Just as varied as baked foods themselves, the educational options supporting the baking industry provide many choices for individuals and companies seeking improvement. The knowledge and skill sets that enable success in this field are taught at levels ranging from high-school vocational programs to community colleges and universities, granting certificates, occupational and associate degrees, up through bachelor’s and advanced graduate degrees.

Unlike the European baking industry’s formal apprenticeship programs conducted by bakeries themselves, North American programs in baking education take place primarily within the world of higher education. The results come in the form of academic, scientific and practical experience for students. Also, many of these schools offer seminars and short courses designed for people already working in the industry.

CEREAL CENTRIC. At universities, the common threads are agriculture and grains. Not only are many of these degree-oriented food science and nutrition programs organized within public institutions’ colleges of agriculture, but classwork even at the undergrad level tends to involve the cereal grains important to those states. Evaluation of new strains of hard winter wheat developed for Kansas and the Great Plains led a chemistry professor at Kansas State University (KSU), Manhattan, KS, to install an experimental mill. That laid the foundation for the Department of Grain Science and Industry, which is the only school worldwide to award the full range of bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in baking, milling, feed and cereal sciences.

“North Dakota is No. 1 for durum, barley and hard red spring wheat,” stated Senay Simsek, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Plant Sciences, North Dakota State University (NDSU), Fargo, ND. “The three crops are essential to the state’s economy, and at NDSU, we do research on them and their functions in food.” The university’s program offers bachelor’s degrees in food science, with master’s and doctorates in cereal science and technology.

Texas is a producer of wheat, corn, sorghum and rice. Lloyd Rooney, regents professor and faculty fellow, Cereal Quality Lab (CQL), Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, has been teaching cereal-related clases for 40-plus years. Texas A&M food science students get a thorough grounding in cereal grains. “We expose students to a broad base of subjects, from crop improvement to supply chain management and new harvest changeover,” he said. “They get an understanding of product development as well as the reality of production in food plants.” In this field of study, the undergraduate degrees are in food science, but the graduate degrees specialize in cereal chemistry and related areas.

“The late Dr. Ralph Waniska was a pioneer in tortilla study and research, a new frontier,” as Dr. Rooney described the work done to support the wheat focus at the university. The CQL has specialized in sorghum foods and feed quality. That work continues, with a team of researchers examining the nutraceutical aspects of sorghum.

STUDENT ATTENTION. A combination of curriculum, reputation and state-of-the-art facilities help attract students to baking and pastry programs, according to Ciril Hitz, department chair, International Baking and Pastry Institute, Johnson & Wales University (J&W), Providence, RI. In truth, these reasons define the motives for studying at other bakery specialist programs. Word of mouth and family or industry connections are also important to bringing in students.

“Recently, we’ve been more active with recruitment,” said David Krishock, Bakers National Education Foundation professor, KSU. A second Brains for Grains student recruitment event has been scheduled for Minneapolis, MN. “And we are seeing more children of alumni coming here.”

A job placement rate of 100% nearly every year is also important to prospective students, he noted. “We’re able to tell students that there are plenty of jobs in the industry and at good starting salaries.”

Word of mouth and alumni support known as the “Aggie Network” play a big role in filling the student rosters at Texas A&M, where food and cereal sciences are taught cooperatively by two departments within the College of Agriculture: the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences. Dr. Rooney noted that many students learn about the school from the companies that employ their parents. “And our international work in Africa and Central America brings us into contact with many potential students,” he said.

By specializing in applied cereal chemistry — baking, flour testing, malting, brewing and pasta in particular — NDSU offers a unique cereal science graduate degree, according to Dr. Simsek. “We bring the why and how of the real world to the classroom,” she said of both undergraduate and graduate studies.

“Additionally, the school is still a relatively small, friendly and very student-oriented university,” stated Frank Manthey, PhD, professor, Department of Plant Sciences, NDSU.

For short courses and seminars, as well as the 16-week residence course, AIB International’s School of Baking draws most of its students from the industry, sponsored by their companies, according to Kirk O’Donnell, EdD, vice-president, education, AIB International, School of Baking, Manhattan, KS. “They come because we can help them learn in a way that creates value to their customers, that produces a return-on-investment in the education. They attend and then go back to their jobs.

“A few are self-sponsored, and we would like to attract more,” Dr. O’Donnell continued. “Industry has given us a mandate to find people who are passionate and adaptable.”

HIGH DEMAND. Interest in baking education is rising. “We had our largest yet baking class enrollment this year,” Prof. Krishock said, “and an even larger one is anticipated for next year.”

Chef Hitz confirmed the trend, saying, “Our numbers are going through the roof. The tendency lately is to close out classes eight months ahead of the school year’s start.” His program at the Providence campus takes only 60 students per year, and they must bring a 3.0 grade-point average for admission. “Between the four campuses, we have about 1,000 baking and pastry students.”

Interest from employers is also strong. “We are able to be aggressive on job placement for students because we give them the skills to succeed,” Chef Hitz said. J&W posts a jobs list online. Other schools do likewise, and the online job board at Texas A&M includes openings at many of the grain-based foods industry’s biggest name companies.

Internships — a requirement at some schools such as J&W and the Culinary Institute of America — provide another route to job placement and financial assistance. At Texas A&M, Dr. Rooney noted, “The industry interviews for interns at both undergrad and graduate levels.”

“This summer we will have 20 students doing internships, making $14 to $16 per hour, often with housing stipends or assistance,” Prof. Krishock said. “They can take these internships without compromising their summer earning potential. And when they start their senior years, they will likely have a job offer from those companies.”

The KSU bonds continue into post-graduation years. “Lately, we’ve been doing a better job of connecting not only with recent grads but also past grads,” Prof. Krishock said. “They know we can help them with job placement. They know to call us.”

PROGRAM CHOICES. Educational opportunities exist at many levels. Universities grant bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees, while a wide variety of community and technical colleges offer associate degrees. And specialty institutes grant certificates and continuing education credits, with some applicable as college course credits.

The J&W associate degree can be taken forward into a 4-year bachelor’s degree in food service management or baking and pastry. The school’s master’s and doctorate programs are in hotel and food service. “Different campuses have different programs,” Chef Hitz said.

Classwork can guide students with their choice of degree and career path. At NDSU, “as seniors, students take the cereal technology course, which covers baking, malting, brewing and pasta,” Dr. Simsek said. She teaches four lectures on baking.

“The emphasis in graduate studies is different,” Dr. Manthey said. “Undergraduate education is more general, covering food science from meat to baking and the analytical methods. With graduate study, the work is more focused on cereal grain crops, with individual courses on cereal food chemistry, baking, milling, malting and brewing, and pasta processing.”

“The first year of graduate school is mostly course work, with a little research done, too,” Prof. Krishock observed. The focus on research grows in the second year.

Graduate programs in food science at Texas A&M tend to focus on cereals, fruits, vegetables, meats and other broad spectrum topics in the classes, according Dr. Rooney. “At the undergrad level, food product development is an important topic,” he added, “and it tends to encourage work with cereal grain applications.”

In a year, AIB’s Manhattan campus hosts more than 2,000 students, and hundreds more attend courses around the country and internationally. “In 2009, we held 120 seminars open to the public and 311 contract or customized content programs,” Dr. O’Donnell said. “In the School of Baking, this amounted to one-quarter of the public seminars and 43 of the customized programs. We are trending up in customized instruction.”

COURSE DEVELOPMENT. Keeping up-to-date on subject matter is not only the responsibility of students but also their teachers. Curriculum development is an ongoing matter at all levels of higher education for the baking industry, and the course content at most universities teaching food science is regularly reviewed and accredited by the Institute of Food Technologists.

Texas A&M, for example, is developing a new course in baking. It’s part of a bigger plan that emphasizes working across the two departments. “We recently had an outside panel review our program,” Dr. Rooney explained. “And we are picking up a baking course again after several years of absence.” The new class will be instructed by Joseph Awika, PhD, assistant professor of food science and technology, who teaches graduate-level courses in food carbohydrates and undergraduate food product development with a heavy slant toward cereals.

KSU took a different direction with recent changes and additions to its undergraduate grain science curriculum. “We wanted to solidify the first two years,” Prof. Krishock said. “By making the course series more uniform across feed, baking and milling, the student is able to move back and forth among the fields without penalty.” The school also reinstated a course on the basics of milling and one on process flow, both to be given to baking students.

NDSU is currently revising its graduate curriculum in cereal science. “We are re-evaluating the entire graduate curriculum, to streamline it and identify the different core areas and how well these cores are addressed,” Dr. Manthey said. “We want to teach the most up-to-date information in these fields.”

The resident course at AIB went through big changes starting about 10 years ago, emphasizing more projects and less lecturing, according to Dr. O’Donnell. The institute renovated its principal teaching room, changing a theater-like setting into one with tables and moveable seating. Ethernet and WiFi are the latest improvements. A typical day for the residence-course student now involves four hours of classroom work and four hours of hands-on work in the institute’s commercial-scale bakery lab.

Content improvement at AIB is the assignment of Aaron Clanton, baking curriculum manager, who works closely with industry experts, client companies and AIB members. “The curriculum depends on the audience being targeted, their job roles and content,” Mr. Clanton said.

“AIB has a lot to share with the industry, sometimes too much,” Dr. O’Donnell said, “and it can be like trying to ‘drink out of a firehose’ unless we target the material.”

Mr. Clanton added, “We try to figure out what prospective attendees need to know.”

J&W completely overhauled its baking and pastry curriculum effective this year. Chef Hitz explained that the previous approach had been to offer a broad 22-day overview. “Now, it consists of 9-day concentrations,” he said. “This gives us the leeway to adapt our teaching to trends as they happen”

One of the new concentrations is health-and-wellness, and classwork addresses dietary restrictions such as the gluten-free needs of celiac sufferers. Another concentration examines natural leavening. One of the side benefits of this approach is that students built their understanding and skills during their first year, something that previously did not happen until they took second-year courses.

(A table that lists colleges, universities and schools offering bakery, milling and/or cereal science degrees is included in the digital edition of May 2010 Baking & Snack, starting on Page 60.)