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Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Lake Campus adding food science degrees

Agribusiness leaders meet to discuss what they need in future employees

By Nancy Allen

Lake Campus professor Greg Homan, far left, listens to members of a focus group. . .

Wright State University-Lake Campus this fall will begin offering courses toward associate's and bachelor's degrees in food science.
Professor Greg Homan led a focus group Tuesday at the campus to gather input from area agribusiness leaders on what the new curriculum should include and the skills employees should obtain.
Jim Gibson of the Fremont Company in Rockford said those with knowledge of science, chemistry and food microbes are preferred.
"Statistics is important with audits and someone who can do lab work and quality control," he added.
Sean Augustus of Agrana in Botkins and Kelly Kaffenberger-Evers of Fort Recovery Equity Exchange said knowledge of USDA regulations and associated food science and processing certifications also are important.
Nearly all in the focus group said they likely would use the Lake Campus program to help existing employees receive additional training.
Jared Ebbing, community and economic development director for Mercer County, said the new curriculum could help young people find jobs locally.
"We have a lot of local kids who want to stay who could get a degree here," Ebbing said. "We have so many good food processing jobs here."
Homan said his vision is to tie the new program in with the Lake Campus' existing ag program and provide students industry tours, internships and co-ops.
Tony Arnold of Freshway Foods, Sidney, said the fact that area students would not have too far to travel for their education is a positive.
"I'm real excited about a food science associate's degree when it's this close," he said. "We have a strong need for food sciences."
Ebbing said the new Lake Campus degrees would increase the number of employees able to fill food science and processing positions.
"So they're not fighting over the same limited number of employees, it would be great to increase the size of the pie for the large number of food processors over the next five to eight years," Ebbing said.
Lake Campus Dean Bonnie Mathies said the instructor hired would write the coursework and make connections with area food science and processing businesses to learn what they are seeking in employees.
The degrees are not available at the main campus in Dayton, she noted.
Ebbing said the new courses will be a good fit for the area.
"There's no doubt about it that ag and food processing are some of our top industries here in Mercer County, and why wouldn't we cultivate education programs that support that?" he said.
Others attending the focus group meeting included representatives from Mercer Landmark, VanTilburg Farms and Tri Star Career Compact.
Homan also spoke about the planned Progressive Agriculture Convention and Education (PACE) center slated for construction at the Mercer County Fairgrounds. Fairgrounds manager Cara Muhlenkamp said the campus' agricultural program would utilize the building as a training and educational center.
The center would provide classroom space for career and technical training and applied/hands-on learning for current and future employees in the ag industry.
The center also would contain an arena for livestock shows and trade events, Homan said. It could be used to stage community entertainment as well.
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