While most students learn from textbooks, youngsters participating in a special summer enrichment program at Texas A&M International University are learning from pickles, cheese, sauerkraut, and tepache. No, they're not learning to cook, they're learning how science is a vital part of everyday life, explained Dr. Mario Garcia-Rios, assistant professor of biology and chemistry at A&M International.
"Pickles, cheese, sauerkraut, and tepache have something in common--fermentation, a chemical reaction in which sugars are broken down. The production of certain foods, like pickles, is possible only through the controlled use of fermentation. That means these foods are only possible through science," said Dr. Garcia-Rios.
Because fermentation is such an important chemical process, Garcia-Rios developed a course on the subject for the Summer Academy, a summer enrichment program for high school students offered by the University's Office of Continuing Education.
Oscar Muñoz, director of Continuing Education at A&M International, said the course is called "Fermentation Fun: Exploration and Culinary Adventures with Ferments."
"Most people would not associate fun with fermentation but the students who enroll in Summer Academy science courses are curious and science-minded so we hoped the unique course would pique their interest. It has. The course is a great success," Muñoz explained.
He added that the philosophy of the University's summer programs for children and teens is to provide fun, unique learning opportunities. Are these students learning and having fun?
"These students are learning everything they ever wanted to know about fermentation and more. Even though these fermentation experiments may seem to be more fun than work, the students are gaining scientific training that will help them achieve success when they graduate from high school and attempt University-level science courses," noted Dr. Garcia-Rios.
For more information on the "Fermentation Fun" course, please call the University's Office of Continuing Education, 326-2700, or visit offices in Killam Library room 332. University office hours are 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday - Friday.