Tom Williams is a 2021 Appalachian State University Fermentation Sciences graduate, currently studying in the Master of Microbial Biotechnology program at North Carolina State University. He credits his App State degree in Fermentation Sciences as the best preparation for his success in graduate school.
Learn what’s next for him and how you might benefit from a similar education path.
Q. How did the Fermentation Sciences program prepare you for your current position?
My success in graduate school really stems from the comprehensive curriculum I received in the Appalachian State Fermentation Sciences program. From biochemistry to microbiology and bioprocessing, the program immerses you in the many disciplines that underly fermentation. Additionally, the Fermentation Sciences program afforded me an incredible opportunity to perform novel research that was instrumental in my professional growth.
Q. What made you choose the Fermentation Sciences program when deciding on colleges and majors?
I was drawn to the App State Fermentation Sciences program because of its multi-disciplinary curriculum and its great reputation in brewing circles. I was particularly impressed with how comprehensive the coursework was as well as the experience and expertise among the faculty.
Q. What is unique about the Fermentation Sciences program at Appalachian State University?
The App State Fermentation Sciences program is really a cut above when it comes to the rigor of study and the depth of instruction. This is not a program where you just attend a few brewing classes and earn a certificate. You are really challenged as a scientist to think empirically and demonstrate an understanding of the processes that underly fermentation. In so doing, the Fermentation Sciences program prepares you to be a master of the craft.
Q. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Five years from now I hope to be working on the commercialization of novel microbes and traits that are of value to the food and beverage industries. The study of the microbiome is especially gaining steam, and it is exciting to think about the potential solutions we can deliver in this space using the knowledge we apply in fermentation science.
Q. What does the future look like for fermentation industries?
The future of fermentation looks great! The multidisciplinary nature of fermentation makes it relevant in many applications. From what I see, there is a huge demand for fermentation scientists in biomanufacturing and biopharmaceutical production. The advent of biological-based therapies has put fermentation front and center in drug development. Additionally, an increase in the development and use of microbe-based biopesticides is also drawing demand for fermentation scientists in the AgTech space. And as our sequencing technology and cell culture techniques improve, I think we will see even more reliance on propagating microbes for our benefit. The need for expertise in fermentation is only growing, and I think it bodes well for those taking it on as a career path.
Q. Why would you recommend the Fermentation Sciences program at Appalachian State University to students considering a career in fermentation-related industries?
I would recommend the Fermentation Sciences program to prospective students because it will provide them with the comprehensive study needed to succeed in fermentation-related industries. Students graduate from this program as scientists who have the knowledge to work in any number of settings, including breweries, wineries, biomanufacturing facilities, and research labs.
Q. What is the one piece of advice you would give to future Fermentation Sciences students and employees in fermentation industries?
I would advise students and employees in the fermentation space to recognize the wide range of knowledge and skills they have from working in this field of study. Fermentation scientists don’t have the luxury of being able to focus on just chemistry, microbiology, thermodynamics, or any number of other disciplines that play key roles in fermentation. Not only does this range of knowledge set you apart but it allows you to work in any number of roles and industries.
Q. What is your prediction for the next big “breakthrough” when it comes to fermentation—whether it’s food/beverage, environmental, or medical/pharmaceutical?
While maybe not a big breakthrough, I anticipate an increase in the development of microbe-based biopesticides over the next five to 10 years. As we improve our ability to culture different microbes associated with crops and the rhizosphere, I think we will see the agriculture industry increasingly seek out non-toxic solutions for crop protection. The success of this pivot will ultimately hinge on how well fermentations can be scaled to achieve the titers of microbes needed. However, I know this is an active area of investigation, and it will be exciting to see what solutions emerge.
Dr. Brett Taubman is a Professor in the A.R. Smith Department of Chemistry and Fermentation Sciences at Appalachian State University. He earned B.S. degrees in Finance and Chemistry from the Pennsylvania State University and Montana State University, respectively, and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Maryland in 2004. Following his graduate studies, he worked as a Post-doctoral Research Associate at the Pennsylvania State University before joining the faculty at Appalachian in 2007.
Dr. Taubman has found his research niche as a vice chemist, exploring the fascinating chemistry of beer and hemp-derived cannabinoids and terpenes. He has successfully developed an instructional brewing facility on campus and serves as President of Ivory Tower, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation with the mission of supporting research and education within fermentation sciences. Dr. Taubman helped to develop the four-year degree program in Fermentation Sciences at App, for which he is currently the Director.
Megan Hutton is an Administrative Support Associate in the A.R. Smith Department of Chemistry and Fermentation Sciences. She is a 2022 graduate of App State (B.S. in Languages, Literatures, and Cultures: Spanish). She also holds degrees in Information Systems and Advertising/Graphic Design.
ABOUT APPALACHIAN STATE UNIVERSITY
Appalachian State University, located in the picturesque mountain town of Boone, North Carolina, offers more than 150 majors and a 16:1 student-to-instructor ratio. A bachelor of science degree program in Fermentation Sciences was added in 2012. Alternatively, students can minor in Fermentation Sciences or get a concentration in Fermentation Sciences in addition to earning a chemistry degree.
App State’s Fermentation Sciences program is intended to provide students with a strong background in chemistry and biology as well as a considerable focus in business, marketing, and entrepreneurial principles. Students are required to fulfill rigorous core requirements in sciences and humanities while gaining exposure to principles of fermentation, systems design and engineering, and the social and cultural implications of food and beverage production. Upper-level students will have extensive hands-on experience with bio-processing technology to handle agricultural and industrial waste streams, water treatment, and environmental remediation.
Students are integral in the operations and management of the Fermentation Pilot Plant—including recipe development, research collaborations with industry partners, and business management. Fermentation Sciences faculty have developed industry collaborations with local vineyards, wineries, breweries, distilleries, and biotechnology businesses to provide students with a real-world classroom for practical experience. Students within the program will also have the opportunity to work in the Fermentation Sciences Service Laboratory and develop their skills with state-of-the-art instrumentation.
The Fermentation Sciences academic curriculum was designed to encourage all students to pursue a minor in Biology, Chemistry, Marketing, or Entrepreneurship. This will also contribute to the competitiveness of Appalachian graduates entering the workforce.