Food science has had a substantial impact on the quality of life most of us enjoy, but our global food system still faces enormous challenges. To meet IFT’s vision of a safe and abundant food supply for healthier people everywhere, we must find and educate successive generations of capable professionals dedicated to the science of food. This challenge is complex and requires the concerted efforts of everybody in academia, industry, and government.
Recently, I had the opportunity to work with the Food Systems Leadership Institute (FSLI) on a report detailing the challenges facing our food system. The team of FSLI Fellows saw a myriad of issues driving our food system, including greater consumer involvement in food issues, evolving demographic profiles, energy security policies, efforts to improve environmental health, a demand for a safe food supply, global competition and increasing demands in international food markets, improved human health and nutrition, and rapid advancements in science and technology. Clearly, without a sufficient cadre of well-trained professionals, these challenges cannot be met.
A recent joint report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Purdue University estimates that more than 52,000 science and engineering jobs are available annually in the broader food and agriculture sector. All undergraduate programs in North America that offer relevant curricula and options are expected to produce approximately 49,000 qualified graduates, which leaves a gap of nearly 3,000 open positions every year. On a worldwide scale, that shortage is of great concern to academic institutions, food and agricultural industries, and government agencies. More specifically, a recent review of the status of food science programs in North America indicates that our profession is on the wrong path when it comes to creating successive generations of professionals (see the March 2007 issue of Food Technology).
Each of us has a significant part to play in the battle for the future of our profession, and IFT is actively engaged to ensure that young, ambitious individuals are encouraged and groomed to face the challenges ahead. Through IFT’s partnership with Discovery Education, the Food Science Ambassadors program, and the IFT Student Association, young minds are being attracted to food science and technology. This is critical because food science requires students with a sound background in basic and applied science.
IFT and the IFT Foundation partnered with Discovery Education to develop and distribute multimedia learning resources on careers in food science and technology. The project elicited two learning tracks: one for science teachers and the other for guidance counselors. Designed to introduce students to food science and technology in today’s society, the multimedia learning programs were shipped to approximately 18,000 secondary schools around the United States.
As a next step, the Food Science Ambassadors (FSAs) serve to support and publicize the Discovery Education program. FSAs are IFT member scientists who use their passion for the profession to increase awareness of careers in food science. Their tools of persuasion include lectures that make use of 12 presentations customized for specific age groups and exclusive tours of their places of employment. By promoting food and agricultural sciences to elementary and secondary schools, FSAs embody the first goal of IFT’s strategic plan: More than 250 IFT members are acting as stewards for the profession by stimulating the young minds of elementary and secondary school students.
Once the students are motivated to declare food science and food technology as their college major, they receive encouragement and support through the IFT Student Association (IFTSA). Students are enriched by the excellent networking opportunities with leading food specialists that IFTSA offers. In addition, IFTSA’s professional development activities help prepare students to enter the workforce. With five popular annual competitions and 52 chapters, IFTSA membership is robust, making it one of the largest and most active student organizations in the country.
All of these programs foster early awareness of food science and technology and guide the development of students throughout college and well into the workforce. Because of IFT’s efforts in recruitment and retention of the best and brightest, the crucial role of food science and technology in improving people’s lives will continue for years to come. The strategic decision we made to reach out to individuals as early as elementary school and expose them to the scientific possibilities and careers in food science is a work in progress.
Much is left to do in cooperation with academia, industry, and government. It is an effort we must carry out successfully for our profession to flourish.
by John D. Floros,
IFT President, 2007–08
Professor and Head, Food Science Dept.,
The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa.