Kansas State University's Frontier program equips students to meet food system challenges
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Participants of a 2015 Frontier program trip to the Food and Drug Administration in Silver Springs, Maryland.| Download this photo.
MANHATTAN — From understanding the intricacies of global trade policy to fighting antimicrobial resistance, maintaining the safety, security, and ongoing operation of the global food system is a daunting challenge. The Frontier program at Kansas State University works to ensure that students are prepared to keep the system up and running.
"Frontier co-director Jason Ackleson and I are keen to play our part in preparing students to work in the complex and overlapping spaces in the global food system — from regulatory agencies to private food companies to public-private partnerships in trade," said Justin Kastner, co-director of the Frontier program and associate professor of food safety and security.
As indicated by the theme, "Moving forward with multidisciplinary scholarship," Kastner hopes this year's March 30-April 3 trip to Washington, D.C., and Virginia helps students draw from many different viewpoints to solve complex and varied problems such as fostering cross-border cooperation in the trade of agricultural and food products, feeding 9 billion people by 2050, and maintaining a safe and secure food supply in an era of global terrorism.
The trip will be the 31st for the Frontier program since its founding in 2004. Previous trips have taken more than 300 students to ports of entry at New Orleans, Boston, Los Angeles, Long Beach, California, and Santa Teresa, New Mexico; food processing and distribution facilities in the Kansas City area; governmental and non-governmental policymaking and policy analysis groups in Washington, D.C.; and more.
Frontier field trip participants, who include students from Kansas State University and other universities, receive an introduction to the history of border security, food security and trade policy, but they also experience environments that highlight the complexity of global issues. They see cattle brought across the border to New Mexico and trucked to multiple states in the U.S., for instance, or watch the inspection process for ships entering a U.S. port. They hear about health and safety regulations or trade negotiations directly from people who work for the Food and Drug Administration, the Congressional Research Service, and nonprofit advocacy groups and think tanks.
Danny Unruh, doctoral student in food science and industry, Merriam, went on the trip twice as an undergraduate and now helps administer the program by serving as a mentor to students new to the Frontier experience. The trips broadened his understanding of the global food system and his future role in protecting it.
"The trips are to places not many students would normally get to see," said Unruh, a student at K-State Olathe. "Even though someone might be an economics or food safety person, the trips expose us to how multidisciplinary the system can be. We learn about food safety issues and tenets of agreements and issues related to trade and the movement of food in our nation and across the globe."
Gaining such knowledge opens students' eyes to the existence of many career paths. Unruh, for instance, had an internship at a food processing facility as he was working on his undergraduate degree in food science and wasn't sure it was the right fit for him.
“Frontier helped me find all the other things that I could do with my degree — all these other problems that I could help solve," Unruh said. "The trip helped me see I could carve my own path."
Frontier alumni serve as program resources. This year, Megan Kulas, who works in a government regulatory agency, will visit with students about career opportunities in government. She wants to pass on to this year's group the knowledge she gained on her own Frontier trips as a Kansas State University student.
"Through experiential learning facilitated by the Frontier program, I gained an appreciation for the historical, current and potential future complexities of the food industry," Kulas said. "The scholarly skill building workshops assisted me throughout my academic career and prepared me for the workforce."
In addition to Kulas' talk, this year's trip will include meetings with staff from the Agriculture and Food Section of the Congressional Research Service, visits to the U.S. Capitol and the U.S. Supreme Court, a discussion of antimicrobial resistance, a panel discussion and lecture at the College of William & Mary, a skill-development workshop on public-private trade partnerships, a tour of historic Jamestown with a discussion of recent archeological discoveries there, and a briefing on current concerns about the Zika virus and how the problem is illuminated by outbreaks of malaria during the 1781 Battle of Yorktown.
This trip was designed and primarily funded by a state of Kansas Global Food Systems award to the Frontierprogram. Other funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security career development grants program; the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture Coordinated Agricultural Project grant "Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) in the Beef Chain: Assessing and Mitigating the Risk by Translational Science, Education and Outreach"; the College of Veterinary Medicine and the diagnostic medicine and pathobiology department; the University Honors Program; and the Dr. Ed and Chris Null Family Cultural Enrichment Fund.
Along with Unruh, the following Kansas State University students will participate in the Frontier trip:
Sarah Boline, master's student in public health, Allen; Darja Meskin, junior in philosophy, Bucklin; Shelby Stair, sophomore in animal sciences and industry, Chanute; Joshilyn Binkley, sophomore in sociology, Circleville; Zachary Plymesser, junior in mechanical engineering, Fredonia; Matthew Krug, master's student in food science, Great Bend.
From Greater Kansas City: Elizabeth Weesner, sophomore in food science and industry, Leawood; Lindsay Beardall, master's student in food science, Olivia Haney, junior in chemistry, Andrew Konecny, senior in biochemistry, and Rebecca Sease, master's student in biomedical science, all from Lenexa; David Nelson, sophomore in chemical engineering, and Christine Rock, junior in food science and industry, both from Olathe; Corinne Stratton, junior in political science, and Emmy Wilson, senior in history, both from Overland Park; and Maridee Weber, freshman in geology, Shawnee.
Johanna Diaz, third-year veterinary medicine student, and Drew Kohlmeier, senior in biology, both from Manhattan; Chloe Creager, sophomore in animal sciences and industry, Olpe; Sarah Jones, senior in food science and industry, Riverton; Sam Hughes, sophomore in political science, Sabetha.
From Topeka: Sarah Bures, sophomore in business administration, Topeka; Victoria Cox, senior in microbiology; and Rachael Henderson, master's student in food science.
Michelle Mazur, doctoral student in pathobiology, and Nick Sevart, doctoral student in food science, both from Wichita.
From out of state: Jacob Jenott, master's student in food science, Eagle, Idaho; and Elizabeth Stone, nondegree graduate in food science and industry, Kearney, Missouri.
Frontier program faculty and staff members include Kastner; Ackelson, an adjunct faculty member in diagnostic medicine and pathobiology; Abbey Nutsch, assistant professor of animal sciences and industry; Sara Gragg, assistant professor of animal sciences and industry; and Steve Toburen, field trip coordinator and web/database developer for the diagnostic medicine and pathobiology department. Other K-State faculty and staff providing programmatic support during the upcoming trip include Daralyn Gordon Arata, pre-law adviser; and Cecilia Wuertz, administrative assistant, Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies.