When Bee Sweet Citrus President Jim Marderosian wanted to donate to his alma mater several years ago, the decision was made to gift the university with practical technology students could learn from.
First a citrus packing line capable of running at commercial scale gave students practical tools to learn not only how to operate the equipment, but how to troubleshoot and repair the technology. Now a robotic palletizing arm that lets students put together pallets of product much the same way a commercial food processor would is making the theoretical practical for a new generation.
Marderosian said the donation was designed to give students who may later come to work for him or other food processors the practical experience of working with technology common in the citrus industry, and food processing in general. In deciding how to give to his alma mater, the decision for the equipment was borne out of his search for students to do the kind of work he would require at his Fowler-based company.
“There’s not a citrus line in a lot of the universities,” Marderosian said. “They don’t tend to focus on the production side of citrus.”
As such, students were not learning how to use and troubleshoot the kinds of equipment common within the industry.
Noe Toribio is one of those students benefitting from the new technology. He sees the future of industrial automation in agriculture in the Central Valley and wants to be a part of it.
“I want to be on top of this,” he said of the technology.
As an industrial technology student who will graduate next semester, Toribio is learning how to operate, troubleshoot and program equipment that is or could be used in agricultural production and processing.
Thomas Marderosian, industrial technology manager at Bee Sweet is an adjunct professor at Fresno State, teaching students like Toribio the technical aspects of equipment he manages at Bee Sweet, and equipment like it that’s used throughout the food processing world.
“The point of the class is to expose students to what is there in agriculture and the citrus industry,” Thomas said.
Though small compared to the processing lines at a commercial citrus outfit, Thomas says the packing line at Fresno State can run 15 bins an hour and has much the same optical sorting technology a commercial processor would employ. The system is generally designed to process medium-sized citrus, such as Navel and Valencia oranges, lemons and limes. It can also run small grapefruit and could sort mandarins, he said.
Fresno State’s new dean of the Jordan College of Agriculture, Dennis Nef, says donations like this are critical in an era where state funding does not allow universities to provide some of the necessary and practical tools students need to enter the workplace. He pointed to other areas within the college of agriculture and elsewhere on campus where private donations have been helpful to students and university goals to train students for an evolving marketplace.