AUSTIN (KXAN) — Students seeking their Master of science in Nutritional Sciences at UT Austin will soon be able to receive their entire degree from a laptop in their own home. This entirely-online master’s program will be available for the first time this fall.
Molly Bray, chair of UT’s Department of Nutritional Sciences, explained that what sparked this program was a change in requirements for dietitians.
“All registered dietitians will be required to have master’s level education by the year 2024,” Bray said. UT is anticipating a large demand from practicing dietitians looking to meet those standards, as well as from people in the medical field looking to build their experience.
UT Austin currently offers an in-residence program for advanced degrees in nutrition, teaching around 30 graduate students most of whom are focused on PhD work.
“All the curriculum for the online programs and the in-residence programs are identical, so the rigor and the kind of education you get, whether it’s online or in residence so it’s pretty much the same,” Bray explained.
This fall, Bray will be teaching a class called “Experimental Design and Statistics” for both online and in-residence students.
While these students won’t participate in laboratory experiences in classrooms, Bray explained that cameras and demonstrations will be able to transport those in-classroom experiences to online students.
“It’s going to start out with nutrition myths out there, and basically teach the educators of the future and the nutrition and dietetics professionals of the future, how to differentiate myths from facts,” Bray explained.
Sara Sweitzer, director of the Online Master’s Program, said, “I think science is showing how more and more not just what we eat but how genetically we’re each different and how we utilize the food and the nutrients we consume, that influences our development of chronic disease as we age.”
Sweitzer says this online degree program will be her first time teaching an online course, which has forced her to re-think her coursework with the online student in mind.
Natalie Poulos, a lecturer with the Department of Nutritional Sciences and a graduate of the master’s of nutrition program, said she is hoping that students around the country and around the world enroll in this program. She feels the online program can draw in different types of students their in-residence program might not.
“I’ve talked to multiple students who want to do something like apply for AmeriCorps or apply for medical school in two years but really want to stay engaged or continue learning,” Poulos explained.
This online degree offering is designed to allow students to move through coursework at their own pace. The initial class of students in the program will take two years to earn their degree, but Bray says that by 2018 students will be able to attain the degree in one year.
The deadline to apply for the fall of 2017 class is Aug. 1. UT Austin only offers one other degree entirely online, which is a master’s in mechanical engineering. The university offers a couple of programs which involve a mix of online and in person classes.