Food science students survey industry, alumni

Overall, UBC is doing an outstanding job preparing food scientists. However, more hands-on, industry-related experience would greatly enhance the majors, according to a recent study conducted by the Faculty of Land and Food Systems (LFS).

Led by Food Science Prof. Chris Scaman, the study evaluated the effectiveness of two majors for a fast-changing industry. Between 2000 and 2010, LFS’ food science and food and nutritional science programs graduated 194 and 79 students respectively.

Scaman and co-investigator Prof. Eunice Li-Chan engaged food science students Keely Johnston, Florence Yip and Chelsea Leung to carry out the study.

“We thought it would be a great way to enhance their academic experience through primary research, while
gaining a fresh student perspective,” says Scaman.

The student researchers designed and implemented surveys, conducted interviews and analyzed data. They presented a preliminary poster during last year’s Celebrate Learning Week and their final results at the international Institute of Food Technologists conference in New Orleans this June.

“New Orleans was a definite highlight for us,” says Leung, who graduated from UBC this May. “It was really exciting to represent UBC at the largest food science and technology event in the world.”

The student researchers were able to connect with a little less than half of the alumni through electronic surveys. Study respondents reported feeling well prepared for employment and overall satisfaction with their UBC education.
As well, they reported feeling confident about core competencies such as food safety, lab techniques and food microbiology.

Most of the alumni work in jobs dealing with food commodities such as fruit and vegetables, meat, soy, beverages, confectionary and seafood. The majority say they are pursuing life-long education to continually upgrade and update their technical skills.

In phone or face-to-face interviews with employers, the students repeatedly heard that food safety will be a key focus for the food industry over the next five to 10 years. Employers reported 100 per cent satisfaction with the performance of LFS alumni, agreeing that they excel in categories such as technical background, problem solving and knowledge.

The data reflects surveys with 33 employers from four sectors: 75 per cent in manufacturing; 13 per cent from distribution; nine per cent in the service industry; and three per cent from government.

Food Science Prof. Chris Scaman says the study—supported by UBC’s Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund—will spur the faculty to find more ways to provide program specialization and experiential learning.

“We’re also looking at increasing industry involvement through an advisory board,” says Scaman, who collaborated on the study with Food Science Prof. Eunice Li -Chan.