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Two new CALS degree programs have begun: Bachelor of Science in Genetics and Master of Environmental Assessment

The selection of degrees to pursue has increased by two for students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at N.C. State University.

Earlier this year, the UNC system General Administration approved two new degree programs to begin this fall in the College: a bachelor of science degree in genetics and a master’s degree in environmental assessment. The new degree in genetics will be the first major in genetics in the UNC system. The Master of Environmental Assessment Degree is designed as a completely online degree and is also part of the Professional Science Master’s program.

B.S. in Genetics: a popularly requested life sciences degree program

Interest in a genetics major at N.C. State has been strong for some time. In 1999, the CALS Department of Genetics received a petition, signed by 270 students from a variety of majors, requesting that an undergraduate major in genetics be established. The popularity of the genetics minor, increasing enrollments in genetics undergraduate classes and continued interest in a major from students and parents led to the development of this program. The genetics degree program will serve an identified need in North Carolina for education and training in science and technology, preparing students for careers in the life sciences in the public and private sector. The degree in genetics will be a unique program that offers undergraduate majors classroom training in fundamentals of genetics and other sciences, as well as opportunities for meaningful research experience.

The Department of Genetics is uniquely poised to offer this new undergraduate major, according to Dr. Stephanie Curtis, director of academic programs in the department. For more than fifty years, the department has had responsibility for instruction in basic genetics at the undergraduate level for both science and non-science majors, and for more than 20 years it has administered a highly successful undergraduate genetics minor program, which has steadily grown in number of students to the level of approximately 100 graduates per year. The popularity of this minor, as well as increases in students majoring in the life sciences, has led to rising student enrollments in genetics undergraduate courses over the past two decades. The department has added seats and additional sections of the introductory lecture and laboratory courses, an honors section of the introductory lecture course, and a number of upper-level undergraduate genetics courses in response to student demand.

Curtis said that responsible conduct as a scientist and citizen will be emphasized in the genetics coursework, and students will also have the opportunities for public service and engagement through participation in the departmental genetics outreach program. “Students will be challenged to master their coursework while practicing hands-on problem-solving in both the classroom and active research settings,” she said, adding that students will be required to read the primary literature and present papers and their research findings, thus gaining valuable experience in scientific communication.

The genetics major complements other degree programs in the biological and life sciences at N.C. State, as it prepares students for further graduate study, professional schools (such as, medical, dental, veterinary) or careers in industries whose products are based on biological and agricultural research, including biopharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Building on the strength of N.C. State as a leader in science and technology, graduates from the program easily may earn a concurrent minor in any of the other life sciences curricula, as well as other programs such as statistics or biotechnology. Information is available at

Master of Environmental Assessment: tackling complex environmental problems in a completely online degree program

The Master of Environmental Assessment (EA), a non-thesis master’s degree, is a joint degree program between the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Natural Resources at N.C. State, according to Dr. Chris Hofelt, program coordinator for CALS and faculty member in the Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology. The interdisciplinary degree program focuses on understanding the adverse impacts that pollutants and naturally occurring substances pose on human health and the environment. Moreover, the program is designed as a completely online degree, technology that allows professionals to complete their degrees while still working. In addition, individuals can boost their credentials through a (non-degree) certificate program.

“We have certainly waited a long time for approval, and we have had an overwhelming response since the application was put on the graduate school website,” Hofelt said. “For the fall semester, we had 26 applicants, out of which we have accepted 15 students into the program for the inaugural semester. In addition, we have already begun to field questions for spring applications. The program is really targeted towards working professionals in the environmental field that would like to advance their careers or change the direction of their career, although we have had interest from recent graduates, as well.”

Hofelt also noted that the EA program has been approved as a Professional Science Master’s degree program. Professional Science Master’s programs are graduate degree programs that provide interdisciplinary coursework in the natural and mathematical sciences in combination with the professional management training essential for careers in industry, government or non-profit organizations. Students and faculty in PSM programs typically enjoy a high level of interaction with working professionals through courses, projects, internships and networking.

And as an internet-based Distance Education program, the EA master’s degree program offers flexible access for adult students, locally to globally.

As explained at the EA website (, environmental assessment bridges the gap between scientific research and the use of science in decision-making, regulation and management of pollutants and naturally occurring substances that pose risk of adverse impacts on human health and the environment. Understanding and evaluating the sources, fate and effects of pollutants in the environment enable the development of a scientific basis for assessing risks and thus supporting regulatory, enforcement and remedial-action decisions.

The EA degree is intended for working professionals who seek advanced study beyond the undergraduate level but are not interested in pursuing a career in research, the site explains. The program requires 30 credit hours, with 22 credit hours in required courses and the remaining hours selected from the list of elective courses or equivalent. Courses are selected to offer a cohesive continuing education opportunity for people in agricultural, chemical, environmental, energy, natural resource, pharmaceutical, biomedical and biotechnology fields.