This past year on the Stronger Together tour, after the merger of the American Bakers Association (ABA) and the Biscuit & Cracker Manufacturers’ Association, we stopped at Kansas State University (KSU) to meet with the Bakery Science & Management students and participate in the Grain Science and Industry Advisory Council meeting. It was a productive and fun visit, especially the awards dinner for graduating seniors. Throughout the Stronger Together tour, we constantly ran into graduates who represented the program with pride and distinction.
ABA has a long history of collaboration with the KSU Grain Science & Industry Department—which includes the degree in Bakery Science & Management (along with Feed Science & Management and Milling Science & Management). As part of their comprehensive educational experience, KSU Grain Science & Industry Department students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in modern pilot plants and laboratories, including a bakery and various analytical labs for testing ingredients, dough and finished products. KSU regularly develops new technologies and practices, as well as creative business strategies, eventually used throughout the baking industry.
Many ABA leaders are graduates of the program. ABA’s financial support for scholarships and the baking instructor position through the Bakers National Education Foundation is the most tangible contribution. However, ABA also has hosted in Washington Baking Science students as interns every summer for the past 12 years. We also have hosted students at IBIE in exchange for helping with the show setup. It is a great way for them to see the future of the industry.
ABA, along with our Washington association partners, recently hosted the Alpha Mu Honor Society students for intensive education on the impact of the policy process on baking. The society met with elected officials, senior USDA and FDA officials, and KSU alumni working throughout Washington. After spending a week with the honor students, I know that the future of the baking industry is in good hands.
At our recent Advisory Council meeting, however, there were a few cautionary signs. KSU’s Grain Science & Industry Department—and especially the Bakery Science & Management program—is under pressure. Due to severe budget cuts at the state level and lower enrollments due to challenging economic conditions in farm country, the program is feeling the impact—ironically, at a time when the baking industry is searching for more high-quality graduates to enter the profession. Except for a handful of higher-degree-bound graduates, 100 percent of the students have at least one job offer in the industry well before graduation.
Despite the challenges, department head Dr. Gordon Smith has successfully gained approval from College of Agriculture Dean John Floros and the university to enhance the faculty and quality of the baking program. As the only baking science program in the world, and an academically rigorous program at that, it is welcome news. However, the department and the university need the industry’s help.
Over the next several years, ABA will be working closely with Dr. Smith and Dr. Floros to support the program. We also will be seeking the collaboration of our baking industry association partners to help ensure that a wide diversity of the industry’s future talent needs will continue to be well served. I encourage the industry’s leaders to learn more about the program and lend their support to ensure a bright future.