First degrees conferred from new International Ag graduate program

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A new dual-title graduate degree program in International Agriculture and Development offered by Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences has graduated its first two students.

The students' diplomas recognize both their primary degree and the International Agriculture and Development dual-title. Students can earn a master's or a doctoral degree through the dual-title program, also known as INTAD.

"The program is unique -- Penn State was among the first to offer anything like it," said Deanna Behring, the college's director of international programs.

"Upon graduation from the program, students will be better competitors for career opportunities working with international organizations, universities and research institutes, and international corporations."

Increasing numbers of employers are looking for graduates with international experiences and credentials, Behring noted.

"This new dual-title degree program was developed in response to that demand," she said. "The program provides graduate students with international perspectives and expertise to strengthen their primary graduate degrees. Graduates from the dual-title program will be better equipped to work on complex problems such as food security."

Graduating from the INTAD program last December was Anna Testen, of St. Paul, Minn., and Brad Olson, of Telford. Testen received her primary master's degree in Plant Pathology. Olson received a primary master's degree in Agricultural and Extension Education.

Testen earned an undergraduate degree in microbiology and horticulture from the University of Minnesota. In her master's research at Penn State, she studied the possibilities of using bacteria to promote growth and reduce disease in quinoa, an Andean seed crop.

She also developed methods to detect a key pathogen in quinoa seeds that causes a disease called quinoa downy mildew.

"These detection methods can be used to screen seeds for the pathogen and are the first step to creating pathogen-free seed, which can reduce disease and improve yield," she said. "My research gave me the chance to travel to Ecuador and Bolivia to meet with collaborators and conduct studies."

Olson also had opportunities to conduct research abroad during his involvement in the INTAD program.

In 2011, he spent three weeks in South Africa looking at the relationships between emerging farmers and South African extension programs, and he lived for seven weeks in central Kenya, studying community-based natural-resource management. In 2012, he traveled to Moscow to investigate Russia's rural agricultural development.

"The faculty, staff and key partners of the INTAD program afforded me opportunities that I would not have had in my primary program alone," Olson said. "The program is attracting students to graduate programs within the College of Agricultural Sciences, so that they, too, may earn a dual-title degree in a field of ever-growing importance."

Students already enrolled in the participating graduate programs in the College of Agricultural Sciences can apply to enroll in the dual-title degree program, Behring noted, adding that students will learn and develop skills through additional interdisciplinary core coursework and a broad range of supplemental elective courses.

They will get regular opportunities to interact with internationally accomplished faculty and peers in relevant fields, she pointed out. Other advantages include potential funding for international research and more chances to compete for national awards and fellowships.

"Currently there are very few dual-title degree programs that aim to enrich the international education of graduate students," Behring said. "We are very pleased to give our students the opportunity to gain unique international perspectives and experiences through the International Agriculture and Development dual-title degree program."

Another big plus for the program is that it is a great bargain for students. Behring cited a recent online report by U.S. News and World Report that recommended maximizing graduate school with a dual degree.

"You can get a dual or joint degree without breaking the bank, and in less time than it takes to get two separate degrees," the article advised. "It's possible to get two full graduate degrees in two graduate areas without doubling the cost of graduate school."

The story specifically addressed the value of a dual degree in international studies, saying it has a range of benefits to students, "giving them a global perspective and experience, providing a credential that may be recognized in more than one country, and, in some cases, giving them exposure to faculty expertise or resources they would not otherwise encounter."

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Last Updated March 18, 2013