Program Helps Graduates Succeed; Mixes Business and Science Skills

With a bachelor’s degree in marine science from Texas A&M, Todd Bridgeman rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander in the Commissioned Officer Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Stationed in Newport, Ore., he coordinated ship operations, supported research projects and helped with disaster response. But in 2006, when he was looking for a graduate school to expand his skills, he turned to OSU’s Professional Science Master’s (PSM) Program.
Joshua Mellon made the same choice. With an OSU degree in physics, Mellon became an operations specialist for a Corvallis company, ViewPlus Technologies. ViewPlus produces Braille printers and other devices for people with sight impairments. Although Mellon’s technical skills matched the company’s needs, he found himself managing a grant program, writing a business plan and tracking financial accounts. It was the PSM program that gave him the business skills he needed.

By marrying science and business, the five-year-old PSM program fills a growing demand for science savvy employees who are needed to work in the competitive environment of technology companies, government agencies and consulting firms. Bridgeman and Mellon, both of whom graduated in 2007, are two of 27 PSM graduates from OSU. More than half of them are working in high-tech or environmental consulting businesses in Oregon.

OSU’s program began in 2003 with a $500,000 Sloan Foundation grant. With additional support from the colleges of Science and Agricultural Sciences, Ursula Bechert coordinates the program and serves as vice president of the recently formed National Professional Science Master’s Association. “We’re expanding the professional tracks that students can go into, and we’re planning to offer an online graduate certificate through ecampus next fall,” Bechert said.

More than 100 Professional Science Master’s programs at more than 50 universities have been established since 1997. OSU’s PSM program receives guidance from an advisory board comprising representatives from Hewlett-Packard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Associated Oregon Industries and other organizations.

Economic relevance is critical for the national program as well. The America COMPETES Act — passed by the U.S. Congress in2007 to bolster U.S. competitiveness — directs the National Science Foundation to create a clearinghouse of PSM elements and to provide grants to universities for program development. PSM students currently enroll in one of four tracks: applied biotechnology, environmental sciences, applied physics and applied systematics in botany. In addition to completing two years of coursework in their scientific discipline, students receive 19 credits of professional training in business management, communications, and research ethics, and they complete an internship in a business or government agency.

Mellon found that his business administration courses prepared him for communicating effectively with supervisors and colleagues. “Business leaders don’t want extraneous information,” he said. “They need to know what’s important, why it’s important and what to do about it.”

“For me, PSM was an efficient and pragmatic choice,” said Todd Bridgeman, who did his internship with NOAA in fisheries stock assessment. “It provided the mortar which bound together the experiences gained through my career with the federal government and provided the skills required to excel in the future.”
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