The new cannabis cultivation minor has shown to be popular among UConn students as it recently launched at the beginning of this semester.
The minor fields research in the propagation, cultivation, commercial production, maintenance, processing and potential markets for cannabis. In Connecticut, cannabis for medical use became legal in 2012 and for recreational use in the summer of 2021, according to ct.gov.
Gerald Berkowitz, a plant science and landscape agriculture and faculty advisor for the minor, explained that currently the minor focuses on horticulture and growing plants, rather than law or chemistry.
“I believe that our program is the gold standard for providing scholarships to undergraduate students in cannabis horticulture,” Berkowitz said.
The minor is part of the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) and Department of Plant Science and Landscape Agriculture. Berkowitz said that the minor has allowed students to learn more about the department and the sustainable plant and soil systems major. He said students have taken the introductory cannabis course and have wanted to learn more about the other related classes.
“Students are extremely interested. There are a lot of students who want to take this minor,” Berkowitz said. “A lot of students who are introduced to our programs from cannabis ended up switching to our major, so it definitely has a positive effect on our major enrollment.”
Kiera Ulmer, an undergraduate student in the CAHNR, has participated in cannabis focused education and independent research for four semesters at UConn and has declared the cannabis cultivation minor.
“Before the minor, many students at UConn were unaware of our cannabis horticulture courses, or the incredible cannabis research conducted in our greenhouses,” Ulmer said. “Overall, I feel as if those who have an interest in the scientific side of cannabis have finally been recognized.”
Berkowitz explained how students are required to complete an approved internship, which could range from a variety of different components in cannabis. He said that the classes are focused on classroom learning, while the internship allows for experiential learning.
“Certainly in cannabis horticulture there are great opportunities for students to learn by working in companies,” Berkowitz said. “As a part of our program, students learn horticulture and growing, but then they could do an internship at a greenhouse, grow facility, a marijuana facility, an extraction facility, a testing facility.”
According to the minor plan of study, students who declare the minor are required to take SPSS 2130 (Introduction to Horticulture of Cannabis) and SPSS 3680 (Advanced Cannabis Horticulture: Cannabis Production). In addition, students must complete three credits in plant and soil cultivation and three credits in pest management. The three credit required internship creates a requirement of a minimum of 15 credits.
Dr. Matthew DeBacco, plant science and landscape agriculture professor and main instructor for the introductory and advanced classes, explained the importance of cannabis education in the growing industry.
“The minor provides students the ability to have documentation of official cannabis education that requires varied course work to ensure they can get started right away in the ever-growing field of cannabis,” DeBacco said. “Designing and developing the courses I have always tried to put the concept of direct application to the industry in mind to help properly prepare students for entry into whatever direction they chose going forward.”
Berkowitz explained that students with the specific coursework on their transcripts will set them apart from others in the industry, since there are not many people who have taken these courses.
“There are a lot of opportunities for jobs in cannabis,” Berkowitz said. “It allows students to be competitive in a very growing industry.”
Before the minor, Ulmer said she was worried that professional cannabis companies would not consider her experience compared to other students at different schools who have the academic acclamations, such as a minor, on their transcripts.
“Knowing that I can validate all of my education in terms of a minor makes me much more confident in achieving success in the cannabis industry,” Ulmer said. “I have Dr. DeBacco and Dr. Berkowitz to thank for fighting for this minor so that students like myself may have the motivation to chase their cannabis cultivation goals through UConn.”
Berkowitz spoke about the recent cannabis research symposium that took place at UConn on April 7 and how that event fueled discussion about cannabis research across a variety of departments at the university. He said that other universities are also taking this initiative to grow research in the industry, which is a huge transition as previously, most cannabis teaching was not associated with universities.
“I think that there is quite likely [going to be] a cannabis program at UConn [in the future],” Berkowitz said. “That would be a broad program across a number of disciplines to have students take some courses and track different areas but I envision that we’d certainly have some kind of interdisciplinary cannabis studies involving lots of faculty in lots of colleges and schools.”
Other schools around Connecticut have already created cannabis programs as well, including Eastern Connecticut State University and Quinebaug Valley Community College.
For those that are interested in declaring the cannabis cultivation minor or learning more about it, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.