The department of horticulture and crop science introduced a new major this fall — agricultural and environmental plant sciences — to replace three of its previous degrees: fruit science, environmental horticulture science and crop science.
The new major is an attempt to draw more students to the horticulture and crop science department by offering them more flexibility because student numbers in the department have been declining, said Mary Pedersen, associate dean of undergraduate programs for the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences.
According to Pedersen, enrollment was dropping due to a misconception of the study of horticulture and crop sciences, and the first move by the department was to initiate a marketing study in Fall Quarter 2007 to understand how better to appeal to prospective students.
The study revealed that not only did few students understand the meaning of words such as “horticulture” and “crop science,” but many were also dissuaded by the idea of having to choose a very specific major at the start of their college studies.
“People don’t say, ‘Oh, I want to do crop sciences,’” Pedersen said.
With the survey results in, the horticulture and crop sciences department initially combined fruit science, environmental horticulture and crop science into one major while the faculty worked on establishing a curriculum for the future major.
Crop sciences professor Jeffrey Wong said one of the first issues the department came across was how to make agriculture more attractive to students.
“One of the problems that we have in our specific major is people’s perspective of what we do,” Wong said.
The general perception of agriculture is “tractors, boots and hats,” he said. In reality, though, horticulture and crop sciences use the practical applications of sciences such as biology and botany to maximize the production of crops.
The faculty decided to center the new major around plants, the focus of study throughout the department, Wong said. They then looked back at the marketing study and found that “environmental” was another buzzword that prospective students identified strongly with, Pedersen said.
John Peterson, the head of the horticulture and crop science department, said the name “agricultural and environmental plant sciences” was chosen because it broadly describes the many areas of study available.
“One of the problems is that a lot of students don’t know what our field is all about, but they do know they want to be involved with plants,” Peterson said.
The new major also helps students who know they want to work with plants but have not decided yet what they want to focus on, Peterson said. Instead of offering three different majors, the single major encompasses seven different concentrations: fruit science, public horticulture, crop science, sustainable landscape management and design, turfgrass and sports field management, plant protection science and greenhouse and nursery plant production.
The new major gives students more choice because they do not have to pick a specialized field of study at the start of college — new students have until the end of their first year to find the concentration that appeals most to them. The ambiguous major is the department’s response to Cal Poly’s policy of having new students declare their major when enrolling, Peterson said, because it doesn’t tie them to one specific field too early.
“This gives them the opportunity to select a major that has a more general appeal,” Peterson said.
Despite the change in concentrations, he said the new major does not mean a huge change in curriculum for the department.
“We’ve only created one new course,” Peterson said. “We’ve just kind of repackaged the coursework.”
Brean Bettencourt, student recruiting coordinator for the department of horticulture and environmental sciences, said students will get the same type of education they would have with any of the three previous majors, but under a new name and with more flexibility.
“If you did agriculture and environment plant science, and picked the fruit science concentration, it would act basically like the fruit science major, but now we have more concentrations to choose from,” Bettencourt said.
Four years after the marketing study started, the first students will begin associating with the new agricultural and environmental sciences major.
Editor’s Note: We originally reported the head of the horticulture and crop science department’s name as John Patterson. It is actually John Peterson. We apologize for any confusion.