For Nettie Baugher, NC State’s online Master of Horticultural Science program offered the best of both worlds.
Baugher’s undergraduate degree is in horticulture, and she currently works in horticulture as a commercial horticulture area agent for Gates, Chowan, and Perquimans Counties with NC Cooperative Extension. When it came time to choose a graduate program, she decided to continue to nurture her lifelong interest in horticulture and pursue either a Master of Science or a Master of Horticultural Science (MHS) program. NC State’s acclaimed MHS program allowed Baugher more flexibility in her classes and graduation timeline. These ended up being deciding factors, so she went the MHS route.
Now part-way through the program, Baugher is sure she made the right decision.
“I have had a very positive experience in the MHS program. I really like the fact that you can make it what you need it to be –– in-person, distance, or hybrid. I was able to make it a hybrid experience by taking both in-person and online classes and by doing a watermelon pollenizer trial on a research station.”
Baugher is contributing to the study on-site under the direction of Professor Jonathan Schultheis, whose expertise centers on the extension and research responsibilities for vegetable crops.
She appreciates Professor Schultheis’ great mentorship throughout her graduate studies so far.
“Since I started as a non-degree student, it became challenging to make sure that all of my credits could get transferred and that I was completing all of the requirements. Dr. Schultheis helped make sure everything was in order, and he was also a great mentor when it came to my research project. The project already had one year of data collection, and my role was to collect a second year’s worth of data. Taking on this project allowed me to shorten my graduation timeline, which then allowed me to take a job at my family’s farm. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without Dr. Schultheis encouraging me to take on that project.”
Getting involved in research is a great opportunity for Baugher to practice hands-on learning, which is her strong suit. This makes online learning difficult at times, but fortunately, she has found ways to overcome the challenge and succeed.
“To me, the most challenging aspect of online learning is staying engaged. Sometimes it can be difficult to remain focused when so much of online education is lecture-based. Much of this engagement aspect depends on the class and its structure. Thankfully, I have been able to choose classes on topics that I am really interested in, which has helped me stay focused.”
As a full-time professional, Baugher appreciates being able to choose how many classes she takes each semester, which allows her to balance work, school and personal responsibilities.
“I have only taken one class per semester during my time in the program, and I work in an environment where continuing your education is encouraged and supported. I am very grateful for this, and I think both of these aspects were very important in helping to maintain a good work/life/school balance while taking classes.”
Working toward her degree has helped prepare Baugher for a fruitful career, exposing her to more aspects of horticulture and plant management. It has given her a more in-depth view of many of these topics, and she feels ready for her next step.
“In August, I will begin working on my family’s tree fruit farm and nursery, with my role focusing on both sales and product development. Much of the product development aspect of the job involves new variety evaluation, and I am excited to see how the skills and knowledge gained through both the research I was involved with and the classes that I have taken can be applied in this area of my new job.”
Baugher encourages other working professionals interested in graduate school to get enrolled in a program early (instead of taking as many non-degree classes as possible). This will help them create a plan of work earlier and avoid some of the nuances of transferring non-degree class credits.
“NC State has a great horticulture program, and the professors do a great job of engaging students in online classes. I am very grateful I had the opportunity to pursue my MHS, and I would recommend it to anyone.”