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Soil and water effects on public health highlighted in new UF certificate program

By Mike Loizzo

From dirty beaches following an oil spill to the Flint, Michigan, water crisis – soil and water contamination pose a public health risk to people, plants and wildlife.

To better understand the risks, remediation and prevention of such hazards, the University of Florida’s (UF) soil and water sciences department, part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), now offers a graduate-level certificate program in Soil, Water, and Public Health. Courses are available both online and in-person, ideal for both working professionals and current students.

The curriculum teaches students how soil and water quality are critically linked to the health of both ecosystems and human populations. This interdisciplinary certificate is a partnership between the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) and the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions (PHHP).

“Soils, water and public health interact in various ways,” said CALS Dean Elaine Turner. “Through the new certificate program, students will learn how those interactions can be predicted and controlled.”

“This program is a great example of how we can utilize the vast resources at UF to build bridges across disciplines that lead to better protection of ecosystems and human health,” added PHHP Dean Michael G. Perri.

A goal of the certificate is to connect soil and water sciences and public health for professionals who may work in both areas. Andrew Ogram, UF/IFAS professor of soil microbiology, said that too often, students in the two disciplines do not realize how they intersect.

“This unique interdisciplinary graduate certificate program not only focuses on the numerous examples of discipline overlap but develops skills necessary for competency and communication between the disciplines,” Ogram explained. “Emphasis is on how the physical, chemical and biological components of soils and water determine, or can be manipulated to determine, if the soil is a public health threat or savior. Students will be able to express the impact via risk assessment.”

To earn the Soil, Water, and Public Health certificate, students must take three required courses:

  • Environmental Health Concepts in Public Health (PHC 6313)
  • Ecology of Waterborne Pathogens (SWS 5308)
  • Soils, Water, and Public Health (SWS 5551)

In addition, each student will choose one of four elective courses. The certificate requires successful completion of 12 credit hours (four classes). Students must achieve an overall GPA of 3.0 or better for the entire program.

“Affording students and professionals in the soil and water sciences the opportunity to look at complex environmental problems through a public health lens opens the door for development of innovative and more effective solutions and approaches that span molecular and applied practice disciplines,” said Tara Sabo-Attwood, an associate professor and chair of the UF department of environmental and global health through PHHP.

Applicants seeking enrollment in the Soil, Water, and Public Health graduate certificate should have completed a bachelor’s degree in soil and water sciences or an equivalent field such as biology, environmental science or agronomy. Applicants with other majors may be required to complete prerequisite courses before applying for admission. It is not necessary to be admitted to the UF Graduate School to earn a certificate. Students who later enroll in a UF graduate program may petition to transfer up to 15 UF graduate-level credit hours (grade B or better) to their graduate degree program.

The Soil, Water, and Public Health certificate is one of seven certificates the UF/IFAS soil and water sciences department offers at the graduate level.

For more information about the Soil, Water, and Public Health certificate program, contact Ogram by email (aogram@ufl.edu). For assistance or questions with the application and registration process, contact Michael Sisk, academic program specialist, by email (mjsisk@ufl.edu) or phone (352-294-3152).

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The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) administers the degree programs of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The mission of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is to deliver unsurpassed educational programs that prepare students to address the world’s critical challenges related to agriculture, food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and sustainable communities. The college has received more total (national and regional combined) USDA teaching awards than any other institution. Visit the CALS website at cals.ufl.edu, and follow CALS on social media platforms at @ufcals.

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