A group of Kansas State University food scientists will continue their work in educating current and future leaders in homeland security and food defense, thanks to renewed funding from the Department of Homeland Security.
"This is very exciting for K-State," said Curtis Kastner, professor and director of K-State´s Food Science Institute. "This means that we will continue to bear responsibility for helping fashion the educational activities of the National Center for Food Protection and Defense."
Kastner, along with Abbey Nutsch, K-State assistant professor of food science in the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry, are co-leaders for the educational portion of NCFPD, which is based at the University of Minnesota.
NCFPD was launched as a Homeland Security Center of Excellence in July 2004. A multidisciplinary and action-oriented research consortium, NCFPD addresses the vulnerability of the nation's food system to attack through intentional contamination with biological or chemical agents. NCFPD's general research and education program (including the education theme which K-State leads) is aimed at reducing the potential for contamination at any point along the food supply chain and mitigating potentially catastrophic public health and economic effects of such attacks. The program incorporates cutting-edge research across a range of disciplines, taking a comprehensive, farm-to-table view of the food system and encompassing all aspects from primary production through transportation and food processing to retail and food service.
The recent DHS funding for NCFPD is expected to total about $20 million over the next six years; a portion of that funding will come to K-State as NCFPD´s Education Theme Leader. The renewed funding ensures that K-State will play a major educational leadership role for NCFPD, Kastner said.
"K-State´s leadership for NCFPD´s education theme involves two noteworthy projects," he said. "One major NCFPD educational initiative, which K-State leads, involves the pioneering of a graduate education program, led by Dr. Abbey Nutsch. That program is focused on food defense, and will feature online courses offered by faculty members and institutions including K-State."
The second major NCFPD educational project led by K-State is the Frontier Interdisciplinary eXperiences (or FIX) program, Kastner said. In this program, undergraduate and graduate students from K-State and New Mexico State universities receive scholarship, fellowship, internship, field-trip, and other opportunities to learn about issues related to cross-border cooperation, food safety and security, international trade, and homeland security generally and food defense particularly.
The Frontier program is a joint venture of K-State and New Mexico State University. K-State assistant professor in the Department of Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology, Justin Kastner, and NMSU´s Jason Ackleson are co-directors of the Frontier program.
"The Frontier program is designed to help students blend academic perspectives regarding border security, food security, and international trade policy," Justin Kastner said. "Students are encouraged to see the food system, international trade, and homeland security as complex policy issues."
As part of its role as the Education Theme leader for NCFPD, K-State receives funding for the FIX program to support scholarship and fellowship programs. In addition to this base funding from NCFPD, the FIX program has received other funds that go directly to student scholarships and fellowships.
"The food system is complex and international trade is complicated," Justin Kastner said. "The global food system involves a multiplicity of actors and institutions; therefore, cross-border cooperation is needed to ensure the continued flow of food across borders as well as the safety and security of exports and imports. That´s why we take the students on field trips to learn about cross-border cooperation.
Overall, NCFPD has affected more than 200 students at more than 30 universities through NCFPD research and education projects over the last five years. More specifically, the FIX program currently has more than 15 students (primarily at K-State and NMSU but also at other NCFPD-affiliated universities) involved.
"We have graduated students from the FIX program who have worked in the (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service, international organizations such as the World Trade Organization, food companies, and, most recently, national laboratories devoted to homeland security," Justin Kastner said. "We are currently evaluating applications from a number of NCFPD-affiliated students to participate in the Frontier program´s new $390,000 career development grant program."
The FIX program is committed to helping cultivate critical thinking skills and the ability to think across academic disciplines, such as social sciences as well as biological sciences; political science as well as food science, he added.
"We believe these skills will help make our graduates the kind of homeland security professionals our society needs for the future," said Nutsch, who plays an active leadership role in the FIX program.
Other members of the K-State Educational Theme team include Deanna Retzlaff, Kelly Getty and Bettie Minshall, all of whom are active in promoting K-State´s food science related distance education programs.
More information about the National Center for Food Protection and Defense is available at www.ncfpd.umn.edu. More information about the Frontier Interdisciplinary eXperiences (FIX) program is available at http://frontier.k-state.edu/.