Dual-title degree adds international flavor to Food Science graduate program

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Allison Brown really likes chocolate.

But the Food Science doctoral candidate is not content with a candy bar or piece of cake. Her interest goes beyond that -- she wants to know everything there is to know, from bean to bar. 

To gain a complete understanding of the process, her thesis research requires international study, as the world's cacao beans (the main ingredient in chocolate) are grown in tropical climates.

And that's what led her to Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"Penn State is giving me the opportunity of a lifetime -- the chance to enrich my education with global experiences," Brown said. "Penn State not only understands the importance of industry-related study, but it also recognizes the significance of global learning. There is not another program like this in the world, and I'm excited to be involved."

Food Science is the latest graduate program to partner with the college's Office of International Programs to offer the International Agriculture and Development (INTAD) dual-title degree, a unique course of study that provides students with international perspectives and expertise to strengthen their primary graduate degree.

In addition to Food Science, other graduate programs participating in INTAD include Agricultural and Extension EducationAgricultural, Environmental, and Regional EconomicsEntomologyRural SociologyPlant Pathology; and Soil Science.

"Five years ago, we were one of the first universities to give our students the opportunity to gain unique international perspectives and experiences through the INTAD program," said Melanie Miller-Foster, assistant professor of international agriculture in the Office of International Programs.

"It's been so successful and continues to grow. We're thrilled that Food Science is now an offering, especially since our Food Science program is ranked one of the best in the nation. It's a win-win for all."

Students in the INTAD program learn and develop skills through interdisciplinary core coursework and a variety of electives, all with global focus. Interaction with internationally accomplished faculty and peers complements the course of instruction. Unlike a minor, the dual-degree program is more organized and substantive.

"I tell prospective students that having the dual-title degree shows not only international agriculture and development knowledge, but also that they went the extra mile to earn a credential in addition to their degree. The program gives students a unique opportunity to interact with other students and faculty from other disciplines, which enhances their education even more," Miller-Foster said.

The experience culminates with the completion of a thesis with an international focus. Some students opt to conduct their research on-site, meaning they travel to another country, while others choose to collect secondary data of an international origin without traveling.

Either way, the program enhances graduates' global experience and propels them to the top of recruiters' lists. INTAD alumni enjoy professional careers with international organizations, universities and research institutes, and international corporations.

Brown's research will take her to Honduras and Mexico this fall, where she will interview cacao growers, study cacao varieties and learn farming and post-harvest techniques such as fermentation and drying.

She plans to use sensory science and analytical chemistry to isolate which combination of chemicals in each cultivar is responsible for flavor and which flavors are preferred by consumers.

This information, in turn, can help farmers and chocolate producers make decisions about the plants they grow and products they manufacture.

Brown's adviser, Helene Hopfer, assistant professor of food science, is excited about the opportunities students such as Brown now have through INTAD.

"Having cross-cultural experiences will be an enormous advantage for Allison and will give her a unique experience as a researcher," she said. "Her research will be beneficial for consumers and will help farmers in developing countries come up with ways to improve their crops and livelihoods. Food Science is a great addition to the INTAD program."

Robert Roberts, professor and head of the Department of Food Science, agreed.

"We are excited about the opportunities participation in the INTAD program will offer our students," he said. "There is no question that issues surrounding food are important to all peoples of the world. Being able to formally provide graduates with a more global perspective is good for them, the U.S. and the world."

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Last Updated April 19, 2017