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Publication: Patriot-News, The (Harrisburg, PA) Author(s): For The Patriot-News M. DIANE McCORMICK Date: February 7, 2011 Page: A11
One sweet test
Jason Weihbrecht hopes to conduct research in a brewery laboratory someday, but his pending college degree in food safety will open many other doors "especially in Pennsylvania." "They have a lot of the snack food and pretzels and all that stuff," said Weihbrecht, of New Cumberland. "We're a big food state. There's a lot of jobs out there." Weihbrecht is a Harrisburg University of Science and Technology junior pursuing a degree in food safety and quality assurance. This spring, Weihbrecht will be among the first students working at HU's new consumer insights research lab, created with a $90, 000 grant from The Hershey Co. For decades, the marriage of higher education and corporate America has sent shivers up the spines of academia. But the partners in the Harrisburg University-Hershey project say they've got a win-win that helps a major local employer develop innovative products while giving students real-world experience. And the field is expected to grow 16 percent - faster than average - by 2018, according to U.S. Labor Department figures. Under the arrangement, announced this year, Hershey's donation is creating a lab on the second floor of Harrisburg University's downtown facility, featuring spaces for private food tastings, focus groups and computers equipped with software for analyzing results. Harrisburg University will hire a full-time lab coordinator. Hershey will contract with the lab for specific product testing, and the lab will seek other clients for sensory testing, said Eric Darr, the university's executive vice president and provost. Students in internships or workstudywill help set up tests, recruit and deal with volunteer food testers, and analyze results, said Rene Massengale, director of the university's Food Science andTechnologyCenter. Projects can include tests of product consistency, shelf-life stability, new products, and messaging and packaging. "The science of taste testing and sensory feedback is actually quite technical," Massengale said. "It's not as simple as yes or no. It can get quite complex. Students will be learning how research studies are set up. They'll be looking at evidence-based methods," Massengale said. "They'll be learning how to objectively get consumer feedback from participants to get meaningful information." The Hershey Co. conducts taste tests in Hershey with professional tasters and employee panels, but the company wants to create products that appeal to America's increasingly diverse population, saidMary Parsons, vice president of global platforms and sensory research. "That will be one of the benefits we'll get from testing at Harrisburg University, is to access consumers that are representative of the way the country is growing," she said. Lab workers will be bound by confidentiality agreements in place for Hershey and any other clients recruited, Darr said. The contract between the school and the company doesn't restrict the university from doing work for a Hershey competitor, but Hershey will "counsel" the school that "it's in the best interests of Harrisburg University to work with one client in a particular category at a time," said Dan Azzara, Hershey's senior vice president of global research and development. That approach applies to clients in any field, such as the region's snack-food industry, he said. "With any partnership, you become a true partner, in that you become really dedicated to the partner that you're working with and you recognize there's downfalls to going outside that too far," Azzara said.
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A 2007 study found that 67 percent of American academic departments at colleges and universities have financial relationships with industries. At some universities, there have been cases in which corporate research sponsors squelched unfavorable findings, and the 1999 case of an 18-year-old man who died from protocol failures in a University of Pennsylvania pharmaceutical test was highly publicized. But those cases are usually riskier fields, and Harrisburg University is legally bound to resist any unethical or illegal practices, Darr said. "The service agreements are within the laws of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the United States of America, as well as OSHA regulations in regard to safe handling of food," Darr said. "Anything asked of us that would violate laws and regulations, we would have the right to refuse, and we would. That protection is there for us." In 1990, as corporate financing of university research was growing and researchers had financial stakes in the outcomes, the American Association of University Professors renewed a long-standing conflict-of-interest statement. "External interests should not be allowed to shift the balance of academic priorities in a university without thorough debate about the consequences," the AAUP stated. Corporate-academic arrangements can provide hands-on experience and give students an edge in graduate school admission or jobs, but lines must be clearly drawn, said John Hinshaw, chairman of Lebanon Valley College's history and political science department and an expert on academic ethics. For instance, corporations can't have a say in hiring, firing or tenure decisions, he said. "If I donated $1 million or $100, 000 to a researcher, that is not supposed to drive the university's decision on whether that person gets tenure," Hinshaw said. "There's supposed to be some autonomy on the part of the professor and the university. Even though they're relying on this money, they should be able to operate independently." Businesses are barred from using interns to fill jobs, and schools must retain a partnership's educational aspects, said Linda Trevino, distinguished professor of organizational behavior and ethics at Penn State's Smeal College of Business. The Hershey Co. will have its own researchers in the university lab while it's helping train the next generation of food-science professionals, Parsons said. The consumer insights lab should operate by early March, Darr said. Weihbrecht said the new lab is exciting because it will make him more marketable. "We're going to be conducting studies and having focus groups and that's a whole other direction you can take [in the industry]," he said. "It looks good to have some realworld experience on your resum .". Section: News Edition: Final Technical problems: If you have a technical problem with your account please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright, 2011, The Patriot-News Co. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
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