September 25, 2012

Record numbers flock to UMaine's food science program

The only other majors at the university that are gaining enrollment are chemical engineering and zoology.

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Brianna Hughes, Katie Crosby
click image to enlarge

UMaine graduate student Brianna Hughes, left, and undergraduate student Katie Crosby use chemical techniques to extract collagen from abalone tissue. At a time when enrollment at UMaine is down overall, a record number of students are enrolling in the university's Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.

Mike York / Staff Photographer

 Katie Crosby
click image to enlarge

UMaine undergraduate student Katie Crosby uses chemical techniques to extract collagen from abalone tissue. At a time when enrollment at UMaine is down overall, a record number of students are enrolling in the university's Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.

Mike York / Staff Photographer

MILLENNIALS CONSUMED WITH DIET, HEALTH

The increase in college-level students choosing food science and/or nutrition as a career path is fueled by the Millennial Generation, the 20- to 35-year-olds who now dominate college campuses and have a greater awareness of and appreciation for food- and health-related issues.

According to "The Generational Consumer Trend Report," issued earlier this year by the food industry market research firm Technomic, "more Millennials say it is important to eat healthfully" than Generation Xers or baby boomers.

"They want things that are fresh and natural," said Sara Monnette, director of consumer research for Chicago-based Technomic. "Personal health and wellness is really big (among Millennials), but it's also about the childhood obesity epidemic."

Students in Maine share those concerns.

"A lot of students want to be proactive in promoting health rather than treating disease," Camire said. "A lot of people go into food science because they want to make tasty, healthy food that's not laden with fat, salt and sugar."

Wilkinson agrees.

"I've always focused on trying to be healthy," she said. "And with the population getting so much more obese and the population getting older, there's so much need for nutritional guidance. I was also attracted to how many jobs there would be."

Rodney Bushway, chairman of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, agreed that the job market is ripe for students who graduate from the department's programs.

"It's a hot topic right now, and it's generating a lot of interest," said Bushway, who has taught in the department for 34 years and chaired it for 14.

Students who graduate with food science degrees typically go on to work for food companies or government agencies in food safety and product development.

Those who graduate with nutrition degrees often pursue certification as registered dieticians, which requires an internship and a national exam, or enroll in graduate programs in the medical, nursing or allied health fields.

According to a salary survey by the Institute of Food Technologists in 2011, respondents age 20 to 29 had a mean annual salary of $55,000, and the national average salary for food scientists with bachelor's degrees was $87,000.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that the median starting salary for registered dietitians was $24 per hour in 2011.

Wilkinson said she's not surprised that the department's enrollment has reached record levels because people in her generation tend to be aware of the links between diet and health.

Such awareness means these Maine students could someday help reverse a host of skyrocketing and expensive health issues, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

"We've got to figure out how to get people to eat right," Bushway said. "Nowadays, with all the knowledge in the food science areas, it should help people eat healthier. That could reduce medical costs."

 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

akamila@pressherald.com

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

 

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