Resident Course History and Purpose

In 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy gave the first TV tour of the White House; Jackie Robinson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame; the Beatles released their first single, and “West Side Story” won the Best Picture Oscar. That summer, Joe von Elbe, a new professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, drove down to Herb Knechtel’s research and development laboratory in Skokie, Illinois, to pick up the equipment needed for the first Resident Course in Confectionery Technology. Fifty years later, the course, hosted by the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and the National Confectioners Association, has become an important training ground for the candy industry. Although Professor Rich Hartel coordinates the program now, Joe von Elbe continues to teach in it. Hundreds of students — from line workers and company owners to technical staff and suppliers — have learned the science of candy from the world’s confectionery experts. “The word to describe it is probably impossible,” says consultant Walt Vink, who spent 26 years with LifeSavers and attended, sent employees to and teaches in the course that’s affectionately called “candy school.” Students are often competitors, he says, but when they get to campus, they share information. As the confectionery school begins its second half-century, private support is key to improving students’ candy-making experience. A campaign to celebrate the confectionery school’s 50th birthday will buy new, updated equipment to ensure top results.

At its heart, candy school is about science. And the chemical and functional interactions of ingredients don’t change. Students learn the science of candies and then make them, varying ingredients to see what happens. The curriculum begins with hard candy — sugar and sugar free — includes gum, gummies and jellies, nougats and taffy, fondants and creams, panning, and ends with chocolate. Knowing the science behind the products allows candy makers to adjust and change, says consultant Pam Gesford, who has worked for Hershey and Jelly Belly. She has taught and has sent students to the school. Understanding how ingredients act and react shows ingredient suppliers where their products will work well. “It’s important for companies to try new products and do more with the people they already have,” Gesford says. “This kind of general course gives employees a confectionery background. I’ve seen people excel, whether they have a good science background or not much science at all.” With your help, the student experience will be richer. With a gift to the Confectionery Science Program Fund, you will help purchase updated equipment that will allow tomorrow’s candy makers and suppliers to understand and test the science of candy.