SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A successful infrastructure upgrade to the Department of Grain Science and Industry at Kansas State University will be critical to energizing the milling science program and training a new generation of milling leaders,” Kerry Wefald told the North American Millers’ Association.
Ms. Wefald, senior director of development at the KSU Foundation in Manhattan, Kansas, spoke Sept. 30 during a general session at the NAMA Annual Meeting at the Royal Palms Resort and Spa in Scottsdale.
Aided by appropriations from the Kansas Legislature, KSU is working to finalize plans to update its facilities through the agricultural school, she said. The Legislature has already committed $25 million to the plan and has pledged an additional $25 million as a 1-3 match if the university is able to raise $75 million. Over the past few months, pledges of $41 million have been secured against the target of $75 million.
Sharing a 2019 assessment of the College of Agriculture facilities by an external consultant, Ms Wefald said none of the buildings scored above a D, and that the Animal Feed Technology Building and the Shellenberger Hall had both received failing grades. Almost all of the buildings are over 50 years old and have suffered from deferred maintenance for decades.
“We are a global cereal science program in a completely unacceptable situation,” Ms. Wefald said.
Speaking of students in the milling program and studies at Shellenberger Hall, she added: “It is very difficult to recruit young people today in outdated, unattractive and uninspiring facilities for learning.
In addition to the challenges posed by aging infrastructure, Wefald said the state of Kansas has seen a decline in student numbers in recent years.
“There’s no easy answer to that,” she said. “In Kansas, we have fewer students moving from high school to college. We have fewer men going to college. It is therefore a larger and more complex problem that we are trying to solve.
Enrollment saw a slight increase in the 2022-23 school year, but remains down more than 4,000 students from the peak and hovering just below 20,000.
Among the reasons for optimism, Ms Wefald mentioned the university’s new president, Richard Linton, who took up his current post in February.
“President Linton appreciates the value of food and agriculture to the state in terms of economic prosperity,” she said. “He knows that food and agriculture are important for jobs.”
Prior to joining KSU, Dr. Linton served as Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University for 10 years and prior to that served as Director of the Department of Food Science and Technology from Ohio State University. His master’s and doctorate were in food science, from Virginia Tech University.
Under the new plans, KSU will be “rebranded as the national and nationwide leader in cereal science,” Ms. Wefald said.
A master plan was created with two complexes. One, on the main campus, would be the site of a future Food and Grain Science Innovation Center. Central to this idea is breaking down the silos between food, grain and feed with an interdisciplinary approach, Ms Wefald said. The second will be an agronomy research and innovation center located in the school’s football stadium.
“It allows our agronomy people to do their research and then take the grain and turn it into practical applications, whether it’s milling or baking,” she said. “We will always preserve the farms at the north end of campus because we believe they are of great value to students and researchers.”
Under the plan, Shellenberger Hall would be deactivated and razed, Ms Wefald said. She said the cost of renovating the building was “over the top” and the vision was to build a new innovation building. Plans to replace Shellenberger Hall have been considered for several years.
“A new grain science complex will be connected to other buildings so people in food science can work with others in grain science and animal science,” Ms. Wefald said. “Visual appeal is really necessary for young people today. They want to see something sharp, welcoming and inclusive.
Ms Wefald described the initiative as an opportunity for millers and their businesses to provide funding.
“It is an investment in our future to have the science and grain industry education that will support your sector and your organization in the future,” she said.
Ms. Wefald’s presentation was supplemented a day later by that of Huly Dogan, PhD, Acting Head of the Department of Grain Science and Industry at KSU, who gave a presentation on the state of the department.
Originally from Turkey, Dr. Dogan’s training was in food engineering. She learned the science of milling when she joined the KSU faculty in 2006, where she rose from assistant professor to associate professor and full professor, before becoming acting department head in July with the departure of Gordon Smith. .
The department currently has 12 tenured or tenure-track faculty, 8 non-tenure-track instructors, and 11 staff. About 100 undergraduate students and 35-40 graduate students are enrolled in the school. The schools have a budget of $6.5 million for “general use” in addition to $5.5 million in prizes and grants, Dr. Dogan said.
Tracking research funding and productivity, Dr Dogan said peer-reviewed research publications have grown steadily in recent years, reaching 94 in 2021 from just 55 in 2017.
Enrollment in milling science and management has fallen sharply from a peak of 88 in 2017 to just 40 this year. Baking science and management also fell, but over a longer period, from 88 in 2014 to 42 in the current year. Food science and management, the department’s third major area of study, has fallen from a recent peak of 51 in 2015 to just 15 students in 2022.
Plans to reverse enrollment trends include hiring a full-time recruiter and having student mentors and ambassadors representing the Ministry of Science and Grain Industry.
Discussing plans for the new Grain Science Complex, Dr Dogan said the facility will combine offices, classrooms and laboratories, currently spread across Throckmorton Hall, Shellenberger Hall, Waters, Weber and Feed Tech.
The plan aims to provide an enhanced student experience with welcoming spaces, experiential and multidisciplinary learning and with opportunities for collaboration, teamwork and connections, she said.