Auburn graduates first class in Brewing Science and Operations program

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Fifteen people have done what no one else at Auburn University has ever done before: Become the first class to complete the new graduate certificate in Brewing Science and Operations.

The Class of 2015 – 13 men and two women – came into the program with various backgrounds, but all shared a desire to learn more about the brewing industry.

"My husband has over 20 years of home brewing experience and I just have the consumer experience," admitted Michelle Jones. "This was a fast track for me to catch up on the business aspect and the brewing."

Now that the year-long program is complete and Jones is considerably more versed in the science and operations, she admitted she regrets that, "I didn't go through this program before we started the brewery."

Jones enrolled in Auburn's program when it was first offered – last summer – but it was after she and her husband Rob opened the Singin' River Brewing Company in Florence, Alabama. If the timing was different, Jones said she could have applied the what-not-to-do lessons from class to their business and never experienced them in the first place.

Rob E. Lee Jr. applied for Auburn's program about six months after he began working at his family's business, Omaha Brewing Company in Omaha, Georgia. Between working with Omaha's brew master and serving as its marketing director, Lee said the program went "hand in hand with everything I was doing."

"Working in the industry already, I think it was great," said Lee, a 2013 Auburn alumnus. "Almost every day I'd do the class in the evening, go back to work and apply what I learned."

Jones said she was eager to be part of the program, even if she had a little trepidation about managing online classes with a 55-hour per week job, a family and the brewery. She is the chief financial officer at a construction company, while her husband Rob runs the brewery full time.

"They really keep it at an executive level to where you can work full time and even own a brewery on the side as well as do this program," she said. "I was able to get through the program and manage a lot of different hats."

The distance education component was a major factor for Lindsey Kingry who couldn't move from Pensacola, Florida, to Chicago or California, where similar programs are offered. Auburn's program specifically attracted her because it combined her entrepreneurial spirit with her laboratory knowledge. She works in a laboratory setting for the health care industry.

"You have to know what product you're creating, that you're creating a good healthy product for people," she explained. "You have to know that it's a consistent product and a high quality product. There is a very strict science to it.

"Auburn's program was very instrumental in building a great foundation of knowledge for a brewing career, whether it is to open your own brewery or to work in a lab for a brewery. Auburn has helped me to build my career in brewing."

Charles McLendon said he's had a longtime dream of owning his own brewery, but the idea of going back to school and getting permission from his employer – a church in Americus, Georgia – to take classes made him apprehensive.

"I just decided at one point in time, a year ago in July, I wasn't going to let fear dictate my life anymore," he said.

McLendon, a student pastor, said he appreciated the challenge of Auburn's program.

"I felt like it was a two-year program slammed into a year, but when you've got a passion for something, it really doesn't matter," he said. "You're going to put forth the work ethic and you are going to make it happen."
Xander Vodre' of Gainesville, Florida, said he found Auburn's program to be a perfect fit for him. It allowed him to merge his personal passion for brewing and his desire to be an entrepreneur with his experience in sales and marketing.

He said one of the strengths of Auburn's program is that it incorporates several aspects of the brewing industry. He specifically appreciated the business planning, but it also emphasized topics in biology, microbiology, chemistry, brewing science, agronomy, facilities and operations.

Auburn's program is the result of a partnership between the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality Management in the College of Human Sciences, the colleges of veterinary medicine, business and agriculture, the Alabama craft brewing sector and Oskar Blues Brewery of Longmont, Colorado.

One of the largest craft breweries in the United States, Oskar Blues was founded by Auburn alumnus Dale Katechis. The class met at the brewery to start the program.

"It established that we weren't just learning from books, but partnering with some of the best," Vodre' said.

Graduates of Auburn's program are eligible to sit for the Institute of Brewing and Distilling's (IBD) General Certificate in Brewing. Located in the United Kingdom, the IBD is the world's leading organization dedicated to the education and training needs of brewers and distillers. The exam is administered at various international and national locations.

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