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Diversity and Inclusion

Filling the Blanks in Regulatory Science

Graduate student and regulatory professional Jessica Vigna talks about the practical, real-world knowledge she gained through a first-of-its-kind certificate program

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Jessica Vigna works as a state regulatory manager for Adama, a manufacturer and distributor of crop protection solutions in the United States and many other countries. There she leads a small team to ensure that their products comply with regulations across all 50 states and Puerto Rico. 

Vigna is also working on a master’s degree in entomology at NC State to advance her regulatory career. And to become an even more important asset to her company, she is taking elective classes in the graduate-level Regulatory Science in Agriculture certificate program: the first and only program of its kind in the United States. 

We reached out to Vigna for an industry professional’s perspective on the value of these unique regulatory science classes, which emphasize hands-on exercises, guest lectures from some of the top regulatory professionals in agriculture, and networking with fellow students. 

How did you start your agriculture career in the regulatory sciences? 

It was an opportunity that I fell into. I’m from Brazil, where I earned a BS in agronomy and worked as an agronomist. While I was using many products in the field, I never thought about how these products make their way there. In 2016, I moved to America permanently, looking for a job in the agriculture industry. I was originally looking for positions in sales, but a fertilizer company saw my resume and said, “We have an opportunity in regulatory. This would be a good opportunity.” So I took the position and found out that I really enjoyed it. I found out that regulatory work was what I really wanted to do. In 2018, I began working for Adama, because I was also very interested in working with pesticide regulations. 

What is it about regulatory work that interests you so much? 

Regulatory work is complex. It serves everyone in the organization, so it allows for a lot of interaction throughout the whole company. It’s great to see the efforts of our job resulting in important tools for growers. I’m still catching up on how to be a great regulatory professional, and taking classes at NC State has been a great way to fill in the blanks.

How did you learn about the Regulatory Science in Agriculture Certificate program? 

As I was looking for (elective) classes in the crop science program, I noticed the Introduction to Ag Regulatory Science class. I was very excited when I saw it. The reason I’m going for my master’s in entomology is to keep working in the regulatory field, particularly in the federal and state insecticide regulations. This was awesome!

I missed my chance to register for that class, but I saw that the advanced program was happening during the spring. That’s when I reached out to Keith Edmisten (Regulatory Science in Agriculture Certificate program coordinator) and learned about the program. I asked if I could take the advanced class now. He agreed since I already work in the field and have some background in regulatory work. 

How are the Regulatory Science in Agriculture Certificate classes helping to build your career?

I know about state pesticide regulations, but I also want to know about the other aspects of regulatory work in the product development chain. We have four federal managers at Adama. As the company grows, they will need more people who specialize in the regulatory field, and I hope I can be one of those people. Through these classes, I can be more helpful, providing more input and helping with our business strategy and product development. 

Another reason the certificate program is helping build my career is that it provides a credential. Earning this certificate is the best way to make sure my colleagues and industry peers know that I have expertise and knowledge in regulation. I want to be in this field for a long time, and I need to gain more knowledge and expertise and experience to do that.

What aspects of the Regulatory Science in Agriculture program’s classes do you enjoy the most?

What I like the most is the guest lecturers. It’s really great to have guest lectures from the real world. It keeps us more engaged, because the speakers bring practical perspectives and experiences directly from the regulatory field. You can read about how it’s done. But when you bring real people who are experts in their field, the perspective is different. You get insight into how things are done. They tell you how things happen in the industry, and these real-world experiences from the experts get you interested in learning more. I also like the program’s hands-on activities, for example: “Pretend you’re registering a GMO. How would you register this with the EPA and USDA?” 

Aside from the instruction, what are the benefits an industry professional would see in taking these classes?

Building a professional network is an important part of advancing in any profession. When you connect with other people, you ask more questions and share advice. For example, I had a fellow student, who recently graduated, that also works in the regulatory field. We sometimes chatted on the side about dealing with certain situations. The program also gives a chance for students to help each other with job searching, and there are many undergraduate and graduate students at NC State that I may interact with in the future while working in the regulatory field. Because of the pandemic, these classes had to be online. Hopefully future classes can be in person, allowing students and professionals to feel more connected.

Would you recommend the Regulatory Science in Agriculture Certificate program’s classes to others?  

I would definitely recommend classes in the CERSA (Center of Excellence for Regulatory Science in Agriculture) program to every graduate and undergraduate student. They shouldn’t be mandatory; but anyone in plant pathology, entomology, and the vet science programs dealing with pests should take classes to know and understand all the work that is needed to get products you need to use through the regulation processes. Everyone should have at least one class in regulatory science.