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Student Focus

V&E’s MPS Students Bring Diverse Skill Sets to the Cornell Community

by Brynn Wilkins and Justine Vanden Heuvel

Cornell University offers a Master of Professional Studies in Agriculture (MPS) with a specialization in either Viticulture or Enology. This unique, course-based graduate program attracts a diverse student population, providing participants the opportunity to study viticulture and enology at one of the top programs in the world. Students choose to specialize in either Viticulture, in the School of Integrated Plant Sciences or Enology, in the Food Science department.

VIEN MPS students frequently come from programs or industries that are not directly related to grape growing and wine making. This wide-variety of prior experiences yields an eclectic student body that seeks to gain formal and hands-on training in the grape and wine industry. With microbiologists, chemical engineers, and hobbyist cologne makers, the MPS Class of 2021 brings a delightfully diverse array of perspectives and sense of ingenuity to Cornell’s VIEN community.

Don CaldwellDon Caldwell started with wine and grapes in 2011 by volunteering with a Virginia winery. After working for several commercial operations, first in the cellar then in the vineyard, he started working with Cornell Cooperative Extension in 2018. “I enrolled in the MPS program this past fall to complement my practical experience with more theory,” Don says. “I plan on continuing fieldwork and working as a viticulturist upon degree completion - helping less established growers in immature regions find their place.”

Lloyd JonesLloyd Jones is a native New Yorker, born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, but grew up around plants with his parents, who hail from the Caribbean and South America. Jones completed his undergraduate studies at SUNY Cobleskill, and has a background in general Plant Science. Jones has worked for the New York Botanical Garden for several years in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and Nolen Greenhouses. Jones notes that “I have worked with a variety of cool and interesting plants such as the Amorphophallus titanum, Psychopsis papillio, Osa pulchra and Victoria amazonica to name a few as a gardener.” However, Jones says he always wanted to specialize in viticulture and enology. “I was granted an opportunity to enrich my education at Cornell and pursue my dreams. I believe with an MPS degree I can further my career and specialize.” After graduation, Jones would like to work in the wine industry in New York or overseas. “Ultimately, having a few acres and growing my own grapes would be a dream come true… I am here to learn as much as I can and broaden my professional skills.”

Brian NoackBrian Noack studied Microbiology at University of Miami and went on to practice intellectual property and alcoholic beverage law. Noack mentions that despite practicing law, “I never lost my interest in microbiology and became increasingly interested in learning how to make wine. After spending harvests in Sonoma, Napa, and Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, I realized that I had found my calling: winemaking. I love everything about the industry, including the connection to the land, focus on science, problem-solving, sensory analysis, and passionate people.” It became clear to Noack that to achieve his goal of becoming a winemaker, he would need to formally study winemaking. “After researching the top programs in the US, Cornell was the unequivocal best fit for me because of its industry-leading professors, well-respected name, location in an amazing wine region, and tight-knit community.”

Gabriela PolancoGabriela Polanco was accepted into the MPS program with a specialization in enology, and was “beyond excited for the opportunity.” Polanco graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz in 2018 with a B.S. in Plant Sciences. Since then, Polanco attended a UC Davis study abroad program for winemaking and also completed a cellar internship at Cakebread Cellars for their harvest. Polanco noted that “I wanted to further expand my knowledge of enology in hopes of becoming a winemaker one day and decided attending graduate school was the best way to do so. I’ve learned so much already in my first quarter, and I am looking forward to what this program still has yet to offer.”

Riley SanchezRiley Sanchez’s undergraduate degree is in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. “I wanted a career that combined these two areas of study. The wine industry does just that,” notes Sanchez. “After working in the wine industry for three years, I knew I wanted to go back to school to study viticulture and enology. I enrolled in the MPS program in Food Science and Technology because it provides me with a formal education in enology while allowing me to complete the program in only one year.” Sanchez’s original career goal was to be a winemaker. However, Sanchez commented that “The MPS program opened my eyes to so many potential careers, and I am excited to explore all these different career options."

Matthew SheehanOriginally from Glenwood, Maryland, Matthew Sheehan graduated with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Lehigh University in 2019. Sheehan comments that he “… enrolled in the MPS program because I felt that it was the perfect transition for me into the industry.” Sheehan hopes to have a career focused on technologies and flavor science. “I have always been interested in flavors and fragrances, and have been making colognes since eighth grade.”

Brynn Wilkins is coordinator of the undergraduate Viticulture and Enology major, and is based in the department of food science at Cornell.  Justine Vanden Heuvel is professor in the horticulture section of the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell University.