Cyberspace Education

Cultivating New Credentials in Cyberspace

Flexible. Adaptable. Anytime. Anywhere. That’s how Michigan State University (MSU) touts its landmark online Master of Science (MS) in Food Safety program, believed to be the world’s first online graduate program focusing on food safety. More than 435 students representing 26 countries, 39 states, and some 227 employers have been accepted into the program since it was launched in the fall of 2002. To date, 174 individuals have completed the degree.

“Our average student is a mid-level, mid-career professional working in industry or government regulation,” says Julie Funk, DVM, PhD, director of the program. “Professionals come to our online program to advance their food safety knowledge without having to leave their home communities and current employment.”

The MSU MS Food Safety program consists of ten three-credit courses, including core requirements (21 credits) and electives (nine credits). In lieu of a thesis, a three-credit applied food safety project is part of the required 30 credits.

The required courses are Introduction to Food Safety and Professional Development; Evolution and Ecology of Foodborne Pathogens; Food Safety Toxicology; Foodborne Disease Epidemiology; Food Safety Research Methods; Applied Project in Food Safety; and a choice of International Food Laws & Regulations or U.S. Food Laws & Regulations. Electives are chosen from a list of more than 20 courses.

The degree can be completed within two to three years, depending on the number of credits taken per semester. “Most students complete the degree within an average of three years, but we do allow a maximum of five years for completion,” Dr. Funk says.

Usha Kalro, a nutritionist with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, completed the MSU program in 2007 as a compliment to her Registered Dietition and Licensed Dietition credentials. “My Master’s degree empowers me to speak with authority on food safety topics,” Kalro says. “This is a tremendous benefit to my career, my work, and the consumers I serve.”

As an alternative to the Master of Science degree, MSU offers an online Certificate in Food Safety, which is achieved through completion of any four approved 3-credit courses within the MS in Food Safety curriculum.

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Virginia Tech

Established in 2006, the Online Master of Agricultural and Life Sciences (ALS) program offered by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VT) is geared toward adult learners who desire to develop new knowledge and skills in human health and nutrition, sustainable agriculture, food safety and regulation, leadership, and social change, or formal and non-formal education to meet society’s changing needs and expectations.

To that end, six degree concentration areas are available for this MS degree including Food Safety; Biosecurity, Bioregulations, and Public Health; Education; Environmental Science; Plant Science and Pest Management; and Leadership Studies.

The VT MS Food Safety option is designed for public health professionals and others interested in the microbiological safety of food, water, and the environment, including the development and enforcement of laws and regulations affecting food production and processing, and the implementation of food safety management programs, according to James Anderson, II, VT’s director of distance and graduate education.

“All students pursuing the Food Safety option are considered graduate students in the VT Department of Food Science & Technology,” Dr. Anderson says. “But in addition to their required courses, they can choose electives in the other academic departments that meet their specific professional needs and interests.”

Student enrollment has steadily increased for the VT food safety concentration from four students in 2007-2008 to 20 students today, 2013-2014. Some 15 students have completed this online MS degree, and three more are expected to graduate in 2014. “Thus far, food safety students have represented seven states, but the welcome mat is always out for international enrollees,” says Jennifer Carr, graduate program coordinator for the online MS ALS.

About Linda L. Leake, MS

Linda L. Leake, doing business as Food Safety Ink, is a food safety consultant, auditor, and award-winning freelance journalist based in Wilmington, N.C. Specializing in agriculture, food, food safety, and travel, her articles have appeared in some 89 print and online publications. Along with garnering awards for her articles and photographs, she holds the prestigious Master Writer status with American Agricultural Editors’ Association. Majoring in Dairy Science, she completed a BS in Agriculture at University of Wisconsin and an MS in Food Safety at Michigan State University. She’s an active member of IAFP, Toxicologists Without Borders, Inc., and the National Dairy Shrine. She’s currently enrolled in the International Development Doctoral Program at University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast.

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