Increasing the number, quality, and diversity of alternative protein-relevant university courses
There is a significant and urgent need to launch and support university and online courses in order to build and extend the talent pipeline of students going into the alternative protein industry. Coursework can range from introductory to highly specialized, and will ideally be focused specifically on alternative proteins, but support for degree programs in enabling sciences will also be useful to the industry. A platform for sharing curriculum across institutions will empower new entrants to more easily build their own alternative protein courses.
Students increasingly seek opportunities to engage with and learn about alternative proteins in school. However, very few courses exist that focus specifically on alternative proteins. If students come into contact with the concept of alternative protein at all during school, it’s typically in passing: during a lecture that mentions alternative proteins as a niche application of a skill (e.g. in a cell biology or materials science class) or as an example of a broader economic or environmental trend toward plant-based eating. Faculty who want to offer alternative protein courses must essentially design the curriculum from scratch as few courses and materials exist to draw upon. This can make building a new course prohibitively time-consuming for busy faculty. Meanwhile, there are also not enough web-based educational offerings on alternative proteins, and therefore insufficient “on-ramps” into the industry for students outside the traditional college path.
Aggregating and curating a publicly-accessible repository of materials derived from existing alternative protein courses will support faculty and instructors who might otherwise feel unable to commit the time required to build a course from scratch. Curriculum materials should include syllabi, slide decks, recommended readings, guest speaker suggestions, lab protocols and reagent lists, and assessments such as essay prompts and exam questions. Ideally, materials will be collected from instructors after they have evaluated the success of the course and refined their materials and content accordingly.
Publicly-available curricula will provide faculty with a sense that they are part of a broader educational trend, thus motivating instructors to continue building and offering their courses. The same publicly-available curricula will also be useful for students who do not plan to study alternative protein at a traditional university. Additionally, faculty and instructors should cultivate relationships with industry partners who could potentially provide guest lectures with career path insights, support in-class labs through contributions of reagents or equipment, and provide tours of local production facilities. Particular support should be given to BIPOC faculty and instructors who may have a smaller pre-existing alternative protein industry network.
With robust catalogs of courses across major universities, students will be able to build a deeper, stronger foundation of knowledge relevant to alternative protein. The industry will therefore have access to a larger, better-trained, and more easily identifiable talent pool to grow their teams. Universities with more alternative protein courses will be able to build full alternative protein certificate programs, eventually allowing institutions to develop reputations for alternative protein excellence. For students learning online, there will be more opportunities to develop skill sets relevant to the industry. We hope that this will create more “on-ramps” to the alternative protein industry for people who do not follow a conventional academic path. From the university perspective, these courses represent unique offerings for students increasingly interested in alternative protein curriculum, providing an advantage for universities looking to compete for certain students.
- Ricardo San Martin teaches a plant-based protein course at UC Berkeley.
- Tom Ben-Arye teaches an alternative protein overview course at Hebrew University.
- David Kaplan teaches a cultivated meat course at Tufts.
- GFI’s MOOC is a free, online alternative protein course.
- GFI’s course repository is underway.
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