sealPurdue News

February 1998

Food science programs have recipe for success

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Mix the country's largest industry with food science programs at Purdue and other universities, and the results are good jobs with tasty starting salaries.

The food science departments at Purdue and other schools across the United States are working hard to keep up with the industry demand for their graduates.

"We placed 100 percent of our May 1997 graduates with an average starting salary of $32,000," says Phil Nelson, head of the department at Purdue. "Some students had offers as high as $42,000, which is competitive with salaries in some of the more traditional scientific fields."

And Nelson says colleagues from 42 other food science programs around the country have high placement figures as well.

But placement numbers aren't the only ones going up at Purdue.

"In 1992 we had 59 students majoring in food science. This fall the freshman class numbered 37 out of a total of 140 students," Nelson says. "Of those 140 students, 33 have some form of a scholarship, and we hope to eventually be able to offer all food science majors some financial support."

The 137 percent increase makes Purdue the fastest-growing food science program in the nation. And Nelson has been fielding inquiries from food science departments around the country hoping to duplicate Purdue's success. He says one of the biggest challenges in recruiting is getting students to consider food science as a major.

"It's no secret that there is a recruiting problem nationally," Nelson says. "Food processing is the largest industry in the United States, but high school students have no idea how broad and varied the field actually is. When asked about what kinds of jobs are available, they immediately think of fast-food restaurants and grocery stores."

The reality is that food science graduates are qualified for careers in product development, research, quality assurance, sales, purchasing and production management.

Purdue has scored its recruiting success by taking some tips from the athletic department. Nelson, who is chairman of the university's athletic affairs committee, decided to model his department's recruiting effort on the Purdue Boilermaker football program.

Department of Food Science staff identify "prospects" during their junior year of high school, maintain regular contact with them until they enroll in college, and then provide administrative counseling and tutoring services once they arrive on campus.

CONTACT: Nelson, (765) 494-8256

Compiled by Kate Walker, (765) 494-2073; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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