New degree program focuses on business … and land

A new degree program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is designed to give soil scientists the business acumen they need to succeed in the world of real estate.

The first students are expected to begin working toward a bachelor’s degree in soil and land development this fall (2011), said Dr. Michael Vepraskas, William Neal Reynolds Professor of Soil Science.

“We will train students to evaluate land for real estate development,” said Vepraskas, who was instrumental in developing the program along with Dr. Joseph Kleiss, professor and academic coordinator for the Department of Soil Science.

Vepraskas said soil scientists have long been involved in assessing land being considered for development and making determinations related to whether a potential building site is suitable for a septic system, is in a wetland or presents other hazards to construction.

Yet soil scientists have typically been limited in their involvement in real estate development to, well, the soil.

Vepraskas said the new degree program is designed to give students a background in the business and financial aspects of land development as well as soil science. He pointed out that North Carolina requires land evaluation by a state-licensed soil scientist for real estate developments such as housing, golf courses and shopping centers. The new degree program will give students the training they need to become licensed as well as the knowledge they need to become more involved in real estate development.

“We want our students to know how to run a business,” said Vepraskas. “We want our students to start their own companies.”

Vepraskas said there was considerably more demand for soil scientists with business training in the land development industry a few years ago during the housing boom. With the housing bust, employment opportunities in the industry have dimmed. Vepraskas pointed out, however, that the first graduates won’t enter the job market for four years, and in that time, the real estate market may well have rebounded, opening new employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Graduates of the new degree program will be prepared to pursue careers such as consulting soil scientist, real estate developer, regional planner and entrepreneur. They will also be well-prepared to enter master’s programs in business administration or soil science.

— Dave Caldwell

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