After Jeff Sindelar, Associate Professor in the Dept. of Animal Science, finished his Ph.D. at Iowa State Univ. and moved to the Univ. of Wisconsin at Madison, he took with him an idea for an extension program with a twist. Like other meat and poultry processing extension programs, he wanted to disseminate valuable information to help support the viability and growth of the industry.
“That viability and growth can be defined as a deeper understanding of meat science, a deeper understanding and exposure to meat processing, technologies, processes, equipment, ingredients, a better understanding about food safety, a deeper and better understanding about economics and marketing,” Sindelar says.
Sindelar worked on conceptual ideas for a new program, drew on his own experiences and education, and ran into a bit of good luck at an opportune time, and the Master Meat Crafter Training Program at Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison was born.
The perfect storm
Sindelar wanted to do something different before developing the Master Meat Crafter Program. He considered the variety of extension models that existed at the time and the ways he might change them to achieve the results he desired.
“In the extension world for doing training programs, workshops, short course and so forth, we use a multitude of different approaches to educate and teach,” he says. “A lot of it is geared toward wanting people to walk away with information or concepts that they did not have any idea about or they didn’t know very much about or have a deep understanding about before they entered/went through a program.”
Sindelar says classical models often take a group of students for up to a couple of days, teach them and then they leave. The difficulty comes from teaching individuals without knowledge of their background or competency, often teaching to the lowest common denominator, “…which would essentially be the people that don’t know anything or know very little of the topic.”
Rather than create another meat science extension program in the same vein as those that existed, Sindelar sought to build a program that maximized benefit to every person in the room.
The Master Meat Crafter Program takes the concept of linking programs over a two-year period to develop a captive audience. Classes are limited to 30 participants that remain together over the course of the two years, and programming builds competency throughout the class even though the participants might have started at very different levels.
“That allows you to really go much deeper, or at a higher level of education than you could in general, open forum types of workshops or short courses,” Sindelar says. “So, the first driver of this [Master Meat Crafter Program] was to create an educational experience where you highlight and leverage the ability to have a captive audience, and then all the things you can do after that to really learn the objectives you want achieve.”
To get the program Sindelar envisioned up and rolling required good timing and financing. The alignment of those two things came by chance in 2008 when a large grant became available. The grant was part of an earmark (a practice that has been banned) through a Wisconsin senator at the time. The funding, called the Wisconsin Meat Initiative, included a designated amount allotted toward education, but with no specific plan.
“When the realization of that grant and the ideas and thoughts of this program were recognized and met, it became this very clear, beautiful marriage, essentially, to financially get the program going and allow it to continue where it is today,” Sindelar says.
The creation and execution of the program also brought together the Univ. of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Dept. of Agriculture in collaborative efforts to help the program achieve its goals.
Academics and admissions
The Master Meat Crafter Program consists of six, two-and-a-half day workshops held over a two-year period. Industry experts and meat science scholars serve as instructors in their specific areas of knowledge with workshops consisting of presentations, demonstrations and hands-on manufacturing. The Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison’s meat science department hosts all workshops throughout the program.
Each workshop contains pre- and post-testing to certify and document the learning and understanding of the material. Six homework assignments over the course of the program are also part of the curriculum. Homework exercises focus on specific topics to help students expand on the program’s learning objectives.
The program requires participants to conduct a plant project and write a report, as well as give an oral presentation at a one-day graduation program. Students are also required to complete a mentorship program wherein they will mentor an employee, or other individual, based upon their existing knowledge and principles learned from the Master Meat Crafter Training Program, on various meat science and meat processing topics. The mentorship is developed by the student prior to beginning and requires approval from training program personnel.
Admission into the program requires application and acceptance. Participants must meet certain criteria, but the admission process has changed a little from the inaugural class.
“The very first class, the application included a minimum of 10 years of meat and poultry industry experience and then some other criteria, and we had a hard time getting the first class filled,” Sindelar says.
Sindelar and the staff began fine tuning the admission process after that first year. It included easing up on the requirements and the acceptance of students that had more diverse backgrounds.
“We’ve had people that had a few years of meat processing experience; we’ve had people that have 30-plus years of meat processing experience; we’ve had people that represent meat plants, poultry plants, equipment manufacturers, ingredient suppliers as well as the restaurant world,” Sindelar says. “We actually have had several chefs or people with culinary backgrounds that either own restaurants, like chain restaurants, or work in an R&D setting in a meat or poultry company that have gone through the program.”
Sindelar says the dynamic among students resulting from the admission changes has been extremely positive and turned the program in a direction that encourages dialogue and diverse perspectives.
“We’ve learned the credentials of the people are important only as it relates to how they can contribute to the rest of the group to create the dynamic that we’re trying to achieve,” he says.
Because the class stays together throughout the two years, a level of comfort and camaraderie develops among the participants. The program also includes social events every time the students are on campus during the six required workshops, increasing the comfort level among thestudents.
“We’ve learned that there is this crazy dynamic that occurs and that suddenly people start opening up, and they ask questions and we have beautiful discussions about different things,” Sindelar says. “That, in my opinion, is a direct result of everyone being together and knowing each other and being comfortable around each other.”
Sindelar now groups applicants into three different categories when considering admission, those that are a definitive yes, those that are a definitive no, and those that are in the middle, the maybe/maybe nots. Sindelar follows up with those in the maybe/maybe not group with phone interviews, or sometimes in-person interviewers, to gauge whether they might fit that special dynamic he’s trying to create.
“So far we’ve been pretty fortunate that those people, those ‘in betweeners,’ have really helped contribute to a really neat dynamic,” he says. “And those people, more times than not, have probably gained more than people that are new or people that are really experienced that go through the program because they just fill a different perspective, a different view.”
Completion of the Meat Master Crafter Program can provide professional advancement, a very specialized skill set and a highlight on resumes. The benefits of the program are multi-faceted, and participants gain more than just the science of processing.
“I’m really glad I took the Master Meat Crafter Program,” says Jacob Dayton of Dayton Meat Products, Malcom, Iowa. “I was able to network and build friendships with fellow meat processors and suppliers in the industry.”
Philip Schmidt of The Meat Block LLC in Greenville, Wisconsin, says, “It is a program that brings the ‘why’ to the ‘what’ we do every day in our plants. It’s an investment in my future and the future of my business.”
“I’m very confident that the education they get can be used for both personal and professional advancements,” Sindelar adds.