Graduate programs train students for high-need professions in Wisconsin

By Meghan Chua


From February through June, we will be highlighting the ways that UW–Madison changes lives for the better throughout the state of Wisconsin. May’s theme is Jobs and the Economy. Watch for more at #UWChangesLives on social media.

Master’s degree programs at UW–Madison are addressing training needs and certification requirements in high-growth job fields across the U.S. and at home in Wisconsin.

In the next five years, the demand for trained school psychologists is expected to grow by 20%, creating about 30,500 jobs across the U.S. Increased awareness of mental and behavioral needs among school-aged children, combined with a large group of practicing school psychologists who are at or close to retirement age, contribute toward job vacancies.

“The need is maybe even a little higher here [in Wisconsin] as compared to other regions and other states,” said Craig Albers, Director of the School Psychology Program. “When you get outside of urban areas, districts in rural communities and smaller towns – they’re struggling a little bit more to fill these positions.”

Leanna Schwartzlow poses for a photo while wearing commencement attire and holding her diploma.
Leanna Schwartzlow completed the Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition program while working at Howard Young Medical Center in Woodruff, Wisconsin.

And some cities, particularly in northern Wisconsin, grapple with the same challenge, Albers said. In August 2016, 61 school districts in the state were still searching for school psychologists.

Responding to this growing need, the Department of Educational Psychology created the Master of Science in Educational Psychology: Educational Specialist (EdS) in School Psychology program. An EdS degree is not only the most common degree for school psychologists but is also considered the minimum requirement for entry into the profession. The School Psychology Program also offers a PhD in School Psychology.

“There’s just a lot of factors that really came together where we, as a faculty, said we need to do something. We need to help,” Albers said.

The first students will start the program in fall 2019. They will take courses that are close to the same as their PhD-track counterparts, taught by the same instructors as the PhD program, Albers said. A paid, clinical internship for students to gain experience in local school districts is another part of their training.

Students in the program’s first cohort are largely from Wisconsin, Albers said.

“It’s very reasonable to think that most, if not all of them, will remain within the state and help fill that gap,” he added.

Another master’s degree program on campus was similarly born out of a need for more training in a growing field. The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development predicts a nearly 11% increase in dietitian and nutritionist jobs by 2024.

For aspiring clinical nutritionists, there’s another consideration: by that same year, all new Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) will be required to have a graduate degree.

“This program initially grew out of that need to train future nutrition practitioners in the area of clinical nutrition and provide that graduate degree,” said Makayla Schuchardt, who manages the Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition program.

Schuchardt said just under half of practicing dietitians don’t have graduate degrees, making for a large body of professionals that will benefit from one. The clinical nutrition master’s program is offered fully online, giving students the option to return to school while working full time. That availability can be especially important for dietitians in northern Wisconsin, who can’t readily drive to Madison or Milwaukee for training and also continue working.

Leanna Schwartzlow graduated from UW–Green Bay with her bachelor’s degree and completed her dietetic internship at UW Hospital. Shortly after, she got a job at Howard Young Medical Center and moved to Woodruff, Wisconsin, in the northern part of the state.

She knew she was ready to start working after her internship, but had always had her eye on a master’s degree. For Schwartzlow, having access to an online program at UW–Madison helped her balance a career and graduate degree.

“After completing my internship, I wasn’t sure how I was going to complete a master’s program with the potential of accepting a job outside of the Madison area. This program allowed me to pursue my career in the Northwoods of Wisconsin while maintaining connection to the UW–Madison campus and UW System,” Schwartzlow said. “I’m really grateful that this program was available because it solidified and expanded on my internship experience and previous classes. It has helped me to grow in my confidence as a provider while I care for patients in my current work setting.”

Like Schwartzlow, about a third of the applicants for the master’s program in clinical nutrition are actively practicing in Wisconsin when they apply. Students in the program are either registered dietitians or are close to earning that credential. The program is not for students who want to make a career switch to nutrition.

Rather, it ensures that practitioners have the right depth of knowledge and level of training to serve in their jobs, whatever that may be.

“Dietitians can work everywhere from a community garden and a local food movement all the way to grocery stores now,” Schuchardt said. “As health and nutrition and wellness continue to grow, the unique thing with dietitians is you can end up in a lot of areas outside of a hospital or a clinic, but having a solid foundation in clinical nutrition is key for any job.”