A new Ph.D. program being developed at New Mexico State University will give students the opportunity to earn a doctoral degree in food science and human nutrition, and will benefit New Mexico-based food processors and human nutrition organizations through innovative research.
The program will be the first of its kind in New Mexico and one of a few in the United States that combine food science and human nutrition into a single Ph.D. program, said Efren Delgado, assistant professor in the Family and Consumer Sciences Department in NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
“Our dream with this program is to make it a leading program for food safety, innovation in research, and teaching and outreach in food science and human nutrition,” said Delgado, who has been spearheading efforts to develop the new program over the past year.
“It will be a strong program with an emphasis on innovative research that will contribute to the economic and social development in the region,” Delgado added. “Our research within the program will directly impact the citizens of New Mexico through direct cooperation with food-processing companies and human nutrition organizations.”
According to Delgado, companies in the food industry expressed support for a Ph.D. program in the Southwest region that focused on food science and human nutrition.
“In our talks with private food-processing companies, there was a strong need for specialists in food science technology, as well as a need to bring people from other states to work for the companies,” he said.
Currently, Delgado said, there are only six Ph.D. programs in the nation that combine food science and human nutrition.
At NMSU, student interest in a such a doctoral program also has been increasing, Delgado said. While NMSU offers master’s programs in both fields of study, the university lacks Ph.D. programs in those areas, meaning students interested in pursuing a doctoral degree in either field took part in programs in other departments but had to be co-advised by the Family and Consumer Sciences Department, or they left NMSU for other universities.
“This program will increase our number of graduate students in the Family and Consumer Sciences Department,” he said.
This fall, the program will go to the university for approval, then it will go to the New Mexico Higher Education Department for final approval, Delgado said. While the approval process can vary in length, Delgado remains optimistic that the program’s first cohort of students could begin their coursework as soon as the fall 2019 semester.
Delgado anticipates that the program will take about three years to complete.
As part of the program, students will work directly with NMSU’s Cooperative Extension Service, the research-based outreach arm of the College of ACES that has a presence in all 33 counties in New Mexico, and take classes taught by Extension agents.
“These classes will allow students to go out into the communities, to the producers, and see what their needs are,” Delgado said. “We want the students to see that their research can help others.”
Delgado also sees additional benefits in having the program based along the U.S.-Mexico border, considering the newly revamped trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
“This will likely intensify the import of food products from Mexico, and the Ph.D. program will support the trade,” he said.
The program also will benefit from three proposed projects by the College of ACES that will be funded through general obligation bonds totaling $25 million, Delgado said.
If approved by voters in November, the funds will be used to construct three new facilities at NMSU’s Las Cruces campus: food science security and safety facility, animal nutrition and feed manufacturing facility and biomedical research center.
The new facilities, Delgado said, will offer a state-of-the-art working and research environment for the new Ph.D. program. For detailed information about the Family and Consumer Sciences Department, visit the FCS website.
Author: Carlos Andres Lopez – NMSU