First Graduates of Food Safety Systems Management Certificate Program

The future of Armenia’s food supply is more secure now that the first group of students has completed a special training course offered in Armenia thanks to an innovative cooperation agreement between U.S. and Armenian universities, with USAID support. 

On February 3, 30 senior students of the Agribusiness Teaching Center’s undergraduate program and a staff member of the International Center for Agribusiness Research and Education (ICARE) received certificates from Penn State and Virginia Tech universities for successful completion of the first Food Safety Systems Management course in Armenia. The intensive program seeks to improve the safety of Armenia’s food supply chain from crop production and processing to packaging, handling, marketing, and consumption.

Over the past four weeks, participants in the course studied the latest scientific research in food science and safety. Lab exercises and lectures covering six modules, including food defense, sanitation and food microbiology, coupled with field trips to local food processing companies like Armenia Wine, Noyan Juice and Marianna Dairy, equipped the students with hands-on experience and critical skills to further Armenia’s food safety.

The certificate program at the Agribusiness Teaching Center was established through the USAID-funded Innovation for Agricultural Training and Education (InnovATE) program.

During the award ceremony, USAID Armenia Mission Director Deborah Grieser, ICARE Director Vardan Urutyan, and InnovATE Armenia Project Director Angela Neilan presented certificates to the first graduates of the course.

Armenia’s Minister of Agriculture, Ignati Arakelyan, was also in attendance at the event. Congratulating the graduates of the first Food Safety Systems Management program, he expressed hope that in the near term future the Center’s entire graduating class would have their weighty contribution in the food safety sector, which is very critical for Armenia. He thanked the US Government and USAID for continuous support in development of agricultural education in Armenia and said that the Ministry’s Food Safety Department will be happy to employ some of the students upon their graduation of ATC.

In her welcome remarks, Ms. Grieser noted that ICARE, the parent organization of the Agribusiness Teaching Center, was the result of a unique cooperation between the United States and Armenia. “We are happy to have watched ICARE evolve and grow over the past 16 years into an essential institution that promotes the best international standards for agribusiness. This new certificate program addresses the needs of the Armenian Government and food processing businesses in Armenia. It also provides an unprecedented opportunity for the Armenian higher education system to offer informed solutions to critical issues concerning food safety. USAID is proud to support these efforts,” she said, adding that the program would expand job placement opportunities in the agribusiness sector.

Arshaluys Tarverdyan, the Rector of the Armenian National Agrarian University (ANAU), noted in his turn that, responding to the existing needs of the labor market, ANAU is currently involved in reforming its educational programs. At the same time, raising ANAU’s international status has been in progress for over twenty years now. The Food Safety Systems Management program is a sound complement to these successful processes. Moreover, ANAU strongly believes that on the education level this innovative and unique program is the best answer to the many open questions and challenges in food safety that are encountered by the agricultural sector and the consumer community in general. “We could expect positive outcomes only in cooperation with our international partners. I am pleased to mention that we have started cooperation with Penn State and Virginia Tech through the support from USAID. In a short period, a few intensive modules were developed and suggested to undergraduate senior students ANAU Agribusiness Teaching Center’s during January. As of now, witnessing the knowledge and aspirations of our student, we should use this opportunity to use this scheme to organize the education process in other department of the university too,” said Prof. Tarverdyan.

The pioneer course in January 2017 was delivered by prominent experts from InnovATE’s American partner universities: Dr. Joseph Marcy, Head of the Food Science and Technology Department (Virginia Tech), Dr. Catherine Cutter, Professor of Food Science and Assistant Director of Food Safety and Quality Programs (Penn State), and Dr. Siroj Pokharel, Post-Doctoral Research Scientist (Penn State). The three experts developed the course curriculum for Armenia based on their teaching experience and Armenia’s specific needs for food safety education.

To ensure sustainability of the certificate program in Armenia, four Armenian food safety and microbiology experts from the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) and the Armenian National Academy of Sciences assisted the American faculty in course delivery and will take the lead for such future courses at the ATC. 

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The USAID-funded InnovATE program is implemented by Virginia Tech in consortium with Penn State University, Tuskegee University, and the University of Florida. InnovATE’s project in Armenia plays an important role in the institutional development of ATC/ICARE and the improvement of the agricultural training and education system in Armenia.

 

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