OSWEGO – SUNY Oswego’s enterprising Agricultural Testing and Analysis Labs at the Port of Oswego and the Shineman Center won a national Award of Excellence on Tuesday at the University Economic Development Association Annual Summit in Roanoke, Virginia.
The labs – created to close an export loop in the regional economy – utilize trained student chemists to test and analyze grain shipments, meeting the needs of one of the Port of Oswego Authority’s largest customers, Perdue AgriBusiness, and providing on-the-job business experience for undergraduates.
The UEDA honored the program for “synergistically connecting Talent + Place in ways that enrich participation, and otherwise enhance quality of place.”
College President Deborah F. Stanley expressed appreciation for the award.
“As the largest employer in Oswego County and a progressive and relevant economic anchor in our region, SUNY Oswego fosters intentional learning that prepares our students to contribute real, hands-on intellectual capital,” she said. “We are focused on the future and work to position our students on the front lines of the next generation of business and industry.”
Supported in part with a commitment of $250,000 through Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office to equip the laboratories, the college’s program seized an opportunity presented by Perdue and its determination to reduce its energy footprint while shipping 30,000 tons of grain a year through the Port of Oswego to its facility in Norfolk, Virginia, for export.
The college ultimately seeks to have its student inspectors obtain U.S. Department of Agriculture certification to provide USDA weights, grades and testing, enabling the port to export grain and increasing the volume of corn, soy and wheat passing through Oswego.
“We truly had a call to action by key stakeholders in order to move this project forward,” said Pamela Caraccioli, deputy to the president for external partnerships and economic development.
The college made an “active, dynamic and responsive” proposal to Perdue, the Port of Oswego Authority and government leaders.
The testing and analysis program is designed to serve as a model for colleges seeking to respond substantially to the resource needs of business and industry.
“Key to these efforts is fostering critical partnerships with business and industry, as well as government and economic development organizations across the region,” Caraccioli said. “SUNY Oswego’s leaders, faculty, staff and students continuously serve as catalysts for developing collaborations, and make an impact through research, community service and workforce development.”
Caraccioli made the trip to the UEDA’s summit with two students, senior biochemistry major Iain Thompson, working at the Port of Oswego as a cooperative education student, and senior accounting major Noah Oliver, who developed pricing models for the testing and analysis labs.
The two-year-old program, under the leadership of biological sciences faculty member Anthony Contento, has so far trained 26 students in a five-week course coupled with three weeks of on-the job mentoring to ensure excellence, consistency and safety in testing and analysis year-round, including summers.
“This is a really sound operation,” Contento said. “I’m here to manage and train, but it’s student-run once the students complete course requirements and on-the-job training at the Port and Perdue’s facility in Livonia. This is an adult job with very specific requirements they have to meet. This is for business and industry—it’s a higher stakes job.”
Thompson, a 2016 recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence who plans to attend medical school, said the Port of Oswego job transcends testing and analysis to provide a collaborative work experience within a real business framework.
“I’m learning to troubleshoot problems in the field, and to communicate among levels (of co-workers and managers),” he said. “I’m learning the business. I’m learning how food processing and safety are handled. It’s something I’ve always been interested in.”
The labs at the Port of Oswego and the Shineman Center use innovative testing methods and equipment—among them infrared grain analyzers, near-infrared spectrophotometers, falling-number machines and others to weigh, sort and test samples of grain shipments for moisture, starch, proteins and other grading measures.
On request, the labs can mill samples into flour to apply other quality criteria.
A second port customer, Sunoco Ethanol, also has begun utilizing the testing laboratories, and additional market research is under way in support of obtaining the USDA designation.
Oliver, the accounting student, is helping to craft a business plan aimed at scaling up the college’s effort, Caraccioli said.
For example, among grant applications in the pipeline are one to purchase and equip a mobile lab to take the testing and analysis directly to grain producers and distributors in the region.
Additionally, the college can expand the labs’ capabilities to monitor other agricultural products sourced in New York state, in response to Governor Cuomo’s New York State Certified High Quality initiative.
For more information about the college’s Agricultural Testing and Analysis Labs, contact Contento at 315-312-2032 or [email protected]