March 09, 2017

Fermentation science degree program earns recognition

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. – A leading brewers association has given its stamp of approval to the new bachelor’s degree program in fermentation science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

The Master Brewers Association of the Americas conferred its full recognition upon the program, which came into existence about a year ago at SIU. The recognition follows a full and careful review of the program and its facilities by MBAA officials.

“We have determined that your program has much to offer and does meet the requirements outlined in our Guidelines and Learning Outcomes,” said Susan Welch, chair of the MBAA Higher Education Committee’s Review Board, in a letter to SIU. “We are pleased to award full MBAA Recognition to Southern Illinois University’s Bachelor of Science in Fermentation Science program at this time.”

Matt McCarroll, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and director of SIU’s Fermentation Science Institute, said the recognition is an important step because it signals the high quality of the program to students.

“With the significant growth in the number of breweries over the past five years there are a number of universities that are trying to incorporate brewing-related programs,” McCarroll said. “Inclusion of SIU in this inaugural recognition is not only an indication that our program is designed and supported in a way that is desired by the industry, but also provides an external validation of the program to prospective students.”

On March 1, 2016, the Illinois Board of Higher Education gave SIU the go-ahead to create a new Bachelor of Science degree in fermentation science. Students were able to declare fermentation science as their major beginning last summer semester.

The IBHE approval was the capstone of an effort that began at least three years previous to that, when university faculty and administration envisioned locating such a program at McLafferty Annex on the campus’ far west side. That facility, now finished and outfitted with scientific instrumentation, classroom technology and – naturally – brewing and fermentation equipment, is the epicenter for the highly interdisciplinary program.

Students who sign up for the new program will spend much of their first two years heavily immersed in science, chemistry and mathematics, though they also will have the opportunity to take some foundation courses that touch more directly on the art of brewing, wine-making and distilling. Faculty from several disciplines, including various agriculture and horticulture areas, microbiology, hospitality, chemistry and others, all will teach classes aimed at creating highly trained, well-rounded professionals to work in and lead the fermentation industry. 

Demand in fermentation-related industries drove the effort, McCarroll said. While fewer than 100 breweries existed nationally in the mid-1970s, that number exploded to more than 1,500 by the turn of the century, with about 95 percent of that growth occurring over a 15-year period. 

By the end of 2015 there were more than 4,000 breweries nationwide, McCarroll said, and such breweries need brewers who are highly trained in fermentation science. In addition, many breweries are establishing quality control laboratories that will be staffed by highly trained fermentation scientists. 

The market needs new brewers and advanced training for existing brewers, McCarroll said, and the new SIU fermentation science program can meet both of those needs, especially considering the strong chemistry, biochemistry and microbiology foundation students will develop in the program. 

The MBAA recognition will help students in several ways, McCarroll said.

“Fundamentally, it is an outside assurance that we are training students in a way that will enable them to succeed in their careers,” he said. “In addition, prospective employees can rely on it as something of a validation of skills and background our students will possess as they begin their professional careers, which will help open doors to our students.” 

The MBAA review process began in October and was managed by volunteer professionals from the brewing industry and academia. The recognition is valid for three years and is renewable.

As a result of the MBAA recognition, a major brewery has approached the program to explore establishing a recruiting relationship, McCarroll said.

“The MBAA requirements were very rigorous in terms of the facilities, the qualifications of the instructors and the content of the coursework, so it is a strong testament to the commitment SIU has made in developing the program,” McCarroll said.