A Master’s in Coffee – Part 1

Fondazione Ernesto IllyIt was a long journey, travelling from Guatemala City, my hometown, to Trieste, Italy. I arrived on a Wednesday afternoon, which gave me enough time to get settled in before classes started that following Monday. I came to Trieste to pursue a Master’s in Coffee Science and Economics, organized by the Ernesto Illy Foundation, along with the Universities of Trieste and Udine, and other local organizations. I heard about this program six months before it actually started. According to the website, the Master’s would cover three main disciplinary areas: economical-administrative, biological-agronomic, and technological, providing a holistic learning opportunity regarding coffee and its production cycle.
How I Got Here
Coming from a coffee producing family, I have seen coffee since I was a young child; but I became truly intrigued with coffee when I was employed in the United States working with CoffeeTalk Magazine in Seattle. I had the opportunity to experience not only, different coffees from around the world and their idiosyncrasies, but learn about the complexity of the whole supply chain. During my time at CoffeeTalk I had the opportunity to attend multiple coffee conferences, meet various industry professionals, and even get my Q-grader certificate along with Kerri Goodman, Owner and Publisher of the magazine. Working under Kerri was a great experience, and the knowledge and skills I acquired during that time are invaluable. I had been working at the magazine for around 13 months when I read about the Ernesto Illy Master’s in Coffee Science and Economics, and just by reading the curriculum I could tell this would be the perfect next step in my career (Ok and maybe the part about living in Italy for five-months had some influence too.)
It was just before the application deadline. I applied for one of the scholarships the Ernesto Illy foundation provides for several individuals from coffee producing countries. The Illy family established the Ernesto Illy Foundation in 2008; and their motto since then has been “Cultivating and developing knowledge, ethics, and sustainability.” While the Master’s program has a cost of  €15,000; every year, the Foundation grants seven full scholarships and two partial scholarships to graduates worldwide with an education in Economics, Engineering, Sciences, Agriculture, Business, and other similar disciplines.
A few weeks after sending in the application, I got the exciting news that I had been awarded one of nine scholarships to go to Trieste for this Master’s program. The Ernesto Illy Master’s staff was immensely supportive in helping us arrange our stay and fix all the details regarding applications, living, and transportation during our stay. So after various months of paperwork and getting things ready, finally arriving in Trieste seemed unreal.
Only the Beginning
Orientation day began with a press conference held by Dr. Andrea Illy, Ms. Ana Illy, and faculty of the other participatory Universities. They welcomed us to Trieste, and explained in detail the program to all of those present. In a nutshell, the Master’s degree in Coffee Science and Economics is a five-month program, composed of 400 hours of lessons and divided into 20 educational modules, covering coffee from crop to cup. Ultimately, all the graduates will be obtaining 60 formative university credits, which are fully recognized by the Italian university system.
After the press conference, our class was introduced to the faculty staff, as well as to some company staff. The program began in 2011, meaning that we will be the third edition of the Ernesto Illy Master’s program. We are a diverse group with very distinct backgrounds. Individuals from all over the world are partaking in this program: Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, India, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Italy, Peru, Germany, Italy, and a couple of us from Guatemala. Our class is comprised of 18 students, all with different qualifications in everything from Business Administration to Biomedical Science.
It has only been a week, but so far, it has been a great and unique experience. Classes have begun, and already, it is a very intense program. On the first day of classes, we immediately began with the first module: Coffee Genetics. A few of us with Business and Marketing Degrees were worried that we would fall behind because of our lack of preparation in this subject, but the teachers have done a great job explaining the material and even covering some basics so everybody would comprehend the concepts. (Nonetheless, we will have to study a lot for our exams.) We also began other courses such as Industrial processing; International sourcing; and Botany & Plant Physiology, where we are learning everything about plant cells, cell reproduction, and coffee plant morphology.
Nevertheless, it looks like this will be an exceptional five months, and this is only the beginning of this journey in Italy. This will be the first of six monthly articles that I will be writing on my experience during the program. There is plenty to mention about this wonderful cross-cultural experience, our classes, and of course, lots to mention about Coffee!

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