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CAFES to determine fate of food science program

September 18, 2008

  The UW-River Falls food science and technology program is facing a potential elimination this fall semester. Come October, there will be a decision made to either eliminate the program from the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science (CAFES), change the curriculum to be available only as a minor or leave some courses suitable only for the animal science major.

  Currently, the program has two faculty members teaching and two academic staff in the meat and dairy plants for more than 30 students. In 1992, the program had five faculty members, but has since lost three due to retirement and advancements. Without the opportunity to hire more faculty members due to budget cuts, this led to the loss of accreditation from the Institute of Food Technology (IFT). To be eligible for IFT approval, the program needs a minimum of four professors with Ph.Ds.

  “I have parents of prospective students asking why we are not IFT approved. The program hasn’t changed at all,” said Bonnie Walters, food science associate professor and advisor of the Food Science Club.

  Without IFT approval, students enrolled in the program are no longer eligible to apply for scholarships, which in the past have earned students thousands of dollars, Walters said. Students are also unable to attend regional or national meetings and conventions which are essential for the field.

  “IFT is the key into the industry,” Mallmann said. “Anyone in the field knows about IFT. This includes new students looking at our school.”

  After attending the national convention in New Orleans earlier this year, senior Jared Acker, former food science club president said, “I am still in college and I still get job offers (from recruiters).” Mallmann, Acker and senior Josh Burgan, senior food science club vice president, are the only three UWRF students still invited to IFT meetings because of their membership and prior eligibility.

  The three food science seniors accompanied by ten other students have met with CAFES Dean Dale Gallenberg, Department Chair Steven Kelm and Interim Chancellor Connie Foster last spring to voice their opinion of the potential change of their program. In addition to their meetings, the three students have also recruited students to the major in the past.

  “As a college we know changes need to be made in the food science and technology program – it is not sustainable in its present format nor is it as strong and effective as it should be,” Gallenberg said. “The questions of what we will do with the program and what changes may be made are still being discussed – no decisions have been made yet.”

  According to Walters and the three food science students, even alumni,  have been asking questions to Gallenberg about whether the challenges their major at UWRF is enduring. Acker worked at Advanced Food Products LLC., in Clear Lake, Wis., during the summer with many of UWRF food science alumni.

  The company only hires students that have graduated from UWRF. If food science and technology is eliminated, then all monetary donations from the company will end as well, according to Acker.
However, if the program is changed and courses are only available through animal science, “students will lose the course content with fruit and vegetables,” according to Walters.

  “Students are frustrated when they see the value in food science more so than meat animals,” Walters said. “If animal science moves forward with food science courses, the students will no longer be food scientists, but instead meat processors.”

  With the food industry being one of the largest manufacturing industries in the world, and UWRF holding a steady 95 percent career placement for food science graduates, food scientists are wanted. Food science and technology also has the highest median salaries of all CAFES graduates at $34,000-36,000, according to CAFES’ 2005/2006 Post-Graduation Report by Career Services.

  Food science students are more fortunate than other students in larger schools because of the close contact with fellow majors, Burgan said, and “a good portion of students in the major are in the club.”

  “I came here for food science. It’s absolutely one reason I came to this school,” said Burgan. “I realize how valuable this program is. We’re for bettering the program.”