MSU launches online natural resources degree programs

By: Reagan Poston

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Posted: 8/9/2021

MSU launches online natural resources degree programs Photo By: Megan Bean

Two departments in Mississippi State's College of Forest Resources are adding new online master's degrees, making online degree options now available in all three departments.

Students can now earn master's degrees in sustainable bioproducts or wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture conservation education. These new offerings are in addition to the current forestry master's in the MSU Center for Distance Education which has been graduating students for more than a decade. Through its online forestry master's degree, the college has trained dozens of students in forest management, natural resource policy and law and forest economics over the years.

Wes Burger, interim dean of the College of Forest Resources and interim director of the Forest and Wildlife Research Center, said several types of students may benefit from these online programs.

"I believe the diversity of our online offerings is one of the greatest assets to our programs. A virtual classroom may benefit a mid-career individual who can't take off work to complete an advanced degree or a fresh graduate who wants to spend more time with their family while guaranteeing their future. Our distance-based degrees provide lifetime learning opportunities for anyone place-based," Burger said.

Amber Barrow is pursuing an online master's in conservation education while working fulltime. For the last decade, the Ellijay, Georgia, native has been an environmental educator at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield, Georgia. After graduating with a biology degree from Berry College, the wildlife interpretive specialist and assistant coordinator with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources initially sought a research career but found an opportunity in conservation education instead.

"I wanted to grow even more in my role, and I felt the best path was an advanced degree in environmental education. I love my job and didn't want to give it up to shore up my skills, so MSU online was the perfect fit," Barrow said. "Mississippi State is steadily giving me the necessary skills to become a better leader and more confident as an environmental educator."

Barrow will graduate in December 2022 and will continue to work for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Allison Purdue, also seeking an online master's degree in conservation education, followed a more traditional track. The Marietta, Georgia, native earned a bachelor's degree in wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture from MSU in 2020 during the height of the pandemic. Though she had a job lined up, COVID changed her plans.

"I was devastated when my job offer was rescinded because of the pandemic, but Dr. Leslie Burger told me about Mississippi State's online conservation education master's degree. Now, I'm back home with my family while still enjoying the benefits of being a Bulldog," Purdue said.

In addition to pursuing her advanced degree, Purdue is already practicing her educational skills by coaching volleyball.

"The online degree at Mississippi State has already taught me so much about having confidence in myself. I am determined to encourage and inspire people through the lessons I teach, be it wildlife or volleyball. The online program has been the perfect fit for me, and I'm so appreciative," Purdue said.

The master's degree in sustainable bioproducts is a 30-hour, non-thesis program designed to help students grow and apply their knowledge of forest products and other bio-based building materials. The courses create an intersection between the chemical, physical, botanical and engineering sciences, while promoting the responsible use of renewable resources through the development, innovation and improvement of wood products, materials and energy.

The master's degree in conservation education is a 30-hour, non-thesis program designed to prepare agency-ready conservation educators for their roles promoting environmental literacy and stewardship among the citizenry. Educational program development, evaluation and leadership are among the curriculum's primary focus areas.

These new offerings join the 30-hour, thesis-optional program for a Master of Science in Forestry. This program highlights forest management, natural resource policy and law and forest economics, and opens doors in areas such as forestry, conservation science, environmental science and even wildlife biology.

For more information about the online degrees offered by Mississippi State, visit

To learn about MSU's College of Forest Resources, visit

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