Today I sat down with MPS student Ashley Wybenga to get her initial impressions of the MPS program. She just completed her first quarter in the program and is working a few more hours at the Cal Poly Creamery before going home for the holidays. I caught her between customers, who were stopping by to pick up their holiday cheese gift boxes.
TWJ: Tell me about your background. Where did you grow up? What did you do?
AW: I grew up in a suburb of LA, outside of a town called Hemet. I wasn’t in an environment where agriculture was prevalent. I always had a love of animals, and when I started high school in Hemet, they had an FFA program. I knew that I wanted to join. That was the start of my love for Agriculture. At the time, my sole interest was in livestock.
TWJ: Where did you go to college? What did you study?
AW: I went to Fresno State. Because of my love for animals, I decided to pursue a degree in Animal Science. I minored in Ag Business. My freshman year, I was involved with Agriculture Ambassadors and the Dairy Club. That was the start of my interest in dairy. I started to work at the dairy at Fresno State and fell in love with the industry and the people.
As a sophomore, I had a friend who was getting her undergraduate degree at UC Davis. I helped her do her undergraduate research with dairy cattle. Being exposed to actual farmers in Tulare, California, in the middle of dairy country, that really strengthened my interest. You talk to the men and women on their farms, and they’re all so humble and kind.
TWJ: How did you become aware of the MPS program?
AW: Oddly enough, my professor at Fresno State found out about the program and suggested it to me. I’m a very goal-oriented person, and my “A” plan was to go to graduate school and study Ruminant Nutrition. My professor Judy Henson thought the the program would be a good fit considering my interests. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have known about the program.
TWJ: What excited you about the MPS program?
AW: The processing side of the industry was foreign to me. I researched the program, and from what I learned, I would develop an “A to Z” knowledge of the industry. That really excited me. I thought it would be a perfect fit. All of my background was in dairy cattle, not in what happens to the milk after it’s shipped off the farm in a tanker truck. I wanted a broader perspective, and the MPS program would provide me with that.
TWJ: Now that you’ve begun, what are your impressions?
AW: I like it. Since my knowledge coming in was more animal-based, some of the concepts were harder to visualize. But since it’s all new, it’s also very exciting. There’s a part of me that misses working with the animals. I would like to remain on this side of the industry for now, but further down in my career, if there is a way to balance the two sides and work with the farmers and animals, that would be ideal.
TWJ: What do you think about your classes and professors?
AW: The classes are good. The science-based classes are similar and build upon what I learned as an undergrad. The hardest was Dairy Foods Processing and Manufacturing, Dr. Zheng’s class. We learned about the mechanics and engineering behind the machinery in the plant. I don’t have a background in that. At first, it was frustrating to me. But I’ve come to understand it, and it’s beginning to make sense. That gives me some comfort. In the beginning, I thought it would be the course that breaks me. But I now that I have the basics, I m not so worried.
TWJ: What is your favorite class?
AW: Dairy Microbiology is my favorite. Pat (Dr. Fidiopiastis) teaches the course in a way that helps us actually apply the material to the industry. It’s like, “this is what we do, and this is why we do it, and this is how we apply it.” That approach made it better and easier to understand.
TWJ: How challenging are the classes? How much do you study?
AW: With the processing course, I studied a bit more, so I could understand the content. With chemistry and microbiology, I had a background and understood the material better, so I didn’t have to put as much time in. Overall, it depends, because it changes every week. And we already spend plenty of time in classes and labs and on field trips. And then we have reports, where I’ll do days of research. On top of all of those things, I probably study around five hours per week.
TWJ: Did you enjoy the fieldtrips?
AW: I did enjoy them. It was very interesting to see the scale of the industry. Even at the smaller plants, I could see in practice what what we were learning in our processing class. I ‘m such a visual learner. I have to see how things work. Seeing things function in the industry was really helpful to my understanding.
TWJ: What are your impressions of the industry? Do you see opportunities?
AW: I definitely see so many opportunities. When I entered the program, my goal was to be a Quality Assurance manager. But the more I learn, the more my eyes are opened. I don’t want to close any doors. I see opportunities on the processing side, in operations, all over the place.
TWJ: Do you feel prepared for the program?
AW: For sure. My previous work was on the animal side, and now I’m on the processing side, but the science classes I took as an undergrad have helped me adjust to the material. Having a background where I know where all of the milk comes from helps me understand the processing side.
TWJ: What are the challenges you face?
AW: Mainly the processing class, in understanding the physics and engineering behind the machinery in the processing plant. I didn’t take any physics or engineering classes as an undergrad. That’s a different type of ‘smart.’
TWJ: Any advice to prospective students?
AW: Be open-minded to the opportunities that will present themselves through the program and the industry. I wasn’t aware of so much that takes place. There are so many opportunities that people should be prepared to look into.
TWJ: Do you already have an internship lined up for Summer 2018?
AW: I do. With Land O Lakes in the Tulare plant. I don’t know what I’ll be doing yet, but my title is Supply Chain and Operations intern. Im very excited. I applied to Land O Lakes for an internship when I was an undergrad, so I was already excited about the company. It’s such a big operation, with the Animal Feed division and the Seed and Crop Protection division, and of course the Dairy Foods division. There are so many opportunities, and it’s an amazing company.
TWJ: Where do you see yourself in a year? In five years? Longterm?
AW: This is my plan. As I said, I’m very goal-oriented! For now, I want to stick with Operations or maybe work toward Quality Assurance. Within five to eight years, I would like to transition to being a middle man between the plant and the farm. Maybe I would do audits or build contracts between the farmer and the coop. That interests me, because I also have a business background.
TWJ: Are you enjoying San Luis Obispo? What are your favorite things about SLO?
AW: I love it. There’s lots of hiking and outdoor activities, which is really fun. The surrounding beach towns are fun and really relaxing. The weather is amazing. It’s like a cool summer day all year round. I wish I had my dogs here though, because they would love the dog beach!
TWJ: How are your classmates? Are you developing some friendships?
AW: Yes! The great thing about having such a small group is that it’s easy to make friends. And you want to form those relationships, because these are your future colleagues. Andrew and I always hang out, because we live right next door to each other. Allie, and Stephane, we’re all friends. It’s a cohesive group, and we all get a long. It’s great.
TWJ: Give me your best sales pitch for the program.
AW: It’s an incredible opportunity to get your feet wet and build connections, not only with professors, but industry leaders. Without connections, it’s hard to break into these companies. In the MPS program, you build those connections you need, and that’s just as important as the degree. I would encourage anyone with even the slightest interest to get involved with the program.
TWJ: Thanks, Ashley.
AW: No problem. It’s my pleasure.
Tom Johnson. Program Manager
MPS in Dairy Products Technology
(970) 215-3459 cell