Balunkeswar Nayak is leading an initiative to strengthen food science majors’ understanding of science and engineering by replacing lecture-centered instruction with active-learning strategies.
The University of Maine associate professor of food processing is directing a multi-university project to boost math knowledge and problem-solving skills of food science majors for careers in food processing, food engineering and food manufacturing.
Nayak says critical objectives are to improve their knowledge about safety relating to food recalls, traceability issues due to globalization, new import and export regulations, and workforce preparedness.
Food science students — the next-generation workforce in industry, regulatory and non-government agencies — “should understand the big picture of sustainability in food processing, preservation and distribution,” says Nayak.
In the United States, more than 1.5 million people work at 26,000 food companies. The food and beverage industry faces complex demands, including consumers who want healthier foods, an increasing number of food safety regulations, and concern for socioeconomic and environmental impacts of food production and manufacturing.
To meet these demands, food science majors need a solid STEM background, and the ability to craft innovative ideas and solutions.
To help make that happen, UMaine will utilize $367,341 of a $747,328 award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture–National Institute of Food and Agriculture Higher Education Challenge Program for a collaborative project that concludes in 2022.
The team includes Susan McKay, founding director of the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center), and a UMaine professor of physics and astronomy; and professors at five other land grant universities.