Texas A&M at Qatar STEM program puts spotlight on food sciencePublished Dec 14, 2019
A new STEM academic outreach program at Texas A&M University at Qatar turned the spotlight on agriculture science to show schoolchildren in Qatar where food comes from and how to optimize food produced from animals.
The new program was presented in two two-day sessions, the first for students in grades 4 and 5 from four Qatar Foundation schools, and the second for students in grades 7 and 8, and was led by Dr. Kathrin Dunlap, an animal science instructional associate professor from Texas A&M University’s main campus in College Station, Texas (USA).
Based on Dunlap's work relating food to agriculture, the program taught students about basic genetics and animal breeding to optimize food production, and learning about the digestive process taught students how dairy cattle convert food to milk. The students learned about what kind of food to give cattle, the molecular properties of milk, processes to convert milk to cheese and other products, and then evaluated nine different types of cheese and their physical properties to discover for themselves the scope of what one product — in this case, milk — can yield. In addition to the product evaluations and tests, hands-on experiments included gel electrophoresis for visualizing DNA and separating milk products into various types of proteins.
Participant Khalifa Thamer said, “We did a lot of experiments where we added dye to milk and took samples to see its different components. We also learned how to calculate the fat and proteins found in milk and their importance, and we ended the workshop by doing a product evaluation of different types of cheese based on the technique used to make it.”
Another student, Fatma Almulla, said, “I learned about DNA, cow genetics and how their traits affect the final dairy products. During the program, we did some experiments that lead me to understand more about agricultural science. The workshop was so useful because we learned a lot of new topics in two days. If you get the chance to join the workshop, don’t miss the chance because you will learn a lot.”
Dunlap said the program focused on dairy specifically because Qatar has so quickly closed the gap in dairy production since the blockade began and because of the strong social link to dairy products.
“All students here are familiar with the blockade of Qatar and the branding of Qatar-made products on store shelves,” Dunlap said, “but just like students in the U.S., kids here think food comes from the grocery store, not from agriculture. We used food as an entry point for students to discover the impact of agriculture from career, cultural and community stability perspectives.
Student Fahad Mehsen said, “I now know how hard the process of getting milk is and the steps that go behind getting it from the store. With this knowledge, I am more aware about the milk composition and how different dairy products are made. I hope everyone can get the chance to come here and try the different experiments so they can learn what we learned and they will have fun doing it.”
Jassim Salman agreed and said, “We did more experiments and this increased our knowledge when we did hands-on work as it showed us the concepts and it was a fun experience. We had more students from different schools working together and I would tell other students to come to this program because you will have fun and learn something new that we did not think about when we think of milk and dairy products.”
Dr. César Octavio Malavé, dean of Texas A&M at Qatar, said that the food science workshop is one of many STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs offered by the branch campus to interest school students in Qatar in science-related topics and steer them to choose careers in STEM.
“Food is something many of us take for granted in our everyday lives,” Malavé said, “but it’s important for young people to know how their food is made and where it comes from. Texas A&M has been a leader in agriculture and engineering since its inception in 1876 and we are proud to be able to share that expertise with school students in Qatar. Science is all around us, even in our food, and this program does a great job of teaching students these concepts as Qatar expands its livestock and agriculture operations to feed its people.”