agribusiness (MAB). “This was the opportunity for me to get a formal education in my field and begin the next 50 years with some new skills and perspectives,” he says.

Ranked No.1 among public universities in the US by the Wall Street Journal, UF is where intellect, ingenuity, and imagination shape minds and forge futures for the better. Two programmes by the Food and Resource Economics Department (FRE) exemplify this best.

The MAB is recognised for its high-quality education, combining the convenience of online learning with the invaluable experiences of in-person interaction. This 100% online, asynchronous programme allows students to customise their learning schedules to accommodate their existing employment. Just ask Tietig.

As a full-time business owner, Tietig appreciated the flexibility of fully online classes without meeting times, allowing him and other students to work on schedules that fit their unique needs. “For me to pursue a master’s degree and have to go to Gainesville to take courses or take exams, it was not going to happen,” he says. “So, for me, it worked out very well.”

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The Food and Resource Economics Department (FRED) specialises in food and agricultural systems in Florida through teaching, research, and extension. Source: University of Florida

What sets the MAB programme apart, despite being 100% online, is its commitment to fostering in-person connections. Once per semester, students can gather in Florida, where they meet their peers, engage with professors, and connect with industry experts. Plus, international students can earn a degree and experience the US and UF — without the need to relocate, making it a truly global educational experience. That’s not all. With the flexibility of asynchronous learning and opportunities to integrate one’s job into special projects aligned with coursework, students can advance their careers without pausing their lives or careers.

Tietig found the programme challenging but highly valuable, with skills acquired making it worthwhile. “Much of what I was learning in my classes was plug-and-play into the farms,” he says. “I began implementing the skills I was learning in management, finance, marketing, and economics immediately. What I learned in the MAB programme will fundamentally change how the farms are managed. It already has in many ways.”

The MS in Food and Resource Economics programme equips students with the skills and knowledge needed for careers in industry, government, and NGOs. It’s ideal for those aspiring to earn a PhD, too. Students can learn from distinguished faculty members and have the chance to engage in impactful research in areas such as consumer behavioural economics, marine economics, environmental and natural resource economics, and international development. Funding is available on a competitive basis, and graduates have very high chances of placement — something alumnus Natalie Miaoulis-Maillis can attest to.

She now works as a fisheries specialist for the Nature Conservancy’s northern Caribbean programme and was recognised as one of the Explorers Club ECO50. During her MS programme with a thesis, Miaoulis-Maillis collaborated with multiple FRE faculty members, connections she remains grateful for until today.

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The faculty often engages in impactful research programmes, providing valuable learning opportunities for students. Photo Credit: University of Florida/Brianne Lehan

“Dr. Sherry Larkin inspired my journey in fisheries, demonstrating what women can achieve in the field,” Miaoulis-Maillis says. “I will never forget my first class with her and the constant support I received from her throughout my thesis. Also, Dr. Gilly Evans encouraged me to pursue my passions for a career that impacted my region, the Caribbean.”

Miaoulis-Maillis attributes her career success to her FRE degree and the real-world skills she gained as a member and officer of the Agricultural Economics Club and Gator NAMA. “I would not trade my degree from this department for any other for the practical, implementable skills learned,” Miaoulis-Maillis says.

FRE faculty members are involved in impactful research programmes that offer valuable learning experiences for students — exemplified by Dr. Christa Court, and the work carried out by the UF/IFAS Economic Impact Analysis Program (EIAP) under her leadership.

Under the tutelage of Dr. Court and FRE-affiliate faculty member Dr. Tatiana Borisova, EIAP team member Fei He recently completed her PhD in Food and Resource Economics, and was recognized with the 2023 Water Institute Dissertation Award for her dissertation, “Farm-Scale and Regional Economics Implications of Agricultural Land Management Decisions in the Floridian Aquifer Region”.

Dr. Court was also recently recognized with the Southern Agricultural Economics Association (SAEA)’s Outstanding Extension Program Award for the EIAP’s work on estimating and communicating the agricultural impacts of disaster events.

No matter which programme you choose, you’ll succeed and cherish your time here as a Gator. Click here to learn more about the Food and Resource Economics Department programmes.

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