Many working professionals choose to return to graduate school for good reasons. In a post-pandemic world, opportunities abound for those who pursue additional qualifications that can open doors to new careers, positions or passions.
Taking up this challenge as a graduate student, however, can be challenging when there are other responsibilities, such as work and family, to balance. Virginia Tech understands this concern — and its Online Master of Agricultural and Life Sciences (OMALS) is a flexible online program specifically designed for those who need to balance work, study and life.
That is a fact that Jessica Allen knows best. “I chose Virginia Tech because of my previous experience/degrees. From my undergrad experience, I knew I would get a well-rounded education that would be applicable to my career and daily life,” she says.
It led to her to enrol on the OMALS program. Upon completion, Allen will earn the same accredited degree as those studying on-campus. On average, she can take two courses (six credit hours) in one semester, which allows her to complete her degree in five semesters or less than two years. She could pick one of eight concentrations that best matches her interests and professional goals.
She chose the Plant Science and Pest Management concentration, which prepares students in agriculture-related roles to have a broader understanding of the diverse industry, including issues concerning production, business, economics, communication, pest management, and regulations.
Classes are practical, impactful, and engaging. Taught by faculty experts who are both in the classroom and on the field, two classes stood out to Allen. “Agribusiness Marketing really helped me do a deep dive into some business ideas I have for our farm and how those ideas would impact our farm business,” she says. “Agronomic Topics of the Mid-Atlantic, I would recommend it to everyone, even if you’re not an ag major. This class gives a really good foundation to all aspects of ag production at a graduate level.”
What’s more, those pursuing the Plant Science and Pest Management concentration will gain a sophisticated understanding of this interdisciplinary field with specialized skills in areas such as weed science, plant pathology, and crop management. They can even design, implement, and evaluate plant science and pest management programs and practices across diverse scales of agriculture.
The best part? While the program is online, guidance is available at every step of the way. They can “expect to have access to support from the OMALS program, from their advisor, and subsequent committee through one-on-one meetings, their proposal and degree completion,” says assistant professor Tiffany Drape.
The OMALS program is an action research-oriented degree that can be applied immediately in a work setting. “Removing the barrier of geography enables students to engage more easily and the instructors have worked hard to build an equivalent online educational experience for a project master’s program,” Dr. Drape shares.
One prime example is a student’s final project and report entitled “Guarding the Garden: Sustainable and Resilient Landscapes.” It dives into the concepts of creating a sustainable and resilient landscape that will allow users to exercise sustainability practices to improve landscapes, construct a productive environment, and enjoy its natural beauty.
Through this program, Allen feels she’s gained confidence in conducting research, effectively communicating her research ideas to various stakeholders, and managing her time wisely. “Conducting research has potentially opened some doors for me in doing some seed or variety evaluations, so hopefully, that will come to fruition,” she says.
OMALS graduate Helene Doughty expanded her knowledge in weed science, statistics and extension planning. “Those are all useful for research plot maintenance, data analysis and extension events — all current duties in my career,” she says.
Upon completing this program, graduates can pursue a wide range of career paths. Those interested in the private industry can manage golf courses, farms, orchards, parks, and many more. They can work with agriculture-related suppliers and manufacturers, government and soil conservation service agencies, or venture into education, as well.
Ready to learn more about the OMALS program? Click here.