Nurturing skilled agri-food professionals through innovative course-based master’s degrees

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The agri-food sector is in need of dynamic graduates. With the breakneck speed of innovation, advances in technology, and labour shortages, organisations are actively looking for solutions.

This means the market for highly skilled personnel holding master’s degrees, especially in Canada, will be on the upswing. These jobs attract higher pay as well. According to a 2015 StatsCan report “(f)or every graduating class from 2010 to 2015, master’s degree graduates were making, on average, 40% to 47% more than undergraduate degree holders two years after graduation — a difference in median employment income ranging from 18,100 to 21,200 Canadian dollars.”

With such good job prospects, the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) recognised the demand to broaden their master’s degree programme offerings and options to meet the needs of career professionals who already have high English proficiency and strong industry-relevant work experience but want to diversify their career opportunities to improve life. That is why, apart from offering the traditional two-year master’s programme with a research thesis component, OAC has designed several professional course-based master’s degrees to cater to those who prefer a programme that is based on more coursework in a specific study area and can be completed within one to two years.

Master of Dairy Technology Management (MDTM)

The newest of OAC’s offerings, the Master of Dairy Technology Management is an innovative new program available starting this Fall 2022. This fully online programme will be the first of its kind. It is an interdisciplinary programme that blends three overarching competencies: Dairy Science and Technology; Management of Operations, Food Safety Systems and Quality Assurance; and Market and Technology Assessment. It will help you integrate scientific, economic and business knowledge and information to make effective technology management decisions.

“Emerging process technologies, the growing dairy analogues sector, ongoing diversification of dairy products, and customer demands for improved sustainability and animal welfare are evidence that the future of the dairy industry will not be business as usual,” says Dr. Art Hill, co-creator and Graduate Programme Coordinator of the MDTM. “The MDTM, delivered jointly by the Department of Food Science and the Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, will prepare dairy industry leaders to guide development and application of technologies to meet the complex challenges of the industry in the 21st century.”

Master of Science in Food Safety and Quality Assurance (MSc FSQA)

Armed with extensive experience in quality and defect management from several Nigerian food manufacturing companies, Vijay Thomas Issac had specific ideas of what he wanted to learn from his master’s programme. To his delight, the MSc FSQA covered everything he was looking for.

“I felt a strong passion to learn more about the various elements in a food company that facilitate the production of safe and quality food,” he explains.

Prior to OAC, he was conducting a quality management project in a Lagos snacks and cereals manufacturing company. The MSc FSQA, which teaches about scientific and management principles of food safety and quality assurance, was a perfect fit for him.

The “hybrid stream” allows students to access online and in-person courses and complete a research project with a faculty advisor; the “distance delivery” option features fully online coursework and a workplace research project with a current employer. Choosing the former, Issac flew to Guelph to write his paper after finishing his Nigerian data collection.

The best part? “Since I have peers of various age groups and a wide knowledge database, this programme is a great platform to meet industry professionals who happen to be my coursemates, along with the highly qualified and super helpful professors.”

Master of Environmental Sciences (MES)

Nature lover Bradley Howie was contemplating whether to take up a full thesis-based programme but was still unsure. Seeing that the MES included independent research changed his mind.

Distinguishing itself from other environmental science departments, the School of Environmental Sciences comprises a true integration of the life and physical sciences to address important environmental questions in forest, aquatic and agro-ecosystems. With courses covering a wide range of topics such as earth and atmospheric science, environmental biology and soil science and only two required courses to be taken, tailoring the programme to one’s interests and passions is possible. Students can elect to pursue either a mix of modules and a research project (six courses), or eight full courses.

Howie was able to customise his research around the application of Indigenous knowledge to the University of Guelph’s renowned 162-hectare (400-acre) arboretum. Local Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Holders worked with Howie to create science educational materials incorporating their holistic perspective of the environment, plants and animals.

Master of Planning (MPlan)

In this interdisciplinary programme, students look at the challenges faced by countryside communities, analyse their change processes and think of how to solve these issues. The MPlan comes with a unique focus on rural, Indigenous, and remote community planning in Canada and internationally.

Having previously worked in the Scotland Highland council on a youth mobility visa after her studies in Canada, Rhiannon Barbour then moved to New Zealand with her husband where she completed the MPlan while working there as a planner. Since a minimum of two years’ work experience is a programme requirement, Barbour was able to fuse her knowledge of Scottish planning with the New Zealand system in her studies.

Ontario Agricultural College

Students at Ontario Agricultural College are assured of top-notch and quality course-based master’s degrees. Source: Ontario Agricultural College

“Our graduates are making differences in communities across the globe, assisting with policy development, helping to develop social programmes and working with land use issues,” notes Wayne Caldwell, Professor in Rural Planning and Development.

Located in safe and friendly Guelph, Ontario, OAC is top-ranked in Canada and #13 worldwide for food sciences and technology. With the University of Guelph rated #1 in Canada for overall student satisfaction (Maclean’s Magazine, 2020), students interested in agriculture, food, the environment and communities can be assured of a rewarding study experience within a vibrant, collaborative and inclusive community.

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