(Photo by Maggie Kasierman)
Mustang Daily Staff Report
More than 100 years ago, Cal Poly accepted its first class of 20 students — many beginning their Cal Poly careers in some form of agriculture.
Now, the university is continuing that legacy with a new master’s program in dairy science. The university aspires to train future leaders in dairy production and, beginning next year, will offer a Masters of Professional Studies in Dairy Products Technology.
Cal Poly already offers an undergraduate degree in dairy science, which focuses on both dairy cattle and the use of their milk for food. The master’s degree, however, will teach technical and leadership skills necessary to lead a dairy production facility, program manager Tom Johnson said.
“We’re really focusing on the needs of industry, training people directly for jobs and we hope to educate them with the technical skills and the leadership training to make them viable employees coming right out of the gate,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who began work at Cal Poly after moving to San Luis Obispo from Fort Collins, Colo. this past week, said he is focusing on recruiting students for the first class of the master’s program. Professional-level students, he said, will likely make up the core of the program, which he hopes will grow to between 25 and 30 students each year.
Dairy science department head Bruce Golden said people working in engineering, sciences, teaching and the military would fit well in a dairy management role.
“They’re interesting jobs if you like to be up on your feet, working with people, solving problems,” Golden said. “These jobs are fantastic if you’re engineering oriented, problem-solving oriented, like puzzles … It’s just people don’t know a lot about them.”
The new one-year program will give students nine months of experience in an on-campus dairy innovations center that is still under construction. Denver-based dairy company Leprino Foods sponsored the center, as well as other improvements to Cal Poly’s dairy science department, with a $5 million donation in June 2011.
The program will also require its students to complete a three-month internship in the dairy industry. Johnson said this will provide Learn By Doing experience and hopefully lead into future job opportunities.
“The industry partners are giving back to the program, providing resources, reviewing the curriculum and helping provide and direct internships for our students,” Johnson said. “And we, in turn, will be providing them with ready students trained in the disciplines they need.”
Golden began the push for a graduate-level dairy program six years ago when he started working at Cal Poly. Through a strategic planning meeting, he said, the department identified a need to create more industry leaders at the university.
From there, the Leprino Foods donation launched the program into reality by paying for its startup costs. It also provided funding for the new lab that masters students will use and for the salary of a new dairy science faculty position.
University President Jeffrey Armstrong often cites Leprino Foods’ donation as an example of the kind of private-public partnerships he wants to see increase at Cal Poly.
“I really believe in 10 to 12 years — this is kind of the longer vision — that a Cal Poly student will be going to class in the morning and then walking into an internship in the afternoon and not leaving campus, because some companies have decided they value us so much, they have literally built a presence on this campus,” Armstrong said at an open student forum in April. “That’s ‘Learn By Doing.’”
Golden said dairy is especially important in California and fared better than many others during the country’s recession. He attributed dairy’s success to stable demand both in America and abroad, where emerging countries are beginning to spend more on “luxury” products such as cheese and yogurt.
A California Milk Advisory Board study found the dairy industry supplied more than 443,000 jobs and $63 billion in economic activity for California in 2008. The study noted that dairy contributed more financially than the film and television industry ($35 billion) and wine industry ($59 billion).