Ferris prides itself on a career oriented focus, and one Ferris professor wants to make beer that focus.
Mark Thomson, professor of chemistry at Ferris, is currently preparing a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Chemistry with two tracks: one in chemical manufacturing and the other in fermentation science.
“A degree in how to make beer? That’s kind of what it is,” Thomson said, who has been making his own beer for almost twenty years. “We’ve got a growing industry. You walk around Grand Rapids, there are beer breweries popping up everywhere.”
In fact, Michigan has the nation’s fifth largest brewing industry. With 131 craft breweries, beer-making in Michigan generates over $1 billion annually.
For this reason, Thomson sees Ferris as a great fit for fermentation science.
“Ferris is about getting people job-ready skills; getting people ready to go out and make a valuable contribution to society,” Thomson said.
Central Michigan University currently offers a certificate in fermentation science, but Thomson said, “We want to do something a little bit more substantial with a full curriculum.”
Ferris currently offers an associate degree in Industrial Chemistry. Graduates of this program have traditionally been able to find jobs as lab technicians with companies such as Dow Chemical, making upwards of $40,000 a year. “It’s a pretty strong two degree,” Thomson says, “but the industry is changing. They want people with bachelor’s degrees. As things progress, the education needs to progress, too.”
With fermentation science, the job opportunities expand even further. In addition to beer, the new Industrial Chemistry program will focus on the fermentation processes in wine, cheese, and even ethanol.
“It really does all fit together,” David Frank, head of the Physical Sciences Department said. With the focus on chemistry, students will take courses in biology, business and food science, according to Frank.
“That’s what we’re looking for in our graduates,” Frank said. “Someone who can bring some chemical expertise to the fermentation process.”
Industrial Chemistry students will also be required to complete an internship. Through internal research funding, a number of students have already been working with Cranker’s Brewery, testing their beer for alcohol content, color and bitterness.
Thomson and his students have brewed beer in the labs here at Ferris as well. “If you’re going to teach people how to make beer, you have to make beer!” Thomson said. He’s also looking to offer an introductory fermentation course that would satisfy a general science requirement.
Whether it be at a winery, a beer company or in a new business, Thomson wants students to have the tools necessary to do it right. “I think that society as a whole is better off if we’ve got better beer,” Thomson said.
More on Michigan beer at http://www.mibeer.com.