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Food Heroes
On your typical spring day on many college campuses, you are likely to find a flurry of activity—students hustling to class or studying in the sunshine while others hang out with friends or perhaps toss a ball or frisbee around. The anticipation of summer fills the air. But as we all know, there is nothing typical about the spring semester this year.

For IFT Board Member Gordon Smith, PhD, CFS, the lack of people on campus has been one of the hardest things to deal with as COVID-19 disrupted the spring semester while students, staff, and faculty were on spring break.

"The vibe is totally different. A college campus isn’t just a collection of buildings. It’s a diverse community of students, staff, and faculty, and this experience has reinforced just how important all of those people are.”

- Gordon Smith, PhD, CFS, Department of Grain Science and Industry, Kansas State University
Closing the campus presented challenges for food science students and faculty alike. Transitioning lecture courses to a virtual setting was relatively simple, but lab classes took a bit more creativity. In most cases, labs have transitioned to a format where the professor demonstrates the lab on video, and students replicate the lab as best they can in their home kitchen. While it is not the same as being on campus, everyone made it work.

Gordon said the majority of students handled the transition to virtual learning well. Many students remained massively engaged in their coursework, working hard right until the end. Others remained focused on topics of keen interest, but engagement waned in areas that didn’t fully pique their interest. There were some who found the distance between themselves and the campus made it difficult to stay engaged, but this was generally not the norm.

As for the class of 2020, Gordon said he has seen a great deal of resilience, positive attitudes, and optimism among graduating students, Many are looking forward to internships, jobs, or graduate school. While there is certainly disappointment that they were not able to finish their undergraduate years on campus in the traditional fashion, Gordon is confident that enduring this experience has prepared our future food scientists well for the next step in their academic or professional careers.

Despite the challenges, the pandemic has illuminated several positives, not only on college campuses, but globally. From Gordon’s perspective, we have been given the gift of time, and an excellent opportunity to reflect on the following.

  • What is important in our lives and what is not?
  • What is necessary and what can we live without?
  • What can we do remotely and what is better experienced in-person?
  • How can we stop taking time together for granted?
  • How can we learn and grow from this experience?
  • Where do we need to challenge the status quo?
  • What is going to fundamentally change forever?
While the pandemic and related restrictions are not going to last forever, Gordon believes there are going to be some significant changes for quite a long time at K-State and other colleges and universities. Many universities are contemplating continuing virtual learning in the fall of 2020. For those who return to campus-based learning and living, they will likely continue following CDC guidelines, which includes staying at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from other people, avoiding large gatherings, washing hands often, and avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth. Students will need to spread out more than normal in lecture halls and classrooms, and labs will need to be arranged differently, since they are not currently set up for social distancing. As long as everyone models good behavior and is responsible and respectful of others, Gordon is confident we will get through this unique time in our history.

As Gordon has told his students, staff, and faculty multiples times over the last few weeks, “If we haven’t learned anything else over the last few months, I hope we now understand just how interconnected we all are. We all share one planet and our actions have a significant impact that can last for many years to come.”

Are you a Food System Hero? Share your story on social media with the hashtag #FoodHeroes today!

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