International influence

by Melissa Alexander
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Kansas State University’s Grain Science and Industry Department is adding programs that reach out to foreign students and companies.

Already recognized as a global leader in agricultural education, the Department of Grain Science and Industry at Kansas State University (KSU), Manhattan, Kansas, U.S., is taking measures to enhance its international reputation even further.

Offering "Two Plus Two" programs to college students in China, providing more specialty courses to foreign companies through its International Grains Program (IGP) and arranging internships for its students at grain processing facilities overseas are just several of the department’s initiatives designed to expand its global reach in the grain, flour and feed industries.

"There’s a lot of international interest in coming to Kansas State in those fields," said Fred Fairchild, professor in KSU’s feed program and head of the Department of Grain Science and Industry’s new recruiting team.

In an attempt to attract more foreign students, KSU has entered an agreement with a university in China to offer a Two Plus Two program to Chinese students. The program allows a student to take two years of preparatory classes at the Chinese university and come to KSU for industry-specific training for two years. This allows the student, who gets a degree from both universities, to only pay two years of expensive out-of-state tuition at KSU.

"We’ve also approached several big U.S. grain companies that are working in China with the idea that if they sponsor Chinese students with scholarships at Kansas State, the students will then work as interns for that company in the United States," said Virgil Smail, head of KSU’s grain science department. "When they’re done, they’ll go back to China and work for that company over there."

Smail said officials are also trying to develop Two Plus Two programs with several universities in India and hopes to eventually extend the programs into South America and the Middle East.

"We’re slowly looking at opening up a Two Plus Two program in a place like Dubai or Egypt," he said.

Smail said many people would be surprised at the amount of "economic energy" that exists in the Middle East.

"We sent a Kansas State milling student to Dubai to work for Al Ghurair Foods, and it was an incredible experience for him," Smail said. "Go to areas outside of Iraq and Afghanistan and you’ll find a huge amount of modernization and growth going on."

KSU is also trying to develop Two Plus Two programs with a number of junior colleges in the U.S., Smail said.

An effort is also being made to broaden the reach of the department’s International Grains Program (IGP), which for nearly 30 years has served the global grain industry by providing technical assistance in promoting U.S. cereal grains and oilseeds and assisting in market-development efforts.

"IGP is the primary extension outlet for the grain science department internationally," Smail said.

A new era for IGP began in April 2004, when it opened its new U.S.$4 million, 20,000-square-foot facility in KSU’s grain science complex. The complex also includes a biological value-added processing facility and will eventually be the location of a new flour mill, feed mill and a teaching and research building that will house the baking science and management program.

During the past 20 months, more than 400 representatives from more than 40 nations have attended short courses and educational training sessions at the new IGP building, which includes a graingrading laboratory, conference room, tiered auditorium-style classroom and other rooms designed to serve the needs of IGP participants.

The classroom holds up to 60 people and includes U.S.$300,000 worth of audio-visual equipment, with translations available in six languages.

"The people who come here go back and tell their colleagues about it," IGP Director John Howard said of the new building. "It’s the best recruiting tool we have."

Many of the courses taught at IGP are requested by its partners: the American Soybean Association, U.S. Grains Council, U.S. Wheat Associates and the U.S. Department’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

Although grain purchasing, flour milling, risk management and feed manufacturing courses remain the primary focus at IGP, programs featuring narrower topics that are specially designed for specific companies are becoming more popular, said Howard.

Wheat blending short courses, for instance, have become very popular with millers from Central and South America, he said, noting that millers from that part of the world are often blending imported U.S. wheat with wheat from their continent.

While the majority of clients come to Manhattan for training, IGP is starting to take its programs to its customers overseas.

"We did a special training program several years ago for a private company down in Venezuela," Howard noted. "We went to their facility and put on a program. I see us going in that direction, doing special programs for particular companies here and at their location."

When Smail took over as head of the grain science department last fall, after a successful 10-year stint as president and chief executive officer of the American Institute of Baking, he inherited a department that had been devastated by funding cutbacks. Fulltime faculty in the department had shrunk from 20 to 10 over a five-year period, the number of graduate students had fallen from 70 to 25, and there were less than 150 graduate students, about 50 fewer than in 1998.

Things had gotten so bad that there was even speculation that the board of regents, because of the reduction in students, would strip the grain science department of its independence and fold it into the food science department.

But with enrollment figures starting to climb — there are 10 more graduate students and nearly 20 more undergraduate students than a year ago — and an improving state economy, talk about such a move is diminishing, Smail said.

"The university is giving us three or four years to turn it around and we are starting to do that," Smail said.

One of the first things Smail realized when he took over as head of the grain science department is that the image being projected to prospective students needed to change.

"When you’re talking about these commodity-based industries such as baking, milling and feed, they come across to the modern young student as being pretty dry and pretty conservative type of careers compared to some others," he said. "What we’re trying to do is modernize our image to students so they realize we can offer a very exciting, well-paying, lucrative, stable career that involves working in a hightech and clean environment."

To do a better job of attracting students, the grain science department has:

redesigned its web site and recruiting materials to give them a more modern and bright look;
assembled a recruiting team that includes several professors and department staff members;
increased scholarship money through new programs such as Friends for Grain and Grains for Brains; and
continued to emphasize that graduates are in high demand and receive better starting wages than many of their fellow KSU graduates.

The Grains for Brains program will offer scholarships to members of a participating company’s local community, Smail said. How it works is a company will provide scholarship money to a local student who will return to work for that company upon graduating from KSU.

Adding to the department’s new, more aggressive image will be the Hal Ross Flour Mill, currently under construction and expected to be completed in August 2006. The new mill will give students an opportunity to receive hands-on training on cutting-edge milling equipment, which has been donated by a number of companies that serve the industry.

One of those companies, Buhler Inc., has donated U.S.$1.2 million of equipment and will train its customers at the facility during a two-month period each year, Smail said. Buhler has also donated U.S.$100,000 to help fund an industrial milling teaching position, which was recently filled by KSU faculty member Kendall McFall.

Once the mill is operational, the department plans to offer a 10-week IGP flour milling training course that will focus on areas such as milling fundamentals, food safety and management. Smail said KSU is currently talking with the International Association of Operative Millers (IAOM) about offering its milling certification program as part of the course.

"We want to tie it in with the IAOM program and integrate all the training at once," Smail said. "It would work well for international students to have it during one 10-week period because they can’t afford to fly in and out of here one or two weeks at a time."

Next on the construction agenda is getting a new feed mill built. The fundraising effort is in full swing, Smail said, and officials are aggressively pursuing all possible sources of funding.

"We feel that because we’re the only grain science department in the United States that serves the entire grain industry, whether it is grain storage, cultivation, milling, marketing or baking, that we should be viewed as a national resource," he said. "So we are approaching our state legislative group in Washington, D.C. to see if they can get us some federal money to support this program."