International degree program spawns graduate student seminars

UNIVERISTY PARK, Pa. -- Two Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences graduate students are building upon their international experiences by conducting a new graduate seminar series on tropical entomology.

The students are enrolled in the International Agriculture and Development (INTAD) dual-title degree program. According to Deanna Behring, the college's director of international programs, the program provides students with international perspectives and expertise to strengthen their primary graduate degree.

"Increasing numbers of employers are looking for graduates with international experiences and credentials," Behring said. "INTAD is a part of Penn State's initiative to internationalize its land-grant mission and prepare students to work in interdisciplinary teams on global challenges."

Scheduled for the 2014 spring semester, the "Tropical Entomology" seminar series is being offered as a one-credit, INTAD elective open to all graduate students, not just those enrolled in entomology.

This is the first time graduate students in the INTAD program are designing a seminar series, noted Melanie Miller-Foster, INTAD advisor and coordinator for programs in Latin America. "The course will allow INTAD graduate students Ariel Rivers and Loren Rivera-Vega to take their international experiences and bring them back to campus and show how international agriculture issues can impact people in Pennsylvania," she said.

The goal of the INTAD program is to bring the social and biophysical sciences together in order to research solutions to complex international and development issues. Students enrolled in one of the five participating graduate programs in the College of Agricultural Sciences can apply to enroll.

Miller-Foster said research data for the degree program can be collected abroad, but if the student's funding does not allow for international travel, data can be obtained from a respected secondary source. Students enrolled in the program will be awarded a diploma that notes both their primary degree and INTAD dual-title.

The program has enrolled 28 students in its three-year existence and has conducted study tours in Russia, Brazil and the Dominican Republic as part of the capstone course. Students pursue additional international course work and research projects as part of their individual programs of study. More graduate programs are expected to join INTAD in the near future.

Entomology is one of the graduate programs participating in INTAD, and Rivers and Rivera-Vega are eager to design their own seminar series. The students said "Tropical Entomology" will be discussion driven, with a focus on diversity, management and policy issues associated with arthropods in tropical systems.

Rivers' research focuses on preservation of arthropod predator diversity in conservation agricultural systems in Pennsylvania and Mexico. Rivera-Vega, a native of Honduras, is researching the factors that affect plant defenses against insect herbivores and the social impact of scientific advancement in developing countries.

"Offering a seminar series like this is appealing, because we are combining our entomology and international agriculture experiences into one class," Rivers said. "We hope to discuss a wide range of topics -- for example, how to balance diversity of arthropods in a rainforest with environmental sustainability and economic viability. The discussions will be student driven, and everyone has experiences they can draw from and relate to."

Rivers and Rivera-Vega are thankful for the opportunity to design a seminar series and for the support they've received from their course advisor, Dr. Andy Deans, other entomology faculty and INTAD staff.  "We're able to share our experiences, control the content of the seminars and gain valuable teaching skills," said Rivera-Vega.

More information on the "Tropical Entomology" seminar series can be found online at http://psu.ag/JHlH3O. For additional questions, contact Rivers at arielrivers@psu.edu or Rivera-Vega at ljr181@psu.edu.

To learn more about the INTAD dual graduate degree, visit the program website or contact Miller-Foster at 814-867-3831 or mjm727@psu.edu.

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Last Updated December 19, 2013