Revering the past with an eye on the future

by Arvin Donley
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Two years into his tenure as head of the Department of Grain Science & Industry at Kansas State University (KSU), Dr. Dirk Maier has begun to truly appreciate the department’s tradition of excellence and the significant role it has played over the last 100 years in supporting the international grain, milling, feed and baking industries.

"It becomes a little bit overwhelming when you really think about it," Maier said. "You think about the unbelievably fantastic individuals who have gone before us such as former department heads like Dr. Shellenberger and Dr. Swanson, and the faculty who have been giants in their field. We are here today basically building on the foundation that they built. So often we forget about that. That’s one of the things that we’re really trying to do with our faculty, staff and students — instill more understanding and appreciation of our history and what’s gone before."

It’s with a reverence for the past — and an eye on the future — that the Department of Grain Science & Industry is celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2010. The Centennial Celebration includes several special events throughout the year, including a seminar series in which experts from the grain, feed, milling and baking industries have been invited to the KSU campus to deliver lectures.

The biggest event associated with the Centennial Celebration is scheduled for Oct. 1 and 2, as students, alumni, administration officials and industry representatives will be invited to Manhattan to participate in festivities commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the department. The weekend kicks off with a scholarship golf tournament on Friday, Oct. 1. A full day of activities are scheduled on Saturday, including an open house where tours will be given of the facilities in the Grain Science and Industry Complex, an afternoon science forum in which faculty will give presentations on the stateof-the-art research being conducted at KSU, and a reception and banquet in the evening.

Maier said the department is also tentatively planning a groundbreaking ceremony for the new O.H. Kruse Feed Mill and Biorefinery that weekend.

The Centennial Celebration is also being used as a public relations tool to aid in student recruiting and to educate the industry and general public about the important role the department plays in supporting the industry.

"We also have the Centennial Celebration Initiative, which is a fundraising campaign that is primarily focused on people," Maier said. "We are trying to increase scholarship support and obtain some money to improve our learning environment for our student classrooms, and also to raise additional funding for endowed faculty positions."


Although the department opened in 1910, its roots can be traced back to 1905, when J.T. Willard, head of the Department of Chemistry, installed an experimental mill to begin evaluating the milling quality of new strains of hard winter wheat that were being developed.

Five years later, the Department of Milling Industry opened its doors, thanks to more than $2,000 in funding from millers in the region and the Kansas City Board of Trade.

A landmark moment for the department occurred in 1913, when a large experimental mill with a milling capacity of approximately 145 cwts per 24 hours, was installed in Agriculture Hall, which was later known as East Waters Hall.

Ten years later, Dr. C.O. Swanson was named department head, and during his tenure (1922-37) the department became recognized throughout the nation as a leader in wheat and milling research. In 1937, a basic four-year course for students in the milling industry was developed and the old major in flour mill engineering was dropped. Courses were added until students were permitted to specialize in milling administration, technology or chemistry.

The John Shellenberger era began in 1945, and a number of important events occurred during his 21-year tenure as department head. They included: an $80,000 modernization of the laboratories and pilot flour mill in 1948; adding the feed technology curriculum in 1951; dedicating the new $330,000 Feed Technology building in 1955; and the addition of the bakery science curriculum in 1963.

Also, after a fire in 1957 destroyed East Waters Hall, which housed the flour mill and department offices, Shellenberger worked with political and industry leaders to get a new $1-million Milling Technology Building constructed in 1961. The building was later renamed Shellenberger Hall.

Without question, one of the most important milestone’s in department history took place in 1978, when the International Grains Program (IGP) was established to provide support for the marketing of U.S. grains. The program, which strengthened the department’s position globally, provides short courses and seminars on U.S. grains for international grain buyers and processors, as well as providing assistance to other countries with milling, feed, grain or baking problems.

In recent years, the focus of the department has been on creating a new Grain Science & Industry Complex to provide state-of-the-art facilities for its grain, milling, feed and baking students and faculty.

The idea for the complex was conceived in the mid-1990s, and during the next 10 years three new buildings — the IGP Conference Center and the Bioprocessing and Industrial Value Added Programs Building in 2004 and the Hal Ross Flour Mill in 2006 — were completed. Officials plan to break ground on the new O.H. Kruse Feed Mill and Biorefinery in the fall, and the department is hoping to eventually add a fifth building that would house classrooms, research laboratories, offices and a pilot bakery for the Baking Science Program.


In many ways, Maier has the same basic goals and priorities as his predecessors: recruit top students and faculty, make sure they have the best facilities to learn and work in, and provide a comprehensive curriculum that will have students well trained for their chosen profession. But the severe economic recession that has gripped the world during the past several years has made achieving those goals more difficult. Public funding is scarcer than ever with federal and state governments drowning in debt. As a result, universities are looking for alternative sources of revenue to maintain and hopefully improve their educational programs.

For the Department of Grain Science and Industry, a unique revenue source has come from the distance-learning courses that it now offers. Maier brought the concept with him in 2008 from Purdue, where he had helped pioneer the distance-learning program for the grain industry. He said the department has hired a full-time distance education program coordinator, a position that is entirely self-funded from revenues generated from the KSU/GEAPS (Grain Elevator and Processing Society) Distance Education Program. The feed and flour milling industries are also looking to get involved.

"We have signed a partnership with AFIA (American Feed Industry Association) to deliver a parallel program to the feed industry via distance learning; the first program will launch in May," Maier said. "We’ve been talking with IAOM (International Association of Operative Millers) about establishing an electronic platform for its correspondence course."

In addition to providing continuing education for the various industries, Maier believes the distance-learning program can be a recruiting tool for students by allowing them to complete some of the department’s core courses by distance.

He said Grain Science 101 will be the first departmental course offered in the distance-learning format. It will be available online this fall.

He also believes the distance education program will help the department increase its global reach.

"We have a number of agreements with institutions, what we call ‘2 plus 2,’ where you complete the first two years at an institution in China, India, Latin America or wherever and then come to K-State to finish your final two years and get your bachelor’s of science degree," Maier said. "We have got to make it easier for international students to take some courses via distance before they get here. This has huge potential in my mind."

Currently there are about 180 students in the milling science, feed science and baking science programs. Maier would like to see that number reach 220 to 230 students, which he believes is the ideal number in terms of industry demand and what the department can support.

Of the 180 students in the department, 121 are receiving scholarships, totaling $175,000, Maier said. "Close to twothirds of our students receive scholarship support as the result of financial need and academic performance," he said. "That’s an amazing number."

Maier said that in addition to offering their continued financial support, the industry is starting to take a more active role in recruiting out-of-state students to KSU from high schools and junior colleges. He noted that one milling company has started a program in which anybody living in the counties where its mills are located can apply to receive an academic scholarship for the milling science program at KSU. The company will then nominate a candidate to the department’s scholarship committee for approval.

"We expect the first person to be qualified hopefully by this fall," Maier said. "It’s a tremendous commitment by this particular company. We’re using it as a generic template for how this type of program can be implemented."

Because state funding is going to be limited for the foreseeable future, Maier said any sustainable growth that the department makes in regard to students, faculty, facilities and programs will be due to industry contributions. He’s confident that the grain, milling, feed and baking companies that have supported the department’s mission in the past will continue to do so. "We are where we are, to a large extent, because of the very, very strong industry relationships that we have always had as a department," he said. "Our industry partnerships have been instrumental in our history and are an essential key to our successful future."