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A Degree Above

Three new master’s programs offered this year

By Lindsey Phillips

The graduate curriculum at The University of Mississippi is expanding with the addition of three new master’s programs in the School of Applied Sciences. In August, students will be able to pursue a master’s in food and nutrition services or a master’s in social work. A criminal justice graduate program became available in January.

All three new programs meet a need in Mississippi, according to the department chairs.

“Increasing graduate enrollment is a university wide goal, and these programs will have an immediate positive impact in this area,” said Linda Chitwood, dean of the School of Applied Sciences. “More importantly, each of these programs will produce well-trained professionals in fields that have critical shortages in Mississippi.  The graduates of these programs will be prepared for careers that create a healthier environment in the state of Mississippi.”

Food and Nutrition Services

The food and nutrition services master’s program will offer students the chance to concentrate in either clinical nutrition, focusing largely on child and adolescent nutrition, or food service administration, said Teresa Carithers, chair and associate professor of family and consumer sciences. Carithers said the program is designed to meet the current needs of nutrition and food service-related industries.

“Years ago, nutrition was not recognized as much of a strong science,” she said. “Now, because of the research that has been done over the decades, we know that nutrition is related to the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases. With obesity becoming an epidemic, I believe it is an area that the medical profession and the whole public now recognize as a critical health-care player.”

The program requires 36 semester hours, and flexibility in electives allows students to focus on areas of study such as sports nutrition. Because an internship is a prerequisite for becoming a registered dietitian, the graduate program may offer an internship component in the future, Carithers said.

The program will also help registered dietitians and nutritionists in the area advance professionally while providing specialists for a field that is expected to grow, said Kathy Knight, associate professor of family and consumer sciences and coordinator of the program.

“With the prevalence of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease in Mississippi, having strong degree programs that train future registered dietitians is vital for the health and welfare of our state,” Knight said.

The program will accept a maximum of 20 students, Carithers said.

Social Work

The social work master’s program is aimed at nontraditional students working in the community, said Carol Boyd, chair and professor of social work. It offers students the opportunity to pursue a clinical specialty, such as therapy.

“The MSW degree prepares students with advanced skills to work with individuals, families, groups, communities and organizations,” Boyd said. “However, with a clinical specialization, students will be able to do therapy with individuals, couples, families and groups and administration in health and mental-health settings or private practice.”

After obtaining the master’s degree, students must meet the state’s licensure requirements to practice as a clinical social worker.

The degree program caters to working students to meet the needs of generalist social workers who have not yet trained for a specialty. All 17 of the accepted students have worked in social work-related fields, and 16 have undergraduate degrees in social work, Boyd said.

“The faculty and I hope that the master’s program will provide well-qualified practitioners and leaders in clinical social work settings,” Boyd said. “Mississippi is generally at the bottom in terms of just about every index of social, emotional, physical and financial well-being, and the MSW-trained individuals can fill a key niche by helping individuals and society in these areas.”

The program currently offers a three-year, 60-hour track designed to meet the standards of the Council of Social Work Educators and the accrediting body, Boyd said. However, in 2009, the department will offer a two-year, 36-hour option for students who have completed bachelor’s degrees in social work within five years of enrolling in the graduate program. Students who begin the course work this fall, regardless of when they completed a bachelor’s in social work, will still have to complete the three-year curriculum, Boyd said.

Criminal Justice

The criminal justice master’s program offers the only homeland security graduate concentration in the state and focuses largely on the development and application of new technologies, said associate professor of Applied Sciences and program director Stephen Mallory.

“We’re kind of in the age of homeland security now,” Mallory said. “Today’s law enforcement, especially on the administrative and mid-management level, has to be a little more educated and a little more prepared. To run a department today takes a lot more than it ever has.”

A homeland security concentration is an important offering in Mississippi because of the constant challenge of natural disasters as well as the presence of shipbuilding and telecommunication industries, said David McElreath, chair and professor of Applied Sciences. Homeland security also encompasses other work areas such as the business and medical fields.

“We want to be on the cutting edge of information,” McElreath said. “As global threats and domestic threats have changed, a body of knowledge has come together, and we want to offer our students access to that.”

The 36-hour curriculum is policy-oriented and emphasizes community policing, Mallory said. It offers topics including fraud, scams, intelligence planning and terrorism, and it prepares students for work with law enforcement, private security and homeland security agencies, as well as in careers as policy analysts. The curriculum also prepares graduates for doctoral programs and teaching at the community college level, McElreath said.

Since the program was implemented in January, 20 students have enrolled.

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