Students at the University of Rhode Island have recently been given the option of a fifth-year master’s level oceanography program that saves them additional years of courses.

Started last year, this is a five-year program that allows undergraduate students to take master’s level courses during their undergraduate studies and finish with a master’s degree in oceanography, with only one extra year of school. Professor Arthur Spivack is one of the founders to this program, and said it is different than the regular master’s program of oceanography here at URI. Instead of taking two to three years more of schooling after completion of their undergraduate studies, students in this five-year program will only need to take one additional year.

Spivack said the most of this difference stems from the fact that this program yields a non-thesis degree. “[Students] don’t do a research thesis, which takes much longer to complete,” he said. Instead, students must complete a capstone project in collaboration with one graduate school or oceanography professor, in order to help them become more involved with the new graduate school.

This also changes the focus of the program itself. Rather than being a research center degree, this new program is “aimed more for career and professional development rather than being a research scientist… we’ve made the program to try and fit the professional interest of the students,” Spivack said.  

This helps to provide a strong science background, especially for students who want to go to Law School, get a career in environmental journalism or are looking into other career paths where a science foundation is helpful.

Students can only apply to the program after they have accumulated over 60 undergraduate credits. There are a few minor general requirements for the program, including courses that most science students would have already taken, according to Spivack. These prerequisites include having a B or better in basic chemistry, physics and math courses. Students are also not required to take the GRE to get into this program.

“If you’re a good student at URI we already know who you are and that you can do the work,” Spivack said. “If you’re a strong student at URI pretty much you can get into the program.”

In this program there are four specific tracks students can follow. The fisheries track focuses on practical training in fisheries management. The Coastal systems track focuses on understanding the natural and anthropogenic processes in the coastal zone as well as the socio-economic characteristic of coastal communities. Ocean technology and data track is designed for students who want to pursue a career in maritime industries, environmental consulting and the uniformed marine services with training in marine robotics, seafloor mapping, sensor utilization, oceanographic data collection and processing and maritime policy. The fourth track is on general oceanography. This track allows for students to select advanced topics they wish to pursue after gaining approval from the department.

Spivack said there is another track that is in the beginning processes of being developed. This track will focus more on policy and management. He added that it is different than the marine affairs program already in place at URI, because “it will have an equal amount of science classes and management classes”.

Right now there are only a handful of students participating in this five-year program, but Spivack and his colleagues are hoping for a greater turn out in the future. “We’re trying to create a program that would involve undergraduates [in oceanography],” he said. Spivack said he does not recollect any other program such as this one here at URI being in place at other schools.