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After completing her bachelor’s degree in Agribusiness Management in her native Suriname, Mayra Zweevel decided it was time to pursue her long-held interest in food safety. “My choice was to do an online degree in food safety where I am able to still work, be with, and take care of my family,” she says. “I chose Virginia Tech because they offer exactly what I was searching for, which is an Online Master of Agricultural and Life Sciences (OMALS), with a concentration in Food Safety and Biosecurity.”

The program Zweevel refers to is one of eight concentrations that students can choose from with the online master’s degree, or OMALS, offered by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. VT, based in Blacksburg, VA, is home to one of the most respected food safety research programs nationally and internationally.

For international students like Zweevel, the Food Safety and Biosecurity concentration will help her realize her dream of running her own consultancy. “The OMALS program has already provided more knowledge and insight on Food Safety and Biosecurity which I will use within my consultancy. The food safety regulatory system of America was the main focus throughout the courses, and is a good example to use for the regulatory system in Suriname,” she says.

Addressing an urgent global crisis

In the pandemic era, degrees administered fully online present an alternative for students who otherwise would not have considered continuing their studies due to travel restrictions. A survey in 2020 found that more than three-quarters of university students preferred online learning, seeing it as equal to or even better than learning in person. This is definitely true for OMALS at VT, where courses are delivered by expert faculty members, with no distinction being made between online and in-person degrees upon graduation.

Food safety is inextricably linked to food security and good health. The World Health Organization estimates that one in 10 people fall ill from food contamination annually, which results in 420,000 deaths and the loss of 33 million life years. Access to nutritious and uncontaminated food is especially important during a pandemic, where food security and safety has become a crisis in large populations.

An online master’s degree in Food Safety and Biosecurity will place you at the forefront of confronting problems disrupting food systems, such as a public health crisis or climate change. At VT, the program builds on a student’s knowledge of food safety, security, sanitation and microbiology. Students will explore at the microbiological level, as well as learn more about laws and regulations governing food production.

Malfred Shaw chose this concentration for its guaranteed excellence. “First, VT is highly prestigious, with a nationally known and respected Food Science program,” he states. “Secondly, the established curriculum from the online master’s with a concentration in Food Safety and Biosecurity was designed for those involved in food manufacturing.”

Shaw leads the food safety and quality department at the company he works for, and as someone who is family-oriented, requires an accommodating class schedule that fits his lifestyle. “Therefore, an online education, which offers flexibility, is ideal due to the demands of my rigorous schedule. Plus, I have the added benefit of applying the knowledge that I gain from the courses directly to my profession.”

Virginia Tech: College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Source: Virginia Tech: College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Flexible and future-ready

OMALS has a simple and direct goal for all of its current and prospective students: go at your own pace, at whatever capacity, no matter where you are. The degrees are specifically tailored for working professionals, with an emphasis on practical implementation of theoretical knowledge.

Students will be capable of demonstrating thorough knowledge of fundamental concepts on food safety and biosecurity, from the finer details of micro-agriculture to large-scale farming practices. Graduates can look forward to employment in the agricultural and health sectors, including jobs such as food science technicians and agricultural managers.

The program is structured in a manner that is not only accommodating to graduate students from all backgrounds at any age, but also interactive to facilitate idea exchange. “I enjoyed all the courses I have chosen and have gained a lot of knowledge. I enjoyed the discussions offered in the courses because I got to know a lot of new people and we shared our opinion on different topics,” Zweevel shares.

Whether you’re looking for a career switch into the food and agriculture industry in the future, or simply looking to advance your academic knowledge in life sciences, the Food Safety and Biosecurity concentration in VT’s 100% online OMALS degree might just be your first step to success. To learn more about this program and how to apply to it, click here

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