Cal Poly assists Chinese dairy studies

Cal Poly's first-ever dual-degree master's program will bring two Chinese students to the university to study dairy science.

According to Cal Poly dairy professor Phillip Tong, who has visited China as part of a U. S. Department of Agriculture team, dairy consumption in China is well below that of other Asian nations and the United States.

Tong said that the average person consumes about 57 pounds of dairy products per year in China; the average American consumes approximately 220 pounds per year of fluid milk products alone.

Tong has traveled to China regularly to put on educational seminars on dairy science through the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

Perishable products aren't easy to store in China because many people don't have big refrigerators, particularly in rural areas where some people don't have any refrigeration, according to Tong. Most people in urban areas have small refrigerators, he said.

The new Cal Poly program will award separate degrees to the students from Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, where they're studying now, and Cal Poly. Starting in the fall, the Chinese students will undertake 12 to 14 months of research at Cal Poly. Cal Poly officials say that the Shanghai university — known as one of the oldest and most influential in China — is one of the best there. The partnership is ongoing and more students from China will study at Cal Poly in future years.

"The modern dairy industry has a very short history in China, and there are problems about this new industry, " wrote program participant Haibin Guo in an e-mail from China. "We need to face these problems and solve them."

Dairy is a major source of dietary calcium, which experts say is needed for strong bones. Additionally, it has been shown that dairy products provide protein, potassium and vitamins A and D.

The students set to attend the program in the fall — Dan Zhao and Guo — don't yet have specific fields of study planned out.

But areas of possible focus include fluid milk, drinkable yogurts, cheeses and milk powders, according to Tong.

"The area of most pressing interest in China is methods to ensure the quality and safety of milk and dairy foods, " Tong said. "Hence, dairy microbiology will be a key area of interest."

Microbiology is the science of microorganisms, including bacteria, yeasts and viruses. Some microorganisms are beneficial and used in food fermentations and some are not and may cause spoilage, among other problems, Tong said.

Mark Shelton — Cal Poly's associate dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences — says the new dual-degree program serves a broad goal at the university to globalize Cal Poly's education and expose American students to global views of agriculture.

"We're seeing how the global economy is intertwined, " Shelton said. "Our students and faculty need to have an understanding of what's going on around the world."

And for the Chinese students, their time abroad will be a valuable cultural experience.

"I get information about the USA just from newspapers or soap operas," Zhao said. "But I really want to know the real lives in America, like the way they learn, work, entertainment, and their attitude about life and true feelings about China.

"I'm also very interested in your festivals, like Christmas and Halloween," she added. "I really want to make friends with American students."