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Plant, Soil, and Insect Sciences

Plant, Soil, and Insect Sciences | Courses | Faculty

101 Fernald Hall

Degree: Bachelor of Science

Contact: Deborah J. Picking
Office: 103 French
Phone: (413) 545-2249

Head of Department: Associate Professor Stephen M. Rich. Undergraduate Program Director: Deborah J. Picking. Professors Autio, Barker, Bhowmik, Craker, Elkinton, Gerber, Greene, Herbert, Manning, Stoffolano, Van Driesche, Veneman, Vittum, Wick, Xing; Associate Professors Adler, Averill, Burand, Cooley, Cox, Ebdon, Han, Jung, Mangan, Normark, Porter, Simkins; Assistant Professors DaCosta, Parkash, Xu; Senior Lecturer Picking; Instructors Barstow, Childs, Griffin, Hazzard, Joyner, Sands, Smith; Adjunct Faculty Aluja, Amarasiriwardena, Bonanno, Brown, Caruso, DeMoranville, Desch, Eaton, Hashemi, Hollingsworth, Jakob, Johnson, Kiers, Kilham, Kostecki, Lavigne, Mamedov, Rull, Sandler, Tao, Theis, Tiner.

The Department

Plant, Soil, and Insect Sciences’ undergraduate program currently includes a major in Plant and Soil Sciences and three minor degree programs in Plant and Soil Sciences, Entomology, and Plant Pathology. Interested students should visit the departmental website ( for the latest course and curricula updates.

This department is the academic home to faculty, staff, and students interested in environmentally conscious and socially responsible management of plant and soil systems. This includes managed crop production and the interface of managed and natural systems within urban and suburban settings, focusing on plant, soil, and water resource management. Research, teaching, and outreach programs emphasize the study of and technology transfer related to growth of food and ornamental crops, protection of soil and water resources, study and management of insects and plant diseases, improvement of plants, development of new crops and biofuels, management of harvested materials, remediation of pollution in soil and water, and tools of biotechnology as they relate to plant and insect systems and human health issues.

Faculty members have expertise in a wide range of disciplines including: crop production; genetics and plant breeding; plant physiology, nutrition, and growth regulation; entomology; plant pathology; biotechnology; environmental stress; soil science, chemistry, morphology, and microbiology; and mathematical modeling.

The Plant and Soil Sciences Major

Students majoring in Plant and Soil Sciences must declare a concentration in a specific field of study and select an associated track of either Business Management or Science. This combination of choices determines the student’s required curriculum and permits customization of the major to suit individual interests and career goals.

All students must complete core courses in plant biology, soil science, math, and chemistry before undertaking more advanced coursework in the major.

For students studying Plant and Soil Sciences, learning extends beyond the classroom and the library. With on-campus laboratories and greenhouses in addition to nearby orchard and other farm facilities, students receive hands-on training that enhances the classroom learning experience. Faculty work closely with students to provide individualized academic advising and guidance of independent study projects.

Areas of Concentration

General Studies provides students with the most diverse sampling of courses in Plant and Soil Sciences. This concentration is suited to students who do not wish to focus their studies on a single commodity area or discipline. Students select courses from a variety of subjects, giving them a broad-based background in plant, soil, and insect sciences. This breadth of training makes students competitive for a variety of employment opportunities, especially those requiring broad horticultural training.

Ornamental Horticulture focuses on the identification, production, marketing, and use of herbaceous and woody ornamental plants. Coursework includes classes in plant identification, floricultural crop production, plant propagation, and integrated pest management. Cultural practices and environmental effects on plant growth and health are covered in detail. The curriculum provides up-to-date information on relevant topics such as optimizing plant yield and quality, reducing ground water pollution, conserving energy, and using environmentally safe and economically feasible methods of pest control. The Ornamental Horticulture concentration prepares students for rewarding careers in private industry, state and federal agencies, public gardens, and conservatories.

Soil Science examines the role of soil in the environment, focusing on physical, biological, chemical, and morphological properties. Courses focus on the need for productive soils in plant growth, prevention of soil degradation, bioremediation, pollution transport processes, waste treatment, wetland issues, and control of water pollution by soilborne contaminants. Students study soil chemistry, plant nutrition, soil physics, soil microbiology, soil and water conservation, soil classification, and the interaction of these areas while emphasizing the protection of our natural resources. Graduates are employed in both the public and private sectors as soil scientists, environmental consultants, natural resource managers, regulatory specialists, soil evaluators, and wetland scientists.

Sustainable Agriculture focuses on the production of food, fiber, and other plant commodities through ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially conscious approaches. Students have the opportunity to focus their studies in the areas of agronomy, fruit and/or vegetable production. The curriculum emphasizes sustainable crop production, cultural requirements, crop physiology, soil productivity, prevention of soil and water degradation, integrated pest management, food quality, and post-harvest handling and storage. The University’s location in the Pioneer Valley, a major vegetable production area, affords students access to local farms for first-hand views of modern cultural practices. The nearby orchard serves as a living laboratory where students study commercial apple production and learn about stone fruits, small fruit, and berry crop production. The program stresses the concepts and practices vital to the preservation of natural resources in managed plant systems.

Sustainable Agriculture—Food Systems prepares students for a wide variety of emerging careers in the arenas of policy, advocacy, community outreach, and education as they relate to agricultural issues like crop production, food access, hunger prevention, and resource conservation. The curriculum includes a solid foundation in horticulture and pest management, while allowing students to customize a portion of the program around a specific focus such as business administration, non-profit organization, sociology, political science, community outreach or education. By combining crop production training with skills in communication, education, grant writing, nutrition, resource economics, land use planning, cultural sensitivity, community organizing, and/or policy development, students gain a broader understanding of the many socioeconomic aspects surrounding food production, food access, and food distribution. Graduates are uniquely qualified to compete successfully for a wide array of emerging careers in the growing field of food systems.

Turf Management is concerned with the production and maintenance of grassed areas, such as home lawns, parks, athletic fields, and golf courses. This concentration integrates scientific theory and practical experience, covering such topics as grass and seed identification, turfgrass culture, physiology, pest control, and equipment maintenance. Students receive a well-rounded education, preparing them for excellent career opportunities in turf management. Graduates are employed in professions as varied as golf course superintendents, managers of parks and recreational areas, lawn care specialists, turfgrass research technicians, and sports turf managers.

Curriculum Options

Most of the concentration areas permit students to select between a Business Management Option and a Science Option, which allows a greater emphasis of study to be placed in these applied arenas. This selection is usually determined by students’ individual career goals. The Soil Science concentration is only available under the Science Option, while the sustainable Agriculture—Food Systems concentration stands alone, allowing customization of study within the concentration itself.

The Business Management Option emphasizes the managerial, marketing, and economic aspects of a career in plant and soil sciences. Course work may be supplemented with a summer internship or cooperative education experience, providing students with an awareness of the realities of the marketplace and the competitive economic system.

The Science Option prepares students for careers in research and development, graduate study, or other work in the scientific aspects of the field. In addition to taking courses that help integrate scientific theory with practical skills, students are encouraged to gain additional insights into the field by participating with faculty in laboratory and field research projects.

Requirements, regardless of specialization:

PLSOILIN 102 Introductory Botany
PLSOILIN 105 Soils (with lab)
PLSOILIN 397P Introduction to Plant Physiology or BIOLOGY 510 Plant Physiology
MATH 104 Algebra, Analytic Geometry, and Trigonometry

Restricted Electives
Specific requirements are determined by the area of concentration selected and may include course work in the areas of plant pathology, entomology, geology, and/or physics. All programs of study include at least one semester of chemistry with an associated laboratory.

Thirty Departmental Credits to Include:
PLSOILIN 105 Soils
PLSOILIN 380 Junior Year Writing
At least 6 credits of 500 level or higher in PLNTSOIL and/or ENTOMOL courses

Students are encouraged to contact the department’s Undergraduate Program Office or view the website at for a complete listing of the required course work under each area of concentration.

Specific course requirements are governed by the Area of Concentration selected. No more than three credits may be Independent Study, Senior Honors, Internships, or similar courses. Independent study credits may not be used to satisfy 500-level credit requirement.

Career Opportunities

The Bachelor of Science degree in Plant and Soil Sciences qualifies graduates for numerous career opportunties which vary in nature depending on the Area of Concentration studied. Graduates are employed as golf course superintendents, environmental consultants, soil scientists, growers of ornamental and edible crops, horticultural managers, state regulatory officials, wetland scientists, grounds supervisors, teachers, sales representatives, floricultural specialists, research technicians, and Peace Corp volunteers. A significant number of graduates continue for advanced degrees which provide additional opportunities in research, teaching, consulting, and public service in their chosen areas of specialization.

The Minor in Plant and Soil Sciences

All students planning to minor in Plant and Soil Sciences must have completed PLSOILIN 102 or equivalent, CHEM 110 or 111, and PLSOILIN 105. In addition, a student must successfully complete 15 credits in Plant and Soil Sciences with at least three credits at the 500 level and at the most one 100-level course. Students interested in minoring should plan their courses with a faculty adviser, prior to commencement of the program. An appropriate adviser can be selected through the Departmental Undergraduate Program Office. Certain course selections within the minor in Plant and Soil Sciences are suggested to accommodate students specifically interested in Ornamental Horticulture, Sustainable Agriculture, Turf Management, Food Systems or Soils.

The Minor in Entomology

Entomology is the biological science dealing with insects and allied arthropods, the most abundant and varied group of animals on earth. Insects directly or indirectly affect our health and well-being, as well as our crops, livestock, and property. The food production, distribution, and storage aspects of the nation’s agriculture depend upon entomologists to manage insect pests.

Students in other biological sciences may wish to develop entomological strengths useful to their majors. To minor in Entomology a student must take PLSOILIN 326 Insect Biology, along with at least four additional Entomology courses from among departmental offerings, for a minimum of 15 Entomology credits.

Students interested in minoring in Entomology should contact the Departmental Undergraduate Program Office for further guidance.

The Minor in Plant Pathology

Plant Pathology is the study of plant diseases caused by biological organisms such as insects, viruses, bacteria, fungi, and environmental factors such as lack of water, improper nutrition, and pollution. Plant pathologists diagnose the condition of a plant, and determine the cause of the problem and what can be done to solve it. To minor in Plant Pathology, a student must complete PLNTSOIL 505 General Plant Pathology, along with a minimum of 12 additional credits in plant pathology or related courses. Students interested in minoring in Plant Pathology should contact the Departmental Undergraduate Program Office for further guidance.

International Agricultural Studies

Contact: Professor Stephen Herbert
Office: 207 Bowditch
Phone: (413) 545-2250

The Field

The human population of the world is increasing at a rate of approximately 200,000 people per day. Estimates suggest that the world food production must almost double in the next thirty years if we are to maintain our current (inadequate) nutritional levels, and it must triple if we are to achieve an adequate diet for everyone. A specialization in the International Agricultural Studies Program prepares agricultural scientists for careers involving increased production and improved distribution of world food and other biological resource products. The challenge and potential satisfaction of involvement with the worldwide effort to increase food consumption and improve food distribution should appeal to students whose goal is to serve humanity.

The Program


Students completing the Special Program in Agriculture will have it noted on their transcript and will receive a letter to that effect. Students choose a major from among those offered in the College of Natural Resources and the Environment (or an approved area of agricultural study).

In addition to courses required for the student’s major, the following courses have been selected to help prepare students to work effectively in other cultures and areas of the world.

Students must complete four of the following six courses:
ANIMLSCI 101 Introduction to Animal
FOOD-SCI 102 World Food Habits
PLSOILIN 265 Sustainable Agriculture
PLSOILIN 350 Soil and Crop Management
PLSOILIN 370 Tropical Agriculture
RES-ECON 121 Hunger in a Global Economy

Students must also complete two of the following courses:
ANTHRO 104 Culture, Society, and People
ECON 121 The International Economy
EDUC 229 International Education
POLISCI 121 World Politics
POLISCI 253 International Environmental Politics and Policy
SOCIOL a social change course (such as 325 or 329)

Students who take at least six of the listed courses or approved substitutes have their completion of the Special Program in International Agriculture noted on their transcripts and receive a letter to that effect. Each student works with an adviser to create the appropriate selection of courses.

An overseas professional experience in an agricultural development program (at the village level, if possible) is considered essential preparation for a career in International Agriculture.

Plant, Soil, and Insect Sciences | Courses | Faculty