Teaching the science of brewing

Man stands in barley.
Matt McCarroll, director of the Fermentation Science Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, stands in a field of barley planted on university property last fall in anticipation of a new malting facility to be delivered to the FSI this year. The malting facility is just one of several major new developments at the fledgling program, which is aimed at training the professional brewers, vintners and distillers of tomorrow for key jobs in those growing industries. (Photo by Steve Buhman)

SIU’s mission statement covers a broad range of aspirations and goals. Whenever possible, we should design our programs, courses and extracurricular offerings to fulfill multiple aspects of this complex statement.

Today, I would like to talk about a particular program that blends different facets of our mission while still being relevant to the interests of modern college students: the Fermentation Science Institute.

This institute offers students the opportunity to learn about the business, process and science of creating beer, wine and spirits as well as foods that rely on the fermentation process. Now, I know many potential students may stop reading right there. “Beer? Sign me up!” At the same time, many parents may worry about how intensive or practical a bachelor’s degree in fermentation may be.

Multidisciplinary program rigorous and innovative

I would caution both groups to stop and take a serious look at our fermentation science program. It is intensive and interdisciplinary, involving faculty from the College of Science, College of Agricultural Sciences, School of Medicine and the College of Engineering.

Faculty and students in the program not only learn the ins and outs of creating delicious brews and managing a business, but they also actively participate in both hands-on practical and theoretical research.

Growing industry offers a range of job prospects

Jobs in this field are growing as interest in local and craft beer, wine and spirits has increased.

In January, The Atlantic explored the ways craft breweries have revamped an entire sector of the economy. In that article, the author cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics on the explosive growth of brewery jobs: “Between 2008 and 2016, the number of brewery establishments expanded by a factor of six, and the number of brewery workers grew by 120 percent.”

Career prospects for graduates are strong and expected to continue growing in the future.

Partnerships create economic boost

As I said earlier, the Fermentation Science Institute touches on multiple aspects of our mission statement, delivering on the promise of innovation in research and creativity and outstanding teaching focused on nurturing student success. In addition, it has tremendous potential to serve as a regional economic catalyst.

We recently announced that the institute hopes to add a production-scale brewery, which will help local craft brewers bring their creations to market while providing hands-on educational opportunities for students.

In addition, the service lab allows local fermentation-based businesses to access laboratory and analytical services from SIU and technical assistance for growers and producers.

This is just one of the many programs that will help SIU thrive as the economy grows and changes in the 21st Century. I hope you are as excited as I am to see what they have in store.

Author: Carlo Montemagno

Carlo Montemagno is chancellor of Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Learn more about him at chancellor.siu.edu.