Three Graduate Programs Under One Roof

Written by: Brady Drake

Photo by Hilary Ehlen

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North Dakota State’s Human Development and Family Science (HDFS) department offers diverse and flexible graduate program experiences for professionals looking to advance their careers through an online program. If you’ve been thinking about going back to school, this might be the right option for you! No specific undergraduate degree is required to apply to any of the three graduate certificate or master’s programs NDSU’s HDFS department offers as part of its collaboration with the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (Great Plains IDEA).

“Great Plains IDEA is a consortium of universities across the great plains of the United States where no single university in the consortium has the critical mass to offer these programs all by themselves,” said Joel Hektner, the department head for HDFS at NDSU. “But together we do.”

The consortium consists of faculty from schools that include Michigan State, Iowa State, Nebraska, and Missouri just to name a few. And it’s not just the instruction that is diverse; the class participation is as well.

“We have a lot of non-traditional students and also a few international students,” said Melissa O’Connor, associate professor of HDFS and coordinator of the Gerontology masters program. “So, you get a lot of different perspectives in the online discussions which are fun.”

All three of the master’s programs are considered to be applied professional programs, meaning they’re geared toward people who want to advance their careers. A number of the students are also in the midst of a career change or still working, meaning enrollees have up to seven years to complete their master’s if they choose not to take classes full time. You can work while you learn!

What is Human Development and Family Science?

The Human Development and Family Science department offers two parallel fields of study. In the Human Development courses, students study how humans grow throughout the entire life span from birth until death. In Family Science courses, students get a chance to learn about how families operate and how the social communities and policies can help families be successful.

The Master’s Degrees offered under the HDFS umbrella

Youth Development– A person with a master’s degree in Youth Development will be able to go out and work with youth outside of the classroom. “We have had students who have become the youth director at their church or the youth director with their 4-H program. We’ve also had a student who went on to work with youth at a homeless shelter,” said Hektner.

Family Financial Planning– Graduate students who go through the master’s program in Family Financial Planning will typically either work as an accredited financial counselor or an accredited financial planner. Financial counselors work with people seeking guidance on consumer issues. There are financial counselors on almost every military base and college. Financial planners, on the other hand, work with people who have wealth and want to build it. NDSU’s Family Financial Planning master’s program offers a unique perspective for both due to its grounding in the HDFS department. “We ground the financial planning in an understanding of family dynamics,” said Jim Deal, professor of HDFS and coordinator of the family financial planning master’s program. “So, when you start talking about estate planning, who gets grandpa’s money, there are a lot of family dynamics that go into those things. We teach students what those dynamics are. We also talk about life-span issues and how financial needs change based on age and where people are in the family life cycle.”

Gerontology– If you get a master’s degree in gerontology, you will be better equipped to work with our aging population. We live in an aging society, one in which the older population is growing both in absolute numbers and in proportion to all other age groups. “There are going to be a lot more job opportunities coming up working with the older population because the population is becoming older,” said O’Connor.

What’s more, anyone interested in the programs but not ready to take the plunge into the full master’s degree program can get a graduate certificate. A graduate certificate gives a student the ability to show they have some graduate training in a very focused field of study. The certificate program takes half the course load as a full master’s degree program and a student can always come back and put their certificate course load towards completing a full master’s degree.

Can I apply?

Most likely, all you need is: your previous transcripts, a written essay about what you’re looking for in the degree and three letters of recommendation. And, you can apply all online! There’s also no deadline and you can be enrolled in any semester.

They’re looking for:

A 3.0 GPA or better and students with basic social science backgrounds in schooling or work experience.

Interested? Contact: 

Dr. Joel Hekner:
[email protected]

Melissa O’Connor:
[email protected]

Dr. Jim Deal:
[email protected]

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.