University College Dublin: Shaping a sustainable future through agriculture and food science
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University College Dublin: Shaping a sustainable future through agriculture and food science

In 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic at its peak, California was hit by record-setting wildfires that burned more than 4% of the state’s roughly 100 million acres of land.

Californian Carolyn West recalls days when she couldn’t go outside because of choking smoke and orange-tinted skies. The tragedy motivated her to pursue forestry as an undergraduate at the University College Dublin, which ranked #1 in Ireland and #87 in the world by QS Graduate Employability Rankings 2022.

Carolyn West. Source: Carolyn West

“It seemed a practical thing to major in,” she says. “With the environmental regulations passed concerning stopping climate change, everyone wants trees,” she says.

At the School of Agriculture & Food Science — where Agriculture & Forestry subjects are ranked in the top 100 in the world by QS Rankings 2022 — West is learning to create habitats, provide spaces for recreation, and produce timber — all of which are practices that significantly contribute to solving some of the world’s biggest challenges.

“I’ve really enjoyed my major so far,” says West. “It’s practical enough to appeal to the part of me that wants boots on the ground but with enough theory and law to appeal to the part of me that wants nothing more than to read and study.”

It’s not just forestry students making moves; the school offers 15 undergraduate programmes spanning the entire food chain, from on-farm food production to human nutrition and health.

Whether it’s the agricultural systems technology, animal science, dairy business, or horticulture programme, the foundational, first-year curriculum covers the basic sciences at the core of these studies so students can explore different subjects before deciding on a specific degree path.

Aside from balancing theory and practical lessons, experiential learning exists through laboratory work, industry guest lecturers, industry site visits, mandatory industry internships and work experience, and study abroad opportunities at the school’s international partner universities.

BSc Food Science student Vessel Yang from Malaysia participated in a semester-long study exchange at Cornell University — a decision influenced by the institution’s high-ranking food science programme.

Vessel Yang. Source: Vessel Yang

“Having the experience of studying at Cornell University was amazing,” says Yang, who has had other impactful experiential opportunities, like lab experiences where she crafted food formulations and fieldwork exploring food production facilities.

These opportunities aligned perfectly with her passion for food science. She knew that studying the discipline could offer a distinctive perspective on contributing to people’s health. “I’m drawn to the ‘prevention’ side, emphasising proactive measures for well-being,” she explains. The School of Agriculture & Food immediately stood out as the ultimate choice.

Regarding Food Science and Technology, it ranked #11 by US News & World Report 2023 and #28 worldwide by Shanghai Academic Ranking 2023. The UCD Institute of Food & Health ranks among the top 3 food research-based institutes globally based on the field-weighted citation impact of its publications in the research area.

Research-active faculty incorporate the latest findings from personal and international research into their teaching. The UCD Institute of Food & Health is an ongoing initiative that brings together a highly skilled academic staff and students across multiple disciplines spanning soil to society, delivering high-impact, commercially focused, world-class research in partnership with the agriculture and food industry. Such insights play a crucial role in innovating and developing programmes that address modern-day problems.

While each of the School of Agriculture & Food’s programmes already addresses environmental sustainability within the confines of the subject, the university has introduced a new BSc programme to explore the topic on a deeper level — it revolves around Sustainable Food Systems.

Its efforts extend beyond the confines of academia, too. The School actively supports the sustainable development of the Irish agriculture and food industries. Ireland is one of the most sustainable export-oriented food producers globally, exporting 90% of the food produced to 180 countries worth €16.7B in 2022. In September 2024, the new Sustainable Food Systems programme will continue this development, focusing on the sustainability of the complete food chain from production through processing to consumption.

The curriculum will enable learners to grasp the principles and practices surrounding sustainable agriculture, food production systems, food processing and consumption through courses like sustainable food production, the circular economy, social and economic sustainability, policy and governance. This four-year programme will undoubtedly guide them toward a future-forward global movement ensuring food security for both this generation and the ones to come.

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