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Leading the Pack in Ag Regulatory Science Education

NC State offers nation’s first certificate programs for regulatory science in agriculture

a young woman in a lab looking at seedlings

Despite the breadth, complexity and impact of regulation in the agricultural industry, no formal university certificate program in agriculture has ever focused on regulatory science–until now.

NC State’s Regulatory Science in Agriculture certificate programs for undergraduate and graduate students are the first two in the nation developed specifically to prepare students and industry professionals for the complex world of agricultural regulation. 

You get a lot of information about the different topics under the umbrella of regulatory and agriculture. You get the information firsthand, from someone who works in the position.

Keith Edmisten, professor and regulatory program coordinator, says that companies spend a lot of time and money training scientists and staff on regulations, and they eagerly look to NC State for help increasing regulatory science awareness before students enter the workforce. 

“Scientists need to be aware of regulation at every stage of product planning and development, as they design, conduct, and potentially cancel research programs around these products if it becomes likely they won’t meet regulatory standards,” said Edmisten. “Our program provides this background so that companies spend less time and energy on training.”

Edmisten says that the certificate program makes a meaningful connection for students and the companies and government agencies who hire them.

“Some scientists go into industry thinking it’s for them, until they find out it isn’t,”  Edmisten said. “Students in our program know what to expect when they work in the regulatory sciences, and they are here because they want to work in this field. This program creates a strong bond for students and employers.”

NC State has developed introductory and advanced courses for undergraduate and graduate students, and routinely trains 15-20 students in each course. The result of this work, Edmisten says, is a program like no other in America. 

“There are regulatory programs at other universities, but they are all related to the medical industry. This is the first program like this in the nation focused on agriculture,” he said.

Uniquely positioned

Edmisten credits NC State’s proximity to Research Triangle Park as a key reason why NC State could build a one-of-a-kind certificate course around agricultural regulation.

“Research Triangle Park is a hotbed for agricultural research and product development,” Edimisten said. “We have large, established companies producing next-generation pesticides and plant varieties, as well as small groundbreaking companies taking new and exciting approaches that can add new chapters to the regulation books. It’s also not far from Washington, D.C., which is home to agriculture’s many regulatory agencies.”

Another key reason, Edmisten says, is access to a large pool of local regulatory experts from companies, state and federal government agencies, and other organizations to serve as guest lecturers in classes, exposing students to the practical side of regulation that cannot be taught through books.

“There are so many experts with diverse backgrounds to work with in the RTP area,” Edmisten said. “We’ve brought in lecturers from commodity groups to talk about intellectual property issues. We’ve also brought in experts on pollinator toxicology, the environmental fate of products, health regulation, environmental regulations, and a lot of other areas.” 

Fulfilling industry needs

Edmisten says that companies traditionally train new researchers as part of their in-house onboarding and training programs. NC State began building its regulatory certificate programs after a group of industry representatives from small and large companies expressed a need to hire scientists with exposure to the regulatory processes. 

“It started when I met Rick Carringer, a CALS alumnus, in the Hunt Library.  He told me about his company and their research work to support regulatory packages for other companies. He’d apparently hired some of our graduates and told me he wished they were more familiar with regulatory science and affairs,” Edmisten said.

Industry partners quickly came in to help Edmisten shape the idea, vision, and coursework for NC State’s first regulatory science classes. Within a year, they created a first-of-its-kind course that featured 20 area industry professionals and faculty members from three colleges.

Edmisten continued working with key regulatory science leaders through an advisory board that helped Edmisten expand from courses to a certificate program. He says many companies recognize the NC State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ key role in training students in the regulatory sciences, as well as giving them practical exposure to regulation. 

This program creates a strong bond for students and employers.

Dan Jenkins, regulatory strategy and quality lead at Pairwise, a company that incorporates genome editing into product development, is actively involved in the regulatory certificate program’s advisory board. He says future employees at Pairwise must have a strong familiarity with regulations, as well as a practical understanding of how to apply the regulatory sciences in product development. 

“Pairwise is using gene editing, crop science, and data techniques to develop fruits and vegetables that are uniquely different in the marketplace, like seedless raspberries and pitless fruits,” Jenkins said. “We need experts that can generate the data and the science to satisfy regulators, because products like these were never developed before.”

Jenkins says the certificate program’s strengths lie in the breadth of knowledge students can gain. 

“This program is unique in that it spans a lot of different areas, not just gene editing but also chemistry, societal considerations, and other things to help students build their regulatory knowledge,” Jenkins said. “You can’t study it in books, because there’s always a disharmony between words written 20 years ago and the state of the technologies today. The certificate is a tremendous asset to have in our area and a great benefit for a company like ours.”

Supporting student interests

Edmisten points out the three typical reasons why students take classes in the certificate program.

“Some students know they want jobs in regulatory and take the program to be more competitive in this field. Then there are the students whose first choice in jobs is not regulatory, but they realize that it is important to their research careers. And the third type of student is already working for a company but wants to advance. Regulatory is a great way to do it, because there’s such a demand.”

Jessica Vigna, who works full time in the regulatory field at Adama, a global manufacturer and distributor of crop protection products based in RTP, signed up for the certificate’s regulatory classes as part of her coursework for a master’s degree in entomology at NC State. She is taking courses in the certificate program to advance her career. 

“When I saw the advanced regulatory class, I was very excited,” said Vigna. “I’m going for my master’s in Entomology to move up from state regulations to federal and state regulations for insecticides.” 

Vigna says the strongest selling points of the certificate program were the guest lecturers and the networking. 

“The lecturers are actually in the regulatory field,” said Vigna. “They bring practical, real-world perspectives and experiences, and they tell you how things really happen in the industry, which  adds a lot of credibility to the program. And as you network with the lecturers and other students in the classes, you can share career advice, help with job searching, and potentially recruit some of the students for the company.” 

Roshni Panwala, an undergraduate student majoring in both political science as well as crop and soil science, agrees that the guest speakers are a key strength of the program. She says the perspectives from the guest speakers are helping with her decide exactly where in the regulatory field she will work. 

“You get a lot of information about the different topics under the umbrella of regulatory and agriculture. You get the information firsthand, from someone who works in the position,” said Panwala. “Hearing from so many different people, I know there’s a lot of opportunity no matter where I go, whether that’s plant breeding, plant pathology, or somewhere else.”

John Dole, associate dean and director for academic programs, says the program will keep evolving to match the needs of students and industry.  

“As the needs of industry change, so must our curriculum, and the Regulatory Science in Agriculture Certificate is a great example of this,” said Dole. “We are excited to provide our students with more opportunities and assist our stakeholders at the same time.”