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Uniquely Florida: These specialized college majors are too cool for school

From world-class beaches to thrilling theme parks, there’s so much that makes Florida unique and exciting — as a place to visit, and as a place to live and work. This is reflected even in the degree offerings of Florida’s colleges and universities, which are tailoring their degree programs and course offerings to meet the Sunshine State’s unique and robust workforce needs.

Looking for Florida schools that offer your area of study? Try using the College Navigator search engine through the National Center for Education and Statistics.

Peruse any of the 12 universities’ degree program offerings, and you’ll find the traditional programs for major industries like health care, engineering and education. But you’ll also find programs that shine a spotlight on what makes Florida one of a kind. Here are just a few unique degrees you can pursue in Florida.

Associate’s degree in diving business and technology, Florida Keys Community College

Imagine getting college credit to replant coral, scuba dive through shipwrecks and master the art of underwater photography! Scuba diving is big business in the Florida Keys, and the state college there answered the workforce development need with an associate’s degree in diving business and technology.

Lucja Rice is department chair for the diving program, which she says is the only one of its kind in Florida and possibly the nation. The college has three diving boats and its own lagoon, where timbers from the Atocha, a famous Spanish galleon shipwreck, are buried beneath its silty bottom for safekeeping. All of the activity attracts a lot of attention on campus, which is located just miles away from the United States’ only living barrier coral reef.

“Students see us jumping into the water and they say, ‘Oh, hold on. How do I do this?’” Rice said with a laugh. She assures them that they can can take diving courses and earn certifications even if they’re pursuing other degrees.

“We get a lot of really good students,” Rice said of FKCC, which has about 1,500 students. “They are really passionate about diving, and it’s amazing to see them grow here.”

Theme Park and Attraction Management track, University of Central Florida

The Rosen School of Hospitality ranks in the top five hospitality programs in the nation, and has an abundance of jobs in its backyard. With a record-setting 66 million visitors in 2016, Orlando is officially the most visited destination in the United States — and UCF Knights that earn hospitality degrees graduate ready to meet all their vacation needs. Just listen to some of these course titles: “Cruise Line Operations and Management,” “Seminar in Quality Brewing and Fine Beer,” “History and Culture of Wine,” “Golf Planning and Operations,” “International Gastronomy,” “Fairs and Festivals” … forget the kids; we want to sign up ourselves!

It’s particularly unique that UCF hospitality majors can take the “theme park and attraction management track”. With Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World and other theme parks a stone’s throw away, opportunities abound for internships and mentor training.

Dr. Ady Milman is the professor that developed the track’s curriculum and says his graduates quickly get scooped up by big-name theme parks.

Students examine everything from theme park operations to experience design. The program is expanding, offering a new course in the fall about amusement and theme park technology (think of the “My Disney Experience” app that’s so useful when visiting Disney World).

“The diversity of the students’ opportunities here is really great,” Milman said.

Packaging Engineering, University of Florida

Do you like to eat? Have you ever gone to a grocery store? You probably take for granted that your food arrives fresh and safely sealed, even though the process to achieve that requires rigorous science and engineering. You’ll be glad to know the students in University of Florida’s packaging engineering problem are perfectly poised to keep doing all the worrying so that you don’t have to.

“It’s more than just a question of ‘paper or plastic?’” says the program’s website. “Whether it’s bagged, boxed, or wrapped, virtually every modern industry relies on packaging engineering and technology to contain, protect, preserve or enhance the value of its goods as they hustle from factory to customer.”

In addition to coursework in standard topics like biology and chemistry, the biological engineering major can also study consumer packaging, food packaging, distribution and transport, and more.

Graduates are employed as packaging engineers at top companies including Kraft, Campbell’s, Estee Lauder, Johnson and Johnson, Cryovac, Anheuser Busch, and Schwan Foods. Starting salaries average over $50,000 per year.

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