Courses in fermentation science degree to begin fall of 2019

Category:  News
Thursday, April 11th, 2019 at 9:05 AM

The new fermentation science major at Edinboro will kick off in fall 2019, with a detailed course curriculum recently unveiled. 

“Fermentation science was approved over the summer, so technically it’s in the books, but we’re just starting to do major advertising now and recruiting for it,” said EU assistant professor Dr. Nathan Armatas. 

It’s currently being listed as the only bachelor’s of science in fermentation science program in the state.

The university’s advancement office is hosting a few different gatherings to promote the new major. They will start by having a party with breweries from around the Edinboro area during 2019 homecoming weekend, as well as hosting an event during the annual Highland Games. In addition, they will host the chamber of commerce in May. 

“It’s a pretty heavy, intensive chemistry program for the most part…any student leaving the fermentation science program will be a seasoned chemist, [and] they will have a bunch of specialized classes in fermentation,” said Armatas. 

In the first year, the student will be enrolled in general chemistry classes, such as “Principles of Chemistry.” This will be paired with “Chemistry in the Kitchen,” which covers food-related proteins and breakdowns. 

“The second year will be ‘Organic Chemistry,’ as well as ‘Introduction to Fermented Foods,’ so it would be a little bit more in depth about the fermentation and the stuff they learn the first year,” said Armatas.

The third year will consist of a quantitative analysis and fermentation analysis where students will be observing water quality and how to determine alcohol concentration, nutrient concentration and anything the student would need to do in the quality control lab.

In the fourth year, students, “will be doing an internship, and we will be sending them off to a brewery, winery or a pharmaceutical company,” Armatas explained. “They are going to be taking ‘Fermentation Chemistry,’ which will be the capstone course where they’re making mead, wine, beer, sauerkraut, kimchi and all that type of stuff.”

Armatas previously taught at Morrisville State College, located in central New York, which is known as a two-year agricultural school. Here, he and another colleague floated the idea of doing a fermentation program. The two of them met with a couple brewers, along with Saranac Brewery in Utica, New York. 

Armatas took the job at Edinboro University in 2015, and it was then that he mentioned the fermentation degree. A couple years after he was hired, Dr. Nathan Ritchey, then dean of Edinboro’s College of Science and Health Professions, brought the idea back into circulation.

During Dr. H. Fred Walker’s time at Edinboro, Dr. Denise L. Ohler, current dean, Armatas, and a few others pitched the idea to Walker, who liked it and approved it. This led to the beginning of fermentation science at EU. 

Students who decide to major in fermentation science will also take micro biology classes, “Biochemistry” and more. The goal is to expand their possible chemistry-related employment after graduation.

“We got off the phone with the conglomerate that makes up Victory, Six Point and Southern Tier Brewing and it was their recruiter calling to basically send us jobs and [tell us] that they’re open for internships as well,” said Armatas.  

He also mentioned that he gives a major shout-out to Lavery Brewing in Erie. Lavery is owned by Edinboro alumnus Jason Lavery, and they helped answer any questions that Armatas has had regarding the program. 

The first step in working or collaborating with breweries, according to Armatas, is to establish internships. “Experiential learning is going to be a big part of this program…we want to make sure they get the experience in doing all the grunt work and the brewing, as well.” 

In terms of competition for students, there are no other local schools that offer a similar degree. A school in Philadelphia offers an associate degree and the other major institutions are located on the west coast and in North Carolina. 

“We’re hoping to kind of establish ourselves as the primitive person in the Northeast [and] Midwest. In the next couple of years, I will be getting the master brewer certificate, so my goal is to get the credentials as well,” said Armatas. 

Also of note, the university was given a grant for the fermentation science degree. “I have the $73,000 grant from the department of agriculture to set up a yeast library, and the goal with the yeast library is essential to connect with local breweries,” said Armatas. 

The yeast library will be located on the first floor of Cooper in room 126. It will not only act as a lab for yeast and food, but it will be a place to conduct research for fermentation science. 

Smaller breweries don’t typically have labs. Edinboro wants to facilitate and offer the opportunity for smaller breweries to grow their own yeast, because it is much easier and cheaper to grow it rather than buy it. 

“Our goal is to help facilitate both trading and storing of yeasts. We’re going to store and trade yeasts between different breweries in the region, as well as offer our lab space for breweries to come in and propagate their own yeasts,” he explained. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of fermentation science is continuing to grow. “The median salary for careers in the fermentation science industry is $63,660 with an expected job growth of up to 9 percent through 2026,” states reports as of January 2019. The Edinboro University website lists the following careers as coming out of this major: brewing; distilling; fermented foods and beverages; pharmaceuticals; and viticulture.

Armatas said that this career path and industry is not a fad, stating: “We expect to see continued growth as people continue to drink more craft beers. It’s not just craft beers, [but] Kombucha and cider and all of these other things that are becoming so popular. You’re actually seeing the decrease in the amount of mass production and it’s going to much more crafty stuff.”

He continued, stating,“People enjoy quality beer and people enjoy making quality beer, and I think that it’ll certainly be a regional, and continue to be a nationwide growth in the job market.” 

Lucas Hershelman | edinboro.spectator@gmail.com

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