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Five of the most obscure college degrees in America

Majoring in alcohol isn’t just a joke

It’s that time of year again – the hallways and classrooms at universities across the country are filling with bleary-eyed students binge-drinking coffee before their 8 a.m. lecture.

But for some students the class topics are a little out of the norm of typical collegiate learning.

Here are five of the most obscure college degrees in America:

Adventure Education – Plymouth State University

Students who attend this New Hampshire-based university have the opportunity to lead “backpacking expeditions, facilitating a ropes course, climbing rocks, ascending alpine summits, and paddling rivers,” as part of their studies for a degree in Adventure Education.

The program, offered through the university’s Department of Health and Human Services, seeks to go beyond simply teaching students how to guide others through the wilderness and focuses on using “human-powered outdoor pursuits to help people learn about interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships.”

Students can expect to learn inside a classroom and in the great outdoors for three specific goals outlined on the program’s website:

“…first to learn the professional and technical skills to operate competently and safely in these environments, second to learn how to instruct others in these adventure activities, and third to learn how to frame these experiences so that your clients and students grow personally and professionally.”

Students can take classes in “whitewater kayaking” and “rock climbing fundamental,” but the program isn’t just for students who want to “go climbing for credit.”

Part of the course of study includes classes in “philosophical foundations, pedagogical skills, group processes, and theoretical models of Adventure Education,” because “professionals in this field need to not only know what to do in a variety of wilderness situations, some of which can be extreme, but they also need to know why they’re doing it.”

Cannabis Cultivation – Oaksterdam University

Students can learn about growing marijuana at this Oakland, California-based university, which was founded in 2007 by Richard Lee, a prominent advocate for the legalization and regulation of marijuana.

While the program is non-degree granting, the university offers a certification to students if they pass their midterms and finals with a score of 75 percent or higher.

Students take courses such as “cooking with cannabis,” “dispensary management,” “cannabis terminology,” “history of marijuana,” “cultivation law” and “methods of ingestion.”

To enroll in the university, students must be at least 18 years old, have valid photo identification, and pay tuition in full before the first day of classes.

The university caught the eye of various law enforcement organizations in 2014, when the Drug Enforcement Agency, IRS and the U.S. Marshalls conducted a raid on the university’s campus and other properties owned by Lee “with a battering ram, a sledgehammer, power saws and a locksmith.”

According to the San Francisco Gate, agents left the university with “numerous file boxes, a safe and black trash bags,” and agents also removed “sacks with dozens of marijuana plants” from Lee’s other properties.

Officials from the university reported to the news outlet that Lee and four employees were temporarily detained after the raid.

Viticulture and Enology – Cornell University

A major in alcohol actually isn’t just a bad college joke.

Since 2008, students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University have been able to major in winemaking or wine industry management.

They can choose between two areas of wine expertise: viticulture, which focuses on “vineyard management, grapevine biology, and grape pest management”; or enology, which focuses on “wine chemistry, production methods, and sensory evaluation.”

Foundation courses include many science classes like biology, microbiology, chemistry and biochemistry.

From there, enology students progress onto courses such as “wine and grape flavor chemistry,” and “winemaking theory and practice.” Those focusing on viticulture take classes in “plant genetics,” and “horticultural plant biodiversity and evolution.”

Learning about grapes and winemaking takes a hands-on approach with this program through a student-managed vineyard at the Cornell Orchard, where students practice the lessons they have learned in class.

“Our new program is teaching tomorrow’s grape-growers and wine-makers the specific skills they need to help New York’s cold-climate grape industry thrive,” the program’s brochure said.

The program also boasts the only on-campus teaching winery in the country that has “state-of-the-art fermentation tanks and a modern microbiological and chemical lab, elements needed for the storage of grapes and the preparation and analysis of wines.”

Race Track Management – University of Arizona

The Race Track Industry Program at the University of Arizona offers a one-of-a-kind degree with a focus in either racetrack business management or horse management and breeding.

Students have to complete the university’s general education requirements before progressing onto “introduction to the animal racing industry,” and “introductory to horse science.”

From there, business management focus students take courses in “managerial accounting,” and “agricultural business management,” and equine management students take “physiology and anatomy of domestic animals.”

Students have a very high rate of employment immediately after graduating, according to the program’s website.

More than 600 students have graduated from the program since it was founded in 1973. Those who received a degree have gone on to work for NBC Sports and Olympics, ESPN and the Arizona Department of Racing.

Despite the program’s prominence in creating high profile members in the racing industry, many University of Arizona students are unaware of it.

But it “is firmly established and well respected inside the close-knit racing business, yet its faculty joke that most of the University of Arizona students who cruise the palm-tree-lined sidewalks of the campus have no idea it exists,” reports Inside Tucson Business.

Puppet Arts – University of Connecticut

The University of Connecticut’s Fine Art Department has offered undergraduate and graduate degrees in puppet arts with classes dating back to 1964.

Since the creation of the program, students have put on nearly 500 productions with puppets and the school said “each year [they] see an increase in the number of people wishing to be part of our program.”

Students must take foundational courses in drama, such as costuming, lighting and scenery. Once they progress through those classes, they move onto “puppetry production,” and elective like “marionette construction.”

Students who wish to apply must do so through the standard application process and audition for the school of fine arts, which includes a three to five minute presentation of skills and a portfolio.

Many who have graduated have gone on to “perform and design for many theatres around the world,” according to the degree’s website. “They appear in, build for and manage internationally recognized television programs… and films, write books, design toys, teach children, and direct prominent schools and museums.”

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About the Author
Julianne Stanford -- University of Arizona