Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has received a $5 million pledge from a major cheese maker to establish a new professional degree program in dairy foods. The donation from Leprino Foods Co. is intended to help the school supply a management-level work force to the fast-growing industry.
“Most of these companies cannot hire enough people,” Cal Poly Dairy Department Head Bruce Golden said on a recent tour of the school’s dairy farm. “These are good, well-paying jobs.”
At the on-campus facility, students manage the 200-head dairy cow operation, process milk — most of which is sold to companies such as Leprino — make cheese, butter, eggnog and ice cream and do research and prototyping alongside industry names such as Starbucks and Pinkberry.
The Leprino donation, paid over two years, will support an endowed faculty position, cover costs to remodel the existing dairy science labs and provide start-up costs for a new master’s of professional studies in dairy foods program. The one-year program is the first of its kind in the U.S., Cal Poly said.
What makes the degree unique is that it will target people who have leadership skills — but not necessarily any knowledge of the milk businesses. Golden said that the program will recruit military veterans and people with technical backgrounds who can be trained in one year and then walk in to the dairy industry at the management level.
Cal Poly is hoping to have about 10 in the initial cohort of students to enter the program, which will launch in the fall of 2013. The program is expected to eventually have about 25 students a year.
At the on-campus dairy farm, students raise, care for and milk the school’s herd of Jersey and Holstein cows. Inside the labs and processing rooms, they run equipment to homogenize and pasteurize milk and turn it into various dairy products, including Cal Poly-branded cheese, ice cream and chocolate milk. “We try to take students and get them ready to run large-scale operations,” Golden said.
Several area artisan cheese makers lease space at the facility and give students additional opportunities to work in the business. About 80 percent of the milk produced on campus is sold to the industry, and Denver-based Leprino, with three processing plants in California, is the single largest buyer.
Leprino spokesman Ted Wietecha said his firm decided to make the donation to Cal Poly because it’s been closely tied to the school for years. Leprino — which claims to be the largest manufacturer of mozzarella and pizza cheese in the world — has about 4,000 employees and recruits heavily from Cal Poly.
Wietecha said the new degree program is intended to train management-level graduates. “This type of degree is going to help us have people to head up the production operations,” he said.
The $7 billion California dairy industry is on the upswing, he said, fueled by foreign demand for American milk products and an ever-growing domestic appetite for cheese.
Cal Poly hopes that the Leprino donation will prompt other companies to follow suit. “We’d like to leverage the first $5 million into another $5 million,” Golden said.
• Contact Marlize van Romburgh at [email protected]