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Dec. 2, 2011
KQ2 TV: Hands-On Lab Learning
Northwest Missouri State University students studying dietetics, foods and nutrition now have a modern laboratory where they can hone their skills and prepare for careers in food service.
When students in the University’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences left the campus for the summer, they left dated kitchens with orange Formica-covered countertops and tables, vinyl seats and other furnishings from a different era of cooking instruction.
This fall, students are benefitting from an upgraded facility that features lab stations outfitted with new ranges and appliances, stainless steel tables and stools. New utensils occupy the drawers and, to put a stamp on the new look, the walls are painted a deep red.
It’s a new look for a new era in the department, which is housed on the third floor of Northwest’s Administration Building.
“This is just a completely different use of this space then it was before, so that’s one of the reasons we’re calling it the foods laboratory instead of the kitchens,” said Dr. Deborah Lewis-Fravel, chair of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. “We’re working so hard to bring this aspect of our program solidly into the 21st century.”
Like other recent renovation projects completed by the University, the construction work was done in-house at a cost-savings. A work crew began the project in March and it was completed by the time students returned in August. Lewis-Fravel noted the upgrades were made with the support of the University as well as alumni donations.
The renovations included a new storage room and circulation system. Countertops, flooring and ceiling tiles were replaced, while the sinks were repurposed. The lab’s original cabinetry was maintained, but the construction crew replaced the cabinet doors. A teaching station with upgraded projection technology also was added to the room.
Previously, the classroom, which was last updated during the 1960s, was configured with five small kitchens designed to teach cooking skills to future homemakers. The new lab is designed so students can experiment with the science of food and learn basic food preparation techniques, Lewis-Fravel said.
“The idea back then was that the young women would cook meals and serve each other in preparation for being homemakers,” Lewis-Fravel said. “Today, what we’re doing in this space is training people to be professional dieticians. The cooking that’s done now is geared more to wellness and focusing on nutrient preservation: what’s the healthiest way we can cook this broccoli instead of boiling it to death? How can we retain the vitamins in this dish? How can we enhance the protein in this dish? Students also focus on food preparation techniques, food safety and sanitation, and meal planning.”
Today, the lab is used primarily for Northwest courses in food science, food service management and quantity foods. Student groups, including Northwest’s Student Dietetic Association and the American Association of Family and Consumer Science, also use the lab for activities and meetings.
“My students walk in and they’ll say to me, ‘It finally feels like we’re with the times now,’” said Karen From, director of Northwest’s didactic program in dietetics. “We’re so appreciative of (Northwest President) Dr. Jasinski down to Dr. Lewis-Fravel for really supporting the idea that all students need the right environment to thrive.”
The improvements were made as the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences is experiencing a transformation with its food and dietetics offerings. From has watched the number of students she advises more than double to 68 students in two years, which she attributes to increased interest in holistic wellness and healthy eating.
Students who successfully complete the program may go into positions where they ensure that clinically healthy nutrition practices are employed. After receiving their degrees, graduates of the program must complete a nationwide internship program and pass an exam to earn their credentials as Registered Dietitians. About 80 percent of students who complete Northwest’s program are selected to the internship program on their first try, which exceeds the national acceptance average.
“Anyone who works in dietetics and nutrition has to understand the science of food, how to keep the nutrient value of foods while you’re cooking, how to teach your clients, how to plan a nutritious menu that’s quick and convenient,” From said. “If they don’t know those skills, they can’t teach them to others or counsel others on how to put it together.”
For students who are committed to learning the dietetics field, Northwest educators say a breadth of opportunity awaits them.
“A lot of students are coming from biology or nursing because they’re seeing an end result of where they can work or they’ve found a love of nutrition,” From said.
In addition to its dietetics program, Northwest’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences offers coursework related to child and family studies; merchandising of textiles, apparel and interiors; and family and consumer sciences education. The department also operates Northwest’s Early Care and Education Lab Center.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468