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Feature Stories

Food Science in the Forefront
Innovation and growth keep program strong
Food Science student working in lab.

“The culture of innovation spans our research and academic programs. It’s one of the reasons UMass Food Science is tops.”
–Eric Decker

What is exciting and amazing is that UMass Food Science received the sole number one ranking in two of five dimensions.” This gratifying praise comes from a food scientist unaffiliated with the university, discussing National Research Council rankings of U.S. doctoral programs in the February 2011 issue of Food Technology . She adds: “It would be truly wise for us to study how UMass puts its program together.

The oldest in the nation, the Food Science department has long enjoyed national and international reputations for all-around strengths but recent affirmations are culminating in a banner academic year. Department head Eric Decker ticks off some accomplishments: undergraduate enrollment has tripled in the past eight years, the department has ranked number one in the campus student satisfaction survey in five of the past six years, food scientists routinely visit from all over the world, three third-floor Chenoweth labs recently underwent major renovations, and the $1.8 million Fergus M. Clydesdale Center for Foods for Health and Wellness officially opened April 8 in a ceremony attended by alumni and representatives from state and federal government, and from the food industry.

In addition to a stellar doctoral program, several master’s options including a unique one-year program for students with degrees in other disciplines, a faculty highly productive in research in food chemistry and food safety, plus a new emphasis on developing healthier, great-tasting, and affordable food items, Decker points to success at the undergraduate level. “There’s a growing awareness of Food Science among undergraduates and those in the program just love it!” he says. “It’s science you can see at work every day.”

Food science is a multidisciplinary major combining food chemistry, microbiology, and engineering whose students enjoy plenty of research opportunities during the academic year, supplemented by summer internships with food companies, and on graduation are snapped up for jobs with salaries rivaling those of engineers. The Culinary Science program established in 2005 enrolls small numbers of former culinary school students who earn a B.S. degree in two and a half years and who go on, Decker says, to be “wildly successful. Industry loves candidates who can wear two hats—chef and food scientist—meeting the need to blend art and science.”

In sum, he says: “The culture of innovation spans our research and academic programs. It’s one of the reasons UMass Food Science is tops.”

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