Perspectives Online

Food Science offers new degree programs in bioprocessing science and nutrition science

This lab in the Golden LEAF BTEC is among the facilities designed to prepare students for the biomanufacturing workforce. The BTEC has partnered with Food Science in establishing the new bioprocessing science degree.
Photo by Becky Kirkland

To support North Carolina's people and industries. To prepare the next generation of scientists and leaders. These are core goals of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences that are embodied in two new bachelor of science degree programs offered by the Department of Food Science: bioprocessing science and nutrition science.

Bioprocessing encompasses the research, development, manufacturing and commercialization of products prepared from or used by biological systems, from medicine to food.

According to the North Carolina Biotechnology Center (NCBC), the state is well positioned to become the world's preeminent biomanufacturing center within the next two decades: There are 20,000 North Carolinians working as biotechnologists in the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industries, and more than 2,500 new employees may be required annually.

Enter the College's new bachelor of science degree in bioprocessing science.

The degree program, which enrolled its first class in spring 2007, prepares students for careers in bio-industries through formal training in the fundamental sciences as well as hands-on lab experience.

"It was one of those 'aha' moments," says Dr. Donn Ward, head of the Department of Food Science. "There's a huge biomanufacturing industry in North Carolina and a growing demand for trained workers. We want to help meet that need."

Dr. Chris Daubert, associate professor of food science who led the effort to establish the new degree program, agrees. "We're uniquely positioned to help deliver a highly skilled workforce to the industry," he says.

Students in the program will be exposed to a breadth of basic science courses that cross a number of different disciplines, including chemistry, engineering, microbiology and biotechnology, Daubert says. They'll also receive training in good manufacturing practices and standard operating procedures. And their lab experience will be like none other.

The Golden LEAF Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center (BTEC) on N.C. State's Centennial Campus is a state-of-the-art facility designed to prepare students for the biomanufacturing workforce. The BTEC labs simulate those in biomanufacturing companies, giving students real-world work experiences. Students will even "gown up" for their lab work, Daubert says.

BTEC has been a tremendous partner in the effort to establish the new degree, Daubert says. In addition to providing its facility for use by bioprocessing science students, BTEC funded one full-time faculty position in the Department of Food Science - an engineer who will be one of the primary professors in the new degree program.

The NCBC also has been supportive of the new degree program, Ward adds, developing a series of job classifications and categories that helped shape the curriculum.

Ward sees the new degree offering as a natural evolution for the department, a complement to its nationally recognized undergraduate and graduate programs in food science.

"As far as I know, we are the only bioprocessing science curriculum in the country," he says. "We're adapting to a changing environment by training scientists for a new industry. We want to stay ahead of the curve."

Just as the department strives to meet the needs of new and emerging industries, it also is committed to the success of the state's traditional industries. Case in point: the new bachelor of science degree in nutrition science.

Nutrition science, one of the staples of the Department of Food Science, has been offered as a concentration in biological science for a number of years. But growing student interest, along with steady industry demand for graduates in this area, fueled the development of a new undergraduate major, first offered in winter 2006.

This degree will provide nutrition majors with more options, says Dr. Jon Allen, professor of food science and coordinator of the nutrition program.

"There is consistently high demand from the food industry for our food science majors," he says. "This degree will add another dimension. It meets all of the pre-med requirements, so students interested in the allied health field have opportunities to get the nutrition courses to carry forward to dental and medical school."

Ward adds, "The nutrition science program is very compatible with where the department is right now. We wanted to add value and create more opportunities for our students."

Through a unique partnership with Meredith College, students can take an additional 20 hours of courses at Meredith to become registered dieticians.

"Our dietetics program is a little different from others," Allen says. "We place bigger emphasis on basic science because we believe that graduates trained in areas like biochemistry and organic chemistry will be better able to evaluate changes in the field."

Sophomore nutrition major Alex Troxler says that she wants to become a registered dietician so that she can work with children of low-income families. "Because of this new major," she says, "I'll be able to reach my goal more quickly."

These two new undergraduate degree offerings fit like pieces of a puzzle, Ward says. "To be able to offer a really solid undergraduate education in food science, bioprocessing science and nutrition science, while maintaining our focus on a fundamentally sound graduate experience, makes us unique."

- Suzanne Stanard