Learning doesn’t stop once you start working. Continuing the pursuit of knowledge as a working professional gives you the advantage of gaining in-depth industry insights without interrupting your career progression. That’s exactly what the graduates of Virginia Tech’s Master of Natural Resources (Online) program (MNR) experienced throughout their studies.
“The focus areas around which the MNR program is composed—sustainability, climate change, water and marine systems, biodiversity, ecosystems management, environmental security, circular economy—all require a global perspective to address effectively,” says Dr. Kieran Lindsey, Program Director. “The strength of our approach to curriculum design and delivery is only amplified when we welcome students from different countries to add their distinctive voices and viewpoints to our robust community of adult learners.”
Tuuli Martin, who graduated in 2018, needed a flexible master’s program to accommodate her nomadic lifestyle. “The MNR (Online) program at Virginia Tech was the perfect match,” she says. The Estonian graduate began her MNR journey when she lived in Virginia, and completed it in Germany. “The commencement ceremony tied it all nicely together. I was very proud to wear the VT colors!” she enthuses.
Staying true to her traveler’s spirit, Martin embarked on no less than three Global Study trips throughout her graduate program. Hands-on experience in Morocco, Indonesia, and South Africa opened her eyes to challenges involved in navigating different cultural and physical environments in unfamiliar places. “Each [country] was uniquely fascinating and invaluable in showing the difference between desk and empirical research,”’ says Martin. Her international experience has helped her advance her career in urban planning and conservation.
Dynamic learning from a distance
With the MNR, juggling work, family and a master’s degree is entirely possible. The program has the track record to prove it —it has been helping many environmental and sustainability professionals to step into leadership roles for nearly two decades. More importantly, all courses are designed and delivered by the faculty to consider the needs of the MNR’s diverse student cohort. For Lowaeli Simon Damalu, a Tanzanian student who graduated in 2015, the MNR program couldn’t have been a better fit for her line of work. A passionate lifelong learner, Damalu wanted to advance her expertise as a wildlife management expert, but needed a program that could accommodate her thriving career in her country.
A chance meeting at Dar es Salaam with Dr. Heather E. Eves, an expert in African wildlife conservation, helped realize Damalu’s goals. “Dr. Eves mentioned that Virginia Tech is among the best universities in the world and has some of the highest rankings in the U.S. I liked the program as it is in line with my field of work, and my employer gave me permission to join and agreed to pay my fees,” Damalu recalls. “I really enjoyed my studies as every day I was receiving new ideas from the instructors, shared publication papers and books, and the discussion from fellow students whereby I was able to apply in my daily job.”
Not only did the online MNR help Damalu balance independent and collaborative work, she also gained crucial self-discipline and leadership skills through the forums and discussions with her coursemates. The Adaptive Management course in particular helped Damalu gain useful skills, such as designing and planning conservation projects, that she still uses at work to this day.
Since graduation, Damalu’s career has taken off in her home country. She has held leadership roles, trained game rangers and scouts for wildlife conservation in Tanzania, and now serves as a liaison at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) Dodoma Liaison Office, a groundbreaking experiment by the government to support multi-purpose land encompassing sustainable wildlife, tourism, forestry, education, and research.
Borderless learning for limitless success
With nearly two decades of experience delivering online education, MNR courses have been tried and tested for its students to gain the optimal learning experience, wherever they may be. MNR faculty members recognize that simulating a four-walled classroom setting isn’t the best way to learn online. That’s why distance learning at Virginia Tech’s Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (CLiGS) isn’t all about staring at the screen—you can go outdoors, camp, and travel abroad to enrich your studies.
Neil Dampier knows about this experience all too well. A proud graduate of the 2019 class, the South African had the opportunity to network with others who shared his passion for sustainability in Croatia, where he did his Global Study program. “The experience taught us about shared and unique sustainability challenges in Croatia and the work being done to address them. Being exposed to other cultures and sustainability challenges was an impactful reminder of the lessons that only these types of hands-on experiences can impart.”
The online program is asynchronous, meaning that you can study when and where it’s convenient for you, as long as you complete the five core courses, with additional five elective courses required for the degree. At CLiGS, you’ll have access to supportive graduate advisors, faculty, and staff to help you align your courses with your professional goals.
“The positive experience in the program for me began with the academic advising, where Dr. Kieran Lindsey took the time to understand my individual interests and goals and thoughtfully helped create a plan of study that met these,” says Dampier. He had wanted a more personalized program that could fit his interest in large scale African transboundary conservation, and that’s exactly what he got at CLiGS. Thanks to guidance from Dr. Eves, Dampier was able to get two semesters of independent study on transboundary conservation in southern Africa’s Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.
“Professor Eves’ experience in relevant African conservation and personalized approach to my learning was hugely impactful. The process also helped me connect with people working in the field,” adds Dampier. His graduate education gave him a deeper understanding on the interconnectedness of sustainability issues and critical holistic approaches for long-term impactful solutions.
Like Damalu, he was able to assume leadership in his field, and is now the Executive Director at NorthBay Education, a nonprofit that provides experiential outdoor and environmental education programs to public school students, besides continuing his previous role as a guide for private safaris throughout Africa. The program clearly made a strong impression on him: Dampier is now an Assistant Professor of Practice for the MNR (Online), where he leads the South Africa Global Studies experience and assesses students’ intercultural competencies.
The MNR (Online) is truly flexible without sacrificing interactivity and academic quality. Its alumni have had positive, life-altering experiences that enrich their personal and professional development, which ultimately translate into meaningful careers. If you wish to follow in their footsteps as a natural resources, environmental, and sustainability professional, click here to know more about applying to Virginia Tech.