U dept. gets new name

Jason Juno

University student James Barsness was in the Department of Wood and Paper Science as a sophomore last year.

This year, the third-year student made the change, as the program did, to the Department of Bio-based Products in the College of Natural Resources.

It is more than just a name change, department head Shri Ramaswamy said.

This is the first year for the program, and an area company already looks forward to hiring the program’s, said Ryan O’Connor, research engineer at Cargill Dow. The company is a Twin Cities production plant that focuses on turning corn into biodegradable plastic.

Major changes

Currently, 90 percent of the program still involves wood and paper as bio-based products. However, as research advances, that might not last.

As new techniques and processes are developed, Ramaswamy said, researchers and students will focus on other bio-based products. This is one reason the program was created, he said.

“As we go into the future, we believe things are going to change,” Ramaswamy said.

The bio-based products department offers majors in three areas: engineering, marketing and management, and residential building science and technology. The department also offers a minor in bio-based products engineering.

The engineering major is new to the program. Though the Department of Wood and Paper Science offered engineering classes, it didn’t offer engineering as a major.

The new engineering major in the bio-based products department is a joint effort of the College of Natural Resources and the Institute of Technology, Ramaswamy said. Numbers on how the program readjustment affects enrollment are not available yet, because this is the first semester with the change.

With the new program also come new scholarships. Many companies offer scholarships for anyone whose high school grade point average is 3.0 or higher. The scholarship lasts four years, totaling $9,000 per person. Scholarships for transfer students are also available, Ramaswamy said.

New students, new hires

O’Connor said Cargill Dow never hired University graduates from the Department of Wood and Paper Science. Now that the department offers an engineering program, he said, he would consider hiring those students when they graduate.

He said the new degree could be the best one to have to get hired at Cargill Dow.

“Now there will be stiff competition for graduates,” O’Connor said.

Cargill Dow likes to hire engineering graduates because they know how to convert biomass into useful products, O’Connor said, which is the kind of work Cargill Dow does.

Barsness, an engineering student in the bio-based products department, applied to the University and was accepted to the College of Natural Resources. But he wanted a program geared toward using agricultural crops to make products such as fuel, composite materials and paper, he said.

He said the new program matches his interests perfectly. The only drawback, he said, is he will need to stay at the University for another semester because of the department change. But he said he does not mind because of the benefits of the new program.

Barsness said he looks forward to a wide variety of career options after graduating.

Students had the option of staying in the old program, Ramaswamy said. In general, those nearing graduation stayed, while most of those early or in the middle of the program decided to change.

He also said the department had no time to advertise or recruit after the Board of Regents approved the change. But he said he believes the wider area of study will attract more students.

Ramaswamy has recently traveled and talked to other universities that might be thinking of switching to the new program. Today, he is in New York state.