Published on 09/11/01

Chocolate Class Entices Students to Learn

A new college student may be a little leery of signing up for a biology or accounting course. But what student wouldn't warm up to a class called Chocolate Science.

At the University of Georgia, food science professor Rob Shewfelt developed the chocolate class to entice students into the world of food science. Actually a freshman seminar, the class meets just one day a week, on Tuesdays, for one hour.

"Some freshman classes have as many as 300 students in them, but freshman seminars are limited to the first 15 to sign up," said Shewfelt, a professor in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"We intentionally keep the classes small," he said, "to permit one-on-one interaction with a senior faculty member."

Surprisingly, there's just one food science major on the class role. Most of the students are business, biology or journalism majors.

Finding A Topic That Turns Them On

"Freshmen are so great to work with, because they are genuinely interested in learning, particularly when you find a topic, like chocolate, that turns them on," Shewfelt said.

Chris Lady signed up for the class because he loves chocolate and "it looked like an easy class." Teri Brady wanted to learn about the inner and outer workings of the chocolate world and get to eat chocolate in class.

Both students will get what they expect from the class, and more. The class is a pass/fail class where students are just required to attend and participate in order to pass.

And they do eat chocolate. During a recent class, the students tasted all the current M&M chocolate candies and ranked them according to the class's favorites and least favorites.

"Every class, we taste at least three different types of chocolate," Shewfelt said.

Chocolate motivates the students to sign up. But what's Shewfelt's motivation for teaching it?

Recruiting for Georgia's Food Industry

"Our state needs more food science graduates," he said. "Virtually every food company in Georgia has one of our graduates working for them and we need more graduates to meet the food industry's demands."

Shewfelt hopes the chocolate class will persuade students to consider becoming food science majors or tell their friends, who might then consider food science as a major. Either way, the class is beneficial to other majors, especially business students.

The class textbook is "Emperors of Chocolate," by Joel Glenn Brenner. It details the long-standing rival between the M&M Mars and Hershey companies.

"Using this book I can teach the students about business issues such as marketing, corporate culture and consolidation, as well as social issues such as child slavery in cocoa harvesting," Shewfelt said.

"They learn there are many, many steps between harvesting and packaging," he said. "And they learn about all of the many ingredients that go into chocolate."

Shewfelt uses chocolate, too, to teach students the more serious aspects of food science:

* The complex steps required to manufacture food.

* The tests necessary to make sure chocolate is safe to eat.

* Nutritional problems associated with overconsumption of chocolate.

* And how new and unusual chocolate products are developed.

"Teaching is a matter of connecting minds," Shewfelt said. "I use chocolate to rouse their curiosity, which then leads them to ask questions. While answering their questions, I am able to teach them the basic principles."

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.