Sarah Anderson

When many of us are still drinking our morning coffee in Minnesota, it’s 5 p.m. in the Netherlands, where Sarah Anderson (MPS '23) is spending the year working as a project assistant at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, a natural history museum and research institute. 

Sarah’s current project centers on European Union regulations, specifically a new regulation called CSRD (corporate sustainability reporting directive), which mandates that companies of a certain size report on their impact and dependencies on nature. She works alongside a team that uses geospatial analysis to locate the intersections of operational sites with protected areas, national parks, and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) threatened and endangered species, for some examples.

Her work often relates to what she studied in the MPS in Horticulture program, and she enjoys using her knowledge and skills in an area she cares deeply about. “Even for an industry like mining, we are looking closely at the loss of plant species and how that alters the ecosystem services. It is all interconnected. I use my degree most though when evaluating agricultural impacts on biodiversity, which is a major opportunity area for conservation.”

A Passion for Sustainability

As an undergraduate, Sarah studied biology and environmental studies at Gustavus Adolphus College. During the summer after her junior year, she lived and worked on Common Harvest Farm, an ecological farm in Osceola, WI. “It was my first hands-on experience with local food production,” she says. “It really helped me connect with where my food comes from. Growing up, my mom was really into gardening, and that inspired me, too.”

A red barn with sunflowers growing alon one side

Sarah knew that she wanted to continue her studies. It was the spring of 2020, and despite the pandemic, she decided to pursue her goal of attending graduate school. She built her Horticulture degree around sustainable agriculture and organic farming. 

“The classes that I took also inspired more of a specific career goal, which is to work at the intersection of sustainable agriculture and ecology,” she says. “How can we produce food that feeds the world in a way that doesn't harm the environment?” 

Sarah also had the opportunity to explore a personal passion for local flowers through her capstone research project. Her research demonstrated that local cut-flower farms can provide nectar, pollen, and habitat resources to pollinators, and that these farms could benefit consumers, growers, and the environment.

(You can read about Sarah’s research in her article “Environmental Benefits of Local Cut Flower Production” on the Department of Horticulture Science’s website.)

Why She Chose the MPS in Horticulture

For Sarah, it really came down to the applicability and diversity of what she was learning, “whether it was hands-on experiments, working in the field, but the wide variety of classes” she could take. “I see a lot of value in taking the knowledge produced in academia and really connecting it to the people that would use it.”

With help of her advisor, she chose courses that interested her and helped her get closer to her career goals. “I never felt  limited in terms of what direction I could take my degree,” she says.

While Sarah isn’t exactly sure about her next step, the MPS degree program exposed her to the many different areas she could dive into. “Horticulture is the art and science of vegetables, fruits, and trees, but it's also the food system,” she says. “There are a lot of things beyond just the growing of food that it encompasses. I think that was really attractive to me, because going into the program, I didn’t want a very narrow focus.”

Memorable Instructors and Courses

A white barn and silos in the distance past a meadow

Professors Julie Grossman and Mary Rogers 
“Prior to pursuing my master's, I didn't fully understand the quantity and variety of experiments involving farming. Seeing the science behind it was really novel for me, and I think Julie and Mary did a great job of showcasing all that you can do in this field. I think some people are confused when I say I got my master's in horticulture, but it's so much more than that. I think they really helped me see that, which is really exciting.”

Capstone Advisor Brandon Miller 
“He was incredibly supportive and taught me so much. He walked me through setting up the experiment and really encouraged me to develop a manuscript, which was something that I hadn't done before. He went above and beyond to make sure I succeeded.”

Statistics for Natural Resource Professionals
“It was a course that I challenged myself to take, and I didn't initially know if I was going to enjoy it. But I really, really liked it, and now in my work today I use that on different projects.”

Advice for Students

  • Form a network. “I think it really helps you after you graduate. The professors are extremely connected and can lead you to new, interesting projects that you might not have previously considered. Lean into that network and really get to know professors. Don't be afraid to inquire about independent studies or projects, because there are more opportunities out there.”
  • Take a mixture of classes that both interest and challenge you. “There's a lot to be said for following your passions. But like the example I gave about the statistics class, I think I was looking into the future and thinking, okay, what do I want to do for my career? What could potentially be beneficial for me to take?” 
  • Apply for scholarships. “I felt like there was a lot of opportunity for scholarships through CCAPS. I was really surprised at how many opportunities there were for funding.” (Visit our Financial Aid page for more information.)

Sarah received Nolte Miller and Ingrid Lenz Harrison scholarships.

All photos courtesy of Sarah Anderson: Sarah at Naturalis Biodiversity Center and Common Harvest Farm in Osceola, WI.


Mia Boos is a writer and content strategist with the College of Continuing and Professional Studies, covering the College’s graduate programs and undergraduate individualized degree programs. She joined the CCAPS Marketing team in 2014 and has worked for Thomson Reuters and New York University. Connect with her via LinkedIn