Spotlight: CWU's First-in-Washington Craft Brewing Program

Central Washington University answers the craft brewing industry’s call for skilled professionals.
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With more than 5,000 craft breweries in the United States and more than 330 in Washington state alone, the beer industry has become increasingly competitive. Breweries are desperate for people with an intimate knowledge of the brewing process and the science behind it.

Answering that demand is Central Washington University (CWU) in Ellensburg, which now offers a craft brewing certificate and bachelor of science in craft brewing programs. Both are the first of their kind in Washington state.

“We’re addressing the need for the industry to have highly trained professionals,” says program manager Katie Olson. “Ten years ago, brewing was a blue-collar industry and people were self-taught. The industry wants more formal education with that heavy science background.”

Students can complete the certificate program in one academic year, or 30 weeks. Four courses cover the biochemistry, microbiology, technology and business of craft brewing. Students perform hands-on brewing, learn from industry professionals and take field trips to hop country in the Yakima Valley. Since 2009, 60 students have graduated.

Olson says the four-year bachelor of science program, launched in fall 2015, builds on the four courses in the certificate program and adds a full flight of chemistry, biochemistry and physics courses as well as courses on sensory analysis, hops and the marketing of the brew process. In response to demand from consumers for new beer flavors, students in the program gain real-world knowledge of different fermentation techniques and the proper evaluation and sensory analysis of varying beer types.

Students in their senior year are required to either take an internship at a local brewery or take a course in brewing research methods. The program has internship agreements with several breweries in the state. Many students also look outside the state for internships.

Olson says CWU has regular conversations with industry professionals to ensure the program’s curriculum stays relevant. An advisory board consists of industry professionals representing public relations, hops growing, brewery operations and brewery ownership.

Olson says six students have graduated from the bachelor’s degree program. Thirty are enrolled.

“Our job placement rate is close to 100 percent,” she says of both programs. “I haven’t had a student say, ‘I can’t get a job.’”

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