Business administration and management, psychology, and elementary education are the top choices for majors among incoming college students. As food science and technology programs look to increase student enrollment, it should be noted that the number of graduates in science, mathematics, and engineering is decreasing. Food scientists and technologists should be concerned with this trend.
Student enrollment at the bachelor’s level in the biological/agricultural sciences has been dropping since 1997. While there is some comfort in not being alone, it is imperative that food science and technology programs distinguish themselves if the field is to attract the best and brightest.
While food science departments may never see the same enrollment numbers as business administration, the Institute of Food Technologists and its members have been working to promote the field as a career.
In 1993, IFT formed its Career Guidance Committee to create and distribute food science educational materials and promote food science as a career. The committee currently offers two videos, a CD-ROM, an online presentation, and five experiment books (available free at www.ift.org/cms/?pid=1000410) covering the areas of food chemistry, microbiology, enzymes, and other food science experiments.
For the past eight years, committee members have promoted food science and technology through regional and national conferences of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Through exhibitor booths and workshops, IFT provides complimentary resources that assist teachers in incorporating food science into the curriculum. Teacher interest in food science seems to be high—the October 2004 issue of the NSTA publication The Science Teacher was devoted to food science. IFT member Don Schaffner, Extension Specialist and Professor at Rutgers University, was featured in the "Ask the Experts" section responding to a high school student’s food safety question.
Science and Our Food Supply is a joint effort of NSTA and the Food and Drug Administration to provide resources for teaching food safety. IFT has offered resources for the professional development component of the program, where 25 middle school and 25 high school teachers spend a week in Washington, D.C., learning how to teach food safety. NSTA and FDA indicated that IFT’s "Freshman Scholarships" might be of particular interest to teachers.
Recruitment efforts are underway at many university food science departments, including the following:
• Brigham Young University uses IFT scholarships to recruit students. For the 2004–05 school year, three freshmen scholarships were awarded to incoming BYU students.
• Utah State University initiated a recruitment effort in 2001. To reach its goal of 12–15 new graduates per year, USU offered 20 half-tuition scholarships for freshmen and transfer students. To retain students, they offered two full-time research scholarships for undergraduates.
• Purdue University utilizes funding from companies such as Kroger, Sensient Flavors, Inc., and General Mills for incoming freshmen.
• Iowa State University appointed an undergraduate recruitment task force to develop more programs in the Food Science and Human Nutrition Dept. that appeal to potential students.
Many programs offer "Introduction to Food Science" or food-related courses as on-campus recruiting tools. Several universities, such as Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Texas Tech, are offering distance education versions of these courses.
In addition to the efforts of Career Guidance Committee members, individual IFT members have also made notable contributions to promoting food science at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. For example, Luke LaBorde at Pennsylvania State University maintains a compilation of food science experiments for students of elementary to high school age (www.foodscience.psu.edu/Outreach/Fun_Food_Science.html). A team led by Faye Dong at the University of Illinois developed a "Food Science Event" for the National Science Olympiad which demonstrates to middle and high school students how science concepts are applied to foods.
Several IFT members have also received funding to promote food science in high school classrooms. A U.S. Dept. of Agriculture CSREES grant to Nancy Cohen and collaborators at the University of Massachusetts funded the development of an online food safety course for secondary science teachers (www.foodsafetyfirst.org). Beth Calder at the University of Maine and Rick Ludescher at Rutgers University each received funding from the National Science Foundation to place graduate students in local high school classrooms to assist teachers in using food as a tool to teach science. Many departments offer teacher workshops and/or invite local students to learn more about food science.
The Career Guidance Committee requests feedback from university professors about recruiting needs that the committee may be able to address. We also welcome input from IFT members with experience in reaching elementary, middle, and high school students about food science. And, for all IFT members, we are interested in finding out how you were introduced to food science—contact Jennifer McEntire at [email protected] with your story.
by Duane K. Larick, a Professional Member of IFT and Chair of IFT’s Career Guidance Committee, is Associate Dean, Graduate School, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, [email protected].