Oh, The Places You Can Now Go

Graduate student working on one of the many classes offered through the online graduate program.

For those looking to continue their education, the decision to go to graduate school can often mean sacrificing family time or delaying or interrupting their career. For some, an unexpected job opportunity arose that forced their decision. Now, there is an alternative.

The new online Master of Science in Agricultural Communications is a distance graduate program offered by the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication at Texas Tech University. This new program allows students to earn their entire master’s degree online and has given new opportunities to people aspiring to further their education without sacrificing current job and family.

With the new program, people do not have to relocate, quit their job or uproot their families to receive their degree from Texas Tech.

A NEW BEGINNING

Erica Irlbeck, Ph.D., associate professor of agricultural communications at Texas Tech, said the new online degree expands upon the program offered within the department.

“We ask ourselves continually, ‘What can we do to make this better? What can we do to be of service to more people?’ The addition of an online distance delivered master’s of science in ag communications was the next logical step,” Irlbeck said.

The department has been offering online courses through the Great Plains Ag Interactive Distance Education Alliance. It is a consortium of universities offering program and courses. Students from other universities were able to take courses from Tech that would credit toward their degree from another university.

The addition of the online agricultural communications master’s program has had an impact on both current Texas Tech undergraduate students and students from other universities who are interested in a master’s degree in agricultural communications.

There have been many Tech students wanting to go to graduate school but also wanting to move out of Lubbock. While some choose to go to other universities, there are some who want to receive their master’s from Tech.

In order to make sure the department is providing a quality service to all students, the faculty reflects on the program and makes sure the class is relevant and beneficial to the student no matter where the student is located.

“We want to make sure that we are offering a quality product,” Irlbeck said.

With the addition of a master’s degree, students do not only have the opportunity to advance in job but there can also a possibility for an increase in salary. According to the University of Potomac, those who graduate with a master’s degree will actually earn an estimated 30% more than employees who do not have a master’s degree.

“Expanding on your education is always a good idea,” Irlbeck said. “Your education is something that no one can ever take away from you, so going beyond your bachelor’s degree is only going to help you professionally, personally, maybe financially.”

Irlbeck urges people to take the leap of going to graduate school if they have been thinking about it. Having your degree makes you more marketable whether that be in current or future careers.

“You can be getting your master’s degree from Texas Tech and that master’s degree is something that’s only going to advance your career,” Irlbeck said. “If you are thinking about it just do it because you now have an option to do that, you don’t have to pick up and move somewhere.”

FROM A DISTANCE

There are many scenarios that might lead a person to pursue their master’s degree at a distance.

During her congressional internship in Washington D.C., Yasmin Rey, was offered a job with the House Committee on Agriculture. Rey graduated with her bachelor’s of science in agricultural communications in May 2016 and had every intention of going to graduate school here at Tech.

“I chose to pursue my master’s degree because I wanted to hone my communications skills and gain research experience,” Rey said.

Rey accepted the offer and is now able to receive her master’s from Tech while in Washington, D.C. through the online master’s program.

The department’s new ag comm master’s degree at a distance gave me the flexibility to pursue my master’s degree in Washington, D.C.,” Rey said. “I hope to pursue a career in agricultural policy with my master’s degree.”

The department’s new ag comm master’s degree at a distance gave me the flexibility to pursue my master’s degree in Washington, D.C.
Yasmin Rey

A BRIGHT FUTURE

Another unique aspect of the program is it allows students to focus on a certain area. Along with the core classes, students must complete at least six hours in a support area. Scott Burris, Ph.D., interim chairman and the graduate studies coordinator for the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication said, the program allows students to customize their experience to their purpose.

“There are some elective hours within the area of focus that allow you to come up with the degree plan that fits your needs and your expectations,” Burris said.

Some of these elective courses include advertising, agricultural leadership, journalism, agricultural education communication studies, management, marketing, mass communications, photography, public relations, and many more. These allow for the student’s degree to be tailored to their passions or specialties.

While the program is still in its beginning phases, five students were accepted into the program. Burris contributes a lot of the success of the program to the success to two main reasons. One of them being the reputation of of the resident program and the other being the reputation of the faculty.

“The reason it’s such a good program is because of the reputation of our existing undergraduate and graduate ag comm programs,” Burris said. “That reputation is due to a lot of things like our research, our scholarly output, but also to our faculty. Our faculty are absolutely our best attribute. A student from anywhere now has access to some of the best faculty and the best researchers in the discipline by virtue of the classes that they teach.”

As for the future of the program, Burris predicts success and growth.

“As the graduate coordinator,” Burris said, “I’ve seen enough activity that I’m confident its going to be a very popular and well received option.”