College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences
CU CHEFSTM (Clemson University Healthy Eating and Food Specialists) work as a team to provide culinary nutrition to the public. Culinary nutrition is the application of nutrition principles combined with food science knowledge displayed through a mastery of culinary skills. Once a month Dr. Marge Condrasky, professor in the Department of Food, Nutrition, and Packaging Sciences, takes students from her Culinary Nutrition Creative Inquiry team to the Greenville Health System in order to educate families on healthy meals for their children. The New Impact Weight Management program allows the Creative Inquiry team to create healthy recipes, run a cooking class and work with a professional to deliver a program to the public.
Dr. Andrew Hurley, assistant professor of packaging science and his team of Creative Inquiry students work together to create unique furniture by using corrugated medium. Corrugated medium is strong when the pieces are put together, so the team works with multiple pieces, layering them, to build furniture. “We have created a corrugated piano, chairs, tables, a tiger paw and lots of decorations that have been placed around the Harris A. Smith Building,” Mengmeg Zhao, senior packaging science major, stated.
Clad in waders and carrying nets, students from the Stream Fish Ecology Creative Inquiry formed a line and waded through the waters of the Clemson Experimental Forest. It is here, knee-high in streams, where the team studies and conducts research on the small, indigenous fish species in the Clemson area. Led by Dr. Yoichiro Kanno, assistant professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation, the team uses electrofishing techniques to capture fish, tag them individually and track population dynamics. Studying how the fish population changes can indicate changes in the environment.
Nestled beside the Bart Garrison Agricultural Museum of South Carolina, located in
Pendleton and amongst clucking chickens, is a garden containing crops native to South Carolina. It is here that students from the Designing a Kitchen Garden of the Future Based on the Past Creative Inquiry team meet on a weekly basis to maintain and develop the garden.
By Sarah Rains
There’s a small space in Clemson’s Experimental Forest where a few tall trees tower towards the sky. Covered in long pine needles, the wooded area is open and bright compared to the rest of the forest. A Creative Inquiry team, led by Dr. G. Geoff Wang and Dr. Arvind Bhuta in the School of Agricultural, Forest, and Environmental Sciences, is studying three species of southern-yellow or heart pines (Pinus taeda, Pinus palustris and Pinus elliotti).
These pines are of interest because of the unusual occurrence they have in this region; these longleaf pines (Pinus palustris) are outside of their natural range, which ends sixty miles south of Clemson in southern McCormick and Greenwood Counties, South Carolina. According to historical records, the plot being studied was planted in the 1940s as a source of labor in the aftermath of the Great Depression. Wang, professor of silviculture and ecology, says that there is quite a history of these trees in the South as far back as the 1930s.
“At that time, people didn’t actually study a lot about it,” Wang said. “It was more like, ‘Hey! We got seedlings here! Go plant them!’ It could be they had excessive labor, and they just had seedlings and went planting everywhere.”
One significant characteristic of longleaf pines is that they depend on fire. Without periodic burning, the plant cannot naturally regenerate. Natural and human-caused fire used to occur frequently, but human efforts to suppress fire and the overharvesting of longleaf pine forests in the southeast have caused populations to decline.
Junior forest research management major Carson Barefoot is concerned about this change. “It’s weird because longleaf pines used to be really dominant. They were the most abundant species but then, we stopped putting fire on the ground, and then they started declining,” he said. “And now, we’ve reintroduced fire. And that’s what we’re trying to see—how the reintroduction of fire is impacting these trees.”
Bhuta describes the magnitude of the decline of this species: “Due to the overharvesting of longleaf pine forest and the practice of preventing fires, the longleaf pine declined, going from over 91 million acres to only over 2.7 million acres,” he said.
The team is also studying how climate affects the growth of loblolly, longleaf and slash pines in different regions of South Carolina. They are starting by studying young longleaf seedlings.
Students measure the height and diameter of the tree, and the canopy. Students also “core,” or retrieve samples from the inside of the trees. Using a core sample, the team can identify the age of the tree and how both climate and disturbance have affected its growth. They can also recognize scars from burning.
“We just want to have some simple metrics to calculate how many trees per acre are here and go from there to kind of give us an estimate of what’s going on with the life history of the tree,” Bhuta said.
This Creative Inquiry engages forestry students in meaningful research in Clemson’s Experimental Forest.
“It’s real world stuff that we would do in a job. So, we get to practice. I like to see how the environment impacts the growth directly in the rings,” junior resource management major Michael Griffo said.
Barefoot enjoys the outdoors aspect and research rewards of this project.
”I want to keep doing research,” he said. “I want to keep coming out here and helping the trees other than exploiting them for their resources. I absolutely enjoy it.”
Say you’re walking down the grocery store aisle and spot a nice, see-through package that reads “ORGANIC.” Just like that, you’re hooked. Do you actually know what organic foods are, or are you convinced because of the nature of the package? This mystery is what packaging and food scientists alike work every day to figure out. What drives a consumer to purchase a product? Is it the taste? Is it because its healthy?
Here at Clemson University, Food, Nutrition, and Packaging Sciences are three separate degree programs that are housed within the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Life Sciences. Students in these majors take classes in one of the three fields and rarely cross; however, in the food industry, they may be as close as sharing an office wall. Nutrition professors Dr. Marge Condrasky; food science professor, Dr. Aubrey Coffee; and packaging science professor, Dr. Duncan Darby, advised this Creative Inquiry project.
This two-semester Creative Inquiry project was assisted by graduate student Alexandra Weeks, who took many different approaches for students to have a well rounded view of all steps used in the product development process.
The group started the research project by learning an introduction to each field aiming to learn the basics of product development. This particular product development project was meant to create healthy foods that would be attractive to children and marketable to their parents. Students began the first semester with lectures that covered each of the majors and what they specifically study. From there, they took an in-depth look at how industry professionals operate when developing a new product and completed ideation activities that started putting informative knowledge into practice. These ideation (thought) activities increased gradually with complexity and made each student— no matter their education background— think like another, forcing them to ask each other questions that they may not have otherwise thought to consider.
Throughout the course sequence, students were exposed to a number of experiences that both enhanced current study efforts and promoted long-term professional development. Students learned how to process more than 300+ ideas and find the best ideas that can be used for a product launch. They were also taught how a few perfected ideas are transformed from ideation through each of the stages of product development.
A trip to Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen after learning how industry professionals approach situations solidified concepts taught in previous lectures. While visiting their Atlanta, Georgia facility, students were also able to attend a networking event with members of the Research Chefs Association—members who could potentially be future employers. At the Denny’s headquarters in Spartanburg, South Carolina, students were introduced to a different style of product development being that Denny’s is not considered a quick service restaurant.
After learning how to formulate ideas, perfect them, and develop them from an industry professional’s perspective, students were able to put their skills to the test. Members of the Creative Inquiry project spilt into groups and each developed products that could be used as healthy alternatives to poor eating habits practiced by elementary school children. The products ranged from included healthy versions of waffles to healthy cookies. Each group had a main focus of either packaging components or food development, while striving to make a snack as nutritious as possible.
Once completed, members of the Creative Inquiry partnered with a local school, Chastain Road Elementary, to run a sensory panel to test their new creations. After a failed attempt, students went back to the drawing board to perfect their designs and prepare them for a presentation with invited Clemson media, faculty members, and industry professionals from previously visited sites.
The beauty of this Creative Inquiry is that students were exposed to critical thinking skills, conditioning make them work as industry professionals in a team. This unique opportunity for professional development, and an expansion of their classroom is only a small luxury of Creative Inquiry. Students walked away with skills that are not only beneficial for future study, but skills that are attractive for professionals seeking to hire. This wonderful collaboration has proved to be an excellent opportunity and will be continued to engage students, creating new capacities for success.
So the next time you see that same see-through organic package, not only should you let your mind wonder on the what makes it or the product unique, but think of the dedicated individuals that worked hard to test and perfect something so delicious and healthy.