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Lakeland University has partnered with some of Wisconsin’s biggest food manufacturers and is poised to launch the nation’s first bachelor’s degree focused on the safe production of food.

Lakeland has submitted a bachelor’s degree in food safety and quality for approval to its accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). LU can offer currently existing courses in the program this fall, but must await HLC approval before launching the full program and new courses.

Lakeland’s food safety and quality program blends the science of biology and chemistry with best business practices to prepare students for careers in food processing. Graduates will be well-rounded manufacturing professionals equipped to advance in the production of food, while also possessing finance, management philosophy and other skills needed to lead people to their potential.

Lakeland has enlisted several corporate food partners in development of the program, including Johnsonville, Sargento, Masters Gallery Foods, Old Wisconsin, Usinger’s, Klement’s Sausage and Miesfeld’s.

“As we talked more with food industry employers, it became clear there was a need for this degree,” said Brian Frink, dean of Lakeland’s School of Science, Technology & Education. “Employers often struggle to find people interested in going into this industry, and many people don’t understand these jobs exist.

“We’ve worked with these employers to create a program that will lead to rewarding, good-paying careers doing important work in a large, growing industry.”

Unlike a food science degree, which prepares students for food research and development, Lakeland’s food safety and quality program focuses on the safe production of food. Students in the program will learn from food industry leaders by working and earning credit both in Lakeland’s classrooms and at local employers.

For food industry employers, the program provides a new pipeline for employees in a critically important part of their process.

For people already working in the food industry, the degree offers an opportunity to explore new roles or a new career path. Lakeland will work with experienced food service employees and their employers to design their own coursework that will allow them to earn academic credit for projects happening at their workplace.

Courses can be taken via Lakeland’s BlendEd and BlendEd Live formats, providing flexibility for students who have full-time jobs.

“Producing safe and wholesome products is mission critical for any food manufacturer,” said Kevin Ladwig, vice president at Johnsonville Sausage. “With targeted classroom studies, combined with hands-on experience, students will be well prepared to find challenging and rewarding careers in the food industry.”

Frink said the degree is ideal for employers seeking professional development opportunities for their employees.

“We will work directly with our partners and their employees to tailor some coursework to projects happening on the job,” Frink said.

The program is open to those new to the industry and to high school graduates who may not be familiar with this career path.

For students planning to enroll full time at Lakeland’s main campus in Sheboygan County, Lakeland’s Cooperative Education Program will provide 12-18 months of full-time work experience at food producers, academic credit for their work and a combination of scholarships and wages that will significantly reduce or eliminate post-graduation debt.

Late last year, Lakeland received a $500,000 gift from Johnsonville to fund the food safety and quality program.

“We are so thankful to Johnsonville for being a corporate partner in this program and making this generous investment in our shared vision,” said Lakeland President David Black. “Johnsonville’s investment is an example of the partnership we are developing with local companies who are dedicated to developing the curriculum needed in this major to create a premier and sought-after degree in the food industry.”

The gift from Johnsonville will fund creation of a state-of-the-art, on-campus lab allowing hands-on experience that replicates the work students will find on the job.

“Johnsonville is excited to partner with Lakeland to create a unique degree in the food industry combining science, technology and business acumen to enhance food safety and production throughout the entire industry,” said Michael Stayer-Suprick, president, Johnsonville Sausage – International. “This will be a great opportunity for many in the years to come as they look for exciting and rewarding careers.”

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