In distance education programs, you encounter a range of students from varying backgrounds with different pursuits. Students may be recently graduated, have experience in the field or pursuing a career change. NC State’s Master of Soil Science Online Program attracts all of these students. We spoke to two students this month about their experiences with our program.
Stephanie Drzal completed her Master of Soil Science while working a full-time job, and Danny Edwards completed the master’s program to boost his career prospects.
NC State: Why did you participate in NC State’s Master of Soil Science Online Program?
Stephanie Drzal: I always dreamed of getting a degree in soil science, but I believed I would have to stop working to earn a science/fieldwork-oriented degree. However, my job offered a stipend to attend classes that would benefit that job. In an online search, I discovered NC State’s Master of Soil Science Online Program. I was thrilled to find a program that allowed me to continue to work full-time and get a degree in an area that I love to study. Although I changed jobs, I have stuck with the program!
Danny Edwards: I had been seriously considering a master’s degree to increase my career marketability. I immediately began investigating various programs once I learned that I was going to be laid off from my job. Losing a job is a traumatic experience, but I wanted to turn this unfortunate life event into something positive. I wanted a program that would offer the flexibility to work full-time in case I obtained another job before I finished my degree. My education and career background is in soil science, and I wanted to continue building skills in that field. These parameters lead me to enroll in NC State’s Master of Soil Science Online Program.
NC State: What is your current career, and what are your long-term career goals?
SD: I work as a nutrient management specialist for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. I write nutrient management plans for southeastern Virginia farmers that allow for the greatest yield in crop while applying nutrients at a rate that won’t impede water quality. State planners also act as the regional resource for private planners in the commonwealth. We teach classes in the certification program that train people who write nutrient management plans; speak at conferences; and provide other means of support to help improve Virginia’s water quality.
I am participating in a manager training and succession planning program within my agency, which trains the younger generation of DCR employees to eventually transition over into program management positions within the agency. This could allow me to work as the nutrient management program coordinator within Virginia or manage the nutrient management certification program for all planners in the commonwealth. I also plan on working on getting a certified crop advisor (CCA) license which could open opportunities in the private sector regarding soil and water management on farms.
DE: I work as an Environmental Program Consultant with the Public Water Supply Section within the N.C. Division of Water Resources. This division is part of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. I want to continue to build the skills that will allow me to master the challenges associated with my current job. I am very happy with the current state of my career.
NC State: Are you actively applying what you learned in the program to your current work?
SD: Yes! I use information from Dr. John Havlin’s SSC 541 Soil Fertility course daily. Dr. Havlin’s class helps me better explain to farmers the why and how of nutrient management plans in an informative, yet understandable fashion. The course also helps me teach my portion of the nutrient management certification training course, which deals with calculation of fertilizer application rates. Dr. Jeff White’s SSC 540 GIS in Soil Science and Agriculture allows me to use ArcMaps to make better maps for farmers to show nutrient application rates as well as maps for my supervisors to show them the efforts of my work.
DE: Yes, the analytical skills that I learned in the program are pertinent to my current work.
NC State: How has or how will the program impact your current or future career goals?
SD: I feel like I have an edge now with not only knowledge, but contacts. I have made many new contacts—from my advisory committee to course professors, classmates and beyond. Having contacts who work in your field, but out of your immediate circle opens entire new directions in potential employment and references. The knowledge gained in this program not only helps me be a better planner, but also shows current and future employers that I can balance a career and heavy school workload and succeed in both. The time management skills, stress management skills, and organization I gained from accomplishing both speaks volumes. As mentioned, I’m in an already established training program within my agency. Obtaining a master’s degree at the same time improves my chances when it comes time to apply from those positions.
DE: Most directly, the program allowed me to obtain my current job because a master’s degree was required. The program also helped me develop my research, communication and analytical skills. These skills transcend the boundaries that define specific scientific fields and are requisite for a broad-based scientific knowledge. In this context, the program has broadened my career marketability.
NC State: What did you most appreciate about the program? About distance education?
SD: The ability to work while earning a degree is so wonderful. After getting my undergraduate degree, I knew full-time academia wasn’t for me. I like working. I like the practical application end of sciences. To find a program like NC State’s Master of Soil Science Online Program was my dream. I gathered extra knowledge in my area of work, without getting bogged down by research. And I can still live and work here in Virginia, which is my established home. Getting this degree has helped me better understand the science behind what I do all day at work. This not only helps me do my job better, but enables me to better explain it to others. It wasn’t easy balancing a full-time job and part-time school, but it was worth it.
DE: I appreciate the thoughtfulness that the professors put into the program and courses. It was obvious that they were engaged in making the program successful and in providing the student opportunities to master the subject matter and acquire the skills necessary to excel in the discipline. I appreciate the flexibility associated with distance education. Fortunately, I acquired another job relatively quickly after being laid off, and the flexibility afforded by distance education allowed me to complete my master’s degree while I worked.
While students may come from varying backgrounds and situations, they often find the same kind of benefits and opportunities that come from completing an advanced degree online!
Check back often as we look at different areas of study in Soil Science and learn more about the implications of crops and soil on the world around us.