Ramiro Dutra came to Cal Poly Pomona in 1959 as an instructor for chemistry classes in the physical sciences department. Dutra had just finished his doctorate in agricultural and food chemistry at UC Davis.
Although he was new to Cal Poly Pomona, he decided to take a page out of the university’s tradition of hands-on learning in his classes.
“Instead of having abstract applications of chemical reactions, I would bring as examples things from real life, and the real life that I was acquainted with was food technology, food chemistry and nutrition,” Dutra recalls. “Man, the students lapped it up. The timidness of chemistry that some students have quickly melts into fascination when they are shown that control of certain molecular behaviors is what makes for smooth ice cream, perfect beer foam or the noisiest chips in the world.”
His chemistry classes were so popular that Dutra soon gained permission from administrators to create actual courses in foods and nutrition. Eventually, the Department of Foods & Nutrition was established in the College of Agriculture in 1965 with Dutra as its first chairman and only full-time instructor. He started with just 17 students.
As the 50th anniversary celebration looms on Saturday, Feb. 27, the Department of Human Nutrition & Food Science now has seven tenured and tenure-track faculty members and is recruiting for two open positions to be filled by September. The department also has 14 temporary faculty members in its lecturer pool.
More than 500 students seek everything from a bachelor’s degree in foods and nutrition to food science and technology to a master’s degree in agriculture with a nutrition and food science option. Students also are preparing to become leaders in the fields of nutrition and food science and technology. The department’s evolution over the last 50 years has been marked by dramatic changes.
Dutra may have received the university’s blessing to start a new department, but there wasn’t much else. His initial budget was a mere $500.
“Facilities and resources were nonexistent,” he says. “At the time, there were limited resources for the whole university.”
Dutra was able to hire a retiree as a lecturer for one year. But the new department did not have secretaries or lab technicians – those positions didn’t exist at the time. There were only two typists to serve the stenography needs of the entire College of Agriculture. After the first year, Dutra was able to hire Cheryl Loggins as full-time faculty member.
The new department chairman looked far and wide for supporters. He made sure he did not cut his ties to his former colleagues in science. Lab equipment was scarce on campus, and departments often had to share.
“My No. 1 rule was, ‘Don’t burn bridges. You may need them again,” Dutra recalls.
Dutra would often have to pay for supplies out of his own pocket.
“Many times I went to L.A. to buy reagents with my own VW, on my own time. I paid for them with my own money,” he says. “I wasn’t the only one. That was what higher education was like in those days.”
Dutra also hit the road to promote the fledgling program, again spending his own time and money – there were no travel budgets or buyout time then, either – going to conferences and professional meetings. He also took his students on field trips to factories, food-processing plants, dairies and wineries.
“They were places where I thought they might hire my graduates,” he says. “You always have to be aiming at putting your people in high places.”
Working seven days a week eventually took its toll on Dutra.
“I was teaching about 20 units while developing the new foods and nutrition program when I got my first ulcer. Not a big surprise. Everybody carried what would be regarded today as an overload. In those days at Cal Poly Pomona, there was no tenure, no limit on teaching load, no Faculty Senate,” Dutra recalls. “A good instructor could expect a yearly letter of reappointment, but promotions were reserved for those who—outside the classroom—made significant contributions to the development and status of our newborn university.”
The First Students
Sue Godfrey (’70, foods and nutrition) was one of the first students in the new department, arriving in fall 1966. The Whittier resident heard about the program from her high school counselor, who thought the dietetics curriculum matched Godfrey’s interest in medicine and science and her love of cooking.
“This was so exciting,” Godfrey recalls. “I was sold.”
Godfrey came to a campus that was still relatively small. There were only about 4,000 students, less than a quarter of whom lived in the dorms. Even then, Cal Poly Pomona was mainly a commuter campus. There was no Highway 57 until 1972. The university had become co-ed only four years earlier, and the ratio of men to women was 4 to 1. There were no parking structures, no lot at the top of the hill above Building 2. Many students parked on the dirt, and it wasn’t uncommon for cars to become stuck in the mud after it rained.
Class sizes were relatively small—10 students for major courses and 20 students in most non-major classes, Godfrey recalls. Computers weren’t available and calculators had paper rolls for printing. Most students carried slide rules and logarithm books, and were told the career of the future was keypunch operator, she says.
Dutra was able to wrangle a piece of new technology for students to evaluate in a food preparation class: a microwave oven.
“We made cake after cake experimenting with cooking times, ingredients and such. We had failure after failure – cooked too hard on the outside like concrete, uncooked in the center, cooked too short, never set,” Godfrey says. “Eggs exploded. Meat petrified and burned to a crisp. Our final conclusion was that this thing will never fly.”
The Changing ‘70s
Technology was not the only thing evolving. The department had a growth spurt in the 1970s. Building 7 was constructed in 1970 at a cost of $1.8 million. It included a food chemistry and analysis laboratory, two kitchen laboratories, four offices for faculty, and the main department office.
Rebecca Moore (’75, foods and nutrition) was among the first students to make use of the new food lab and equipment.
“I remember using the bomb calorimeter for the first time and thinking it was an amazing piece of equipment,” she recalls. “Measuring actual calories in food was so much fun.”
In addition, the department created a major in 1971 based on a traditional subject: home economics. The major was traditionally offered at universities to prepare teachers for high school home economics courses, Dutra says. It also was traditionally considered an umbrella major over dietetics, he says. But professional dietetic requirements became more stringent, thus demanding more science.
“There was no room to take the rest of home economics courses like interior design, child development, and marriage and the family,” Dutra remembers. “And so it had to be a separate major.”
A clothing lab was established in Building 2 for the home economics major. Eventually, a chapter of the Phi Upsilon Omicron national honor society in family and consumer sciences was established at Cal Poly Pomona.
Home economics bolstered enrollment in what was re-designated the Department of Foods & Nutrition and Home Economics. By 1975, it had grown to about 350 students. In addition, the department had nine tenured or tenure-track faculty and three lecturers.
These instructors left memorable impressions on students. Dutra was passionate about teaching and demanding of his students.
“He instilled a love for learning, a strong work ethic and striving to do your very best – no excuses. Critical thinking was an absolute,” Godfrey recalls. “Dr. Dutra was a perfectionist. Our research papers had to follow the correct protocols of tests and conclusions as those expected in the real world. No shortcuts, no guessing!”
In 1984, Dutra was selected by the university as its Outstanding Professsor. Three years earlier, he was knighted by the president of Portugal for “relevant services to humanity” in recognition of extensive services on behalf of underdeveloped countries.
Michelle Wien (’78, foods and nutrition; ’93, master’s in agriculture, food and nutrition option) enjoyed the cultural foods course taught by Professor Nenita Cabacungan, where students learned about, cooked and consumed food from other countries.
“In the 1970s, it was very costly to travel abroad, and there was a lack of ethnic restaurants as compared to today,” recalls Wien, who is now a professor in the department. “The faculty that were from other countries were fascinating because I had not been exposed to ethnic diversity growing up in Orange County. Drs. Cabacaungan, Dutra and Anahid Crecelius shared many fascinating experiences from the Philippines, Portugal and Egypt, respectively.”
Loggins was the first full-time faculty member hired by in 1966. She remained in the department for 31 years.
The Department of Foods & Nutrition would continue to evolve into the new century. One area of constant change was in technology.
“Computer science was a new major, so we had to take some basic computer classes,” says Lisa Alley-Zarkades (’82, foods and nutrition), who serves on the College of Agriculture’s Dean’s Advisory Council. “It was intimidating with codes, punch cards, big machines and MS-DOS language.”
Of course, computers would become ubiquitous in the late 1980s. The 1990s would see the arrival of the Internet and websites, which led to laptops, social media and mobile technologies for students after the turn of the century.
“I purchased my first PC in 1992 to type my master’s thesis, and it was effortless compared to the electric typewriter that I used to type my senior project from 1977 to 1978,” Wien recalls.
Other changes were happening. In 1987, the department received accreditation from the American Dietetic Association to offer a post-baccalaureate dietetic internship. Prior to accreditation, the department had to send its graduates to internship programs at other universities. Since its inception, the program has had much success in producing registered dietitians. The five-year pass rate on the registration exam is 89 percent, as of January 2014.
The department also saw the phasing out of the home economics program. Enrollment had dropped for several reasons, including the reduction of those programs in high schools.
“The traditional home economist positions at the utility and appliance companies disappeared as well,” recalls Professor Emeritus Jean Gipe, who began teaching home economics at Cal Poly Pomona in 1975. “The general interest in home economics was replaced with specific interest in the fashion industry, interior design and product development at food companies.”
As a result, two faculty members left the foods and nutrition program to form the Department of Apparel Merchandising & Management. Gipe and Professor Emeritus Betty Tracy developed the new program, and Tracy became the first department chair.
Another program that was added was the food science and technology baccalaureate, which started with just three students in 1999 and one tenure-track faculty member, and has grown to nearly 180 students and four tenure-track faculty members plus three lecturers.
“When we began offering the major, there were no other undergraduate degrees in food science and technology in public schools in Southern California,” says Martin Sancho-Madriz, the professor who developed the program and is now chair of the Department of Human Nutrition & Food Science.
Food science and technology differed from the existing foods and nutrition degree program in that it prepared students to work in the food-processing industry and regulatory agencies, and required a significantly different curriculum. The culinology emphasis within the food science and technology degree was developed in partnership with The Collins College of Hospitality Management, blending the creativity of culinary arts with food science and the technical aspects of food processing to focus on new product development. It was the first program in California to be approved by the Research Chefs Association.
The recession of the late 2000s hit public universities hard in California. Budgets were cut dramatically, creating challenges. Administrators struggled to balance the cuts. Faculty retirements helped ease the fiscal strain across campus, but also increased the faculty-to-student ratio. Enrollment in the department doubled from 2009 to 2014 – accounting for a third of the College of Agriculture’s total enrollment – while the number of tenured and tenure-track faculty was cut in half.
“This has put tremendous strain on the faculty in terms of advising and committee work as the increased workload has fallen on a smaller group of faculty,” Sancho-Madriz says. “It’s important to recognize the effort and dedication of the faculty.”
The department also faces challenges in securing enough funding and resources to attract high-caliber faculty and obtain state-of-the-art facilities and equipment.
“We know resources from the state are not likely to increase significantly enough to meet our growing needs,” Sancho-Madriz says, “and thus we need alumni, industry and other supporters to partner with us to help us achieve our vision.”
Human Nutrition & Food Science was able to obtain a $25,000 donation from the Kellogg Co. and matching funds from the College of Agriculture dean’s office to transform Room 237 in Building 7 into a food technology laboratory. The total investment to renovate the lab and purchase new equipment was about $80,000.
Looking ahead, Sancho-Madriz hopes to establish the Center for Food Innovation and Technology. Industry experts noted that the food science and technology program did not have a facility for food research, product development and quality control. The center would cover between 20,000 and 25,000 square feet, and cost $25 million to $30 million to build.
“We envision Human Nutrition & Food Science becoming a regional center of excellence in both nutrition and food science,” Sancho-Madriz says. “This center would support undergraduate and graduate education and research, while also strengthening our connections with the food industry.”
After a long absence, Dutra recently made a visit to see how the department that he sprouted has matured.
“I was impressed with what Dr. Sancho-Madriz told me about the future plans for the department. It is a logical, clearly defined vision with a well-thought-out map for its execution,” Dutra says. “It will require extra work from everyone on the faculty, but I am confident that the future will validate their collective wisdom and commitment.”
1964 – The CSU Board of Trustees approves a new program for a department in foods and nutrition.
1965 – The Department of Foods & Nutrition is launched with 17 students, 1-1/2 faculty positions and a $500 budget.
1970 – Building 7 is completed to house the Department of Foods & Nutrition, including offices and laboratories.
1971 – The department begins offering a bachelor’s degree in home economics. A clothing laboratory was installed in Room 218.
1975 – The Department of Foods & Nutrition/Home Economics grows to nearly 350 students, nine faculty and three lecturers.
1987 – Dietetic internship program receives accreditation.
1995-96 – A group of faculty leaves the department to start the Department of Apparel Merchandising & Management.
1999 – The food science and technology program starts with three students.
2001 – The department is renamed Human Nutrition & Food Science, with the termination of the consumer science (home economics) program.
2006 – The Culinology emphasis is established in partnership with The Collins College of Hospitality Management.
2013 – Workers begin the first phase of renovating Room 237 in Building 7 into a food technology laboratory.
(Chronology compiled by Professor Martin Sancho-Madriz, chair of the Department of Human Nutrition & Food Science)