GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Typically, we hear of microscopic organisms causing problems, such as harmful algal blooms in Florida. But what if we could harness these creatures for good, such as using tiny organisms that thrive in environments with increased sun exposure for creating medicines, topical sunscreens and water purification solutions?
Researchers like Jamie Foster at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) are working on projects just like this. And now students can learn about these real-world applications as well in new online courses.
The UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) will now offer an online graduate certificate in environmental microbiology. Researchers who study this subject analyze the ways microbes, like bacteria and viruses, interact with one another and their environments.
“Environmental microbiology covers a whole range of topics,” said Foster, who helped develop the program. “It’s about tackling climate change, rising sea levels, bioremediation, interactions between people and their workplace environments, solar radiation risks to human health, and improving the space industry. With citrus greening and the overgrowth of red tide in Florida, we can study how microbes can be part of the solution and not just cause problems.”
The online environmental microbiology graduate certificate program is ideal for anyone looking to take the next step in their career path to better understand our environment by using small organisms to solve big issues. Non-UF students can enroll in the program or use this 13-credit graduate certificate as a stepping stone to a master’s degree in microbiology and cell science.
In collaboration with faculty across IFAS, Foster created two new graduate courses: environmental microbiology and astrobiology. Currently, Foster, who has a lab at the Kennedy Space Center, teaches an undergraduate astrobiology course in CALS that examines the space ecosystem.
“We’ve noticed a growing interest in environmental research from our students,” Foster said. “This program would be a great way to help address those curiosities.”
When CALS online microbiology and cell science master’s student Andrea Huntoon found out about the environmental microbiology graduate certificate, she immediately wanted to participate. As a science instructor at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wisconsin, Huntoon had a desire to learn more about the ecology work being done at the molecular and cellular level.
“This program fits in well with my interests and that of the students I teach in the natural resources,” Huntoon said. “I definitely see students more interested in environmental programs. Students are more aware of our impact on the environment and how our environment impacts us.”
Huntoon says this online graduate certificate is ideal for her due to the flexibility. As long as she has access to the internet and maintains her self-motivated spirit, she says she can be successful.
“I’m a huge advocate for graduate school while working,” Huntoon said. “You can definitely be balanced with your life and work while in graduate school. You may not be able to take as many classes at a time, but you can do it successfully.”
Prospective students interested in the program can contact Foster at firstname.lastname@example.org or 321-525-1047. To register for courses, contact Jacqueline Lee at email@example.com or 352-846-1330. Students must have a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts from an accredited university. No graduate record examination (GRE) is required. Students can enroll one semester at a time and are selected on a rolling admissions basis to start at the semester of their choosing.
—Dana Edwards, UF/IFAS