Expanding Wichita breweries offer internship opportunities for WSU biology students

About a year ago, Wichita State senior Alexandrea Feldkamp was asked if she wanted to be an intern for the Wichita Brewing Company.

“You can’t really pass up an opportunity like that,” Feldkamp said, “especially if you have one of your professors coming to you.”

“It’s pretty awesome to get that kind of encouragement from someone who is actively researching in [your] field (of study).”

David McDonald, professor of biology, approached Feldkamp after an upper-level biology course to present the opportunity.

Feldkamp said yes and has worked there for 15 months.

WBC reached out to WSU about internships and since then two other breweries, Aero Plains Brewing and Central Standard Brewing, also reached out to WSU for internship opportunities, McDonald said.

“We usually hear from [breweries] when they decide to start expanding,” McDonald said. “It’s usually when they make the leap to production when they need testing.”

The internships are for testing for bacteria growth during the beer brewing process, checking to see if yeast can be re-used, and when new yeast needs to be used, according to McDonald.

“When you’re brewing beer for production, you don’t want surprises,” McDonald said.

Surprises mean unwanted bacteria has changed the taste of the beer, which consumers don’t like, he said.

Feldkamp was offered the first internship after McDonald and other biology faculty members compiled a list of students, Feldkamp said. She happened to be at the top of the list.

“I was terrified, because I was the first one going into a space that wasn’t yet set up as a lab,” she said.

Since WBC had just expanded, Feldkamp was tasked with setting up the lab for them.

Feldkamp said she enjoyed the autonomy she had to solve problems in the lab as she combined learning from microbiology class and by talking to McDonald when she really needed help.

“Going in I was extremely excited to do it,” she said, “because there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities for biology students to get out there and experience what it would be like in the real world.”

McDonald said students who understand microbiology are most equipped to assist the breweries with testing.

With the addition of the brewery internships, there are about five or six internship opportunities currently available for biology students, McDonald said.

“[Internships] are a way that Wichita State helps our community,” McDonald said. “We’re positioned here to help companies technically, but they can also help us by giving our students on-the-job experience.”

McDonald said he was pleasantly surprised when word spread about Feldkamp doing so well at WBC to other local breweries, causing them to want to connect with the university for similar types of internships.

“What did surprise us is that all of the brewers in this region are really close,” he said. “Working with them has been pleasant as well because… these [companies] are all very cooperative (with each other).”

Feldkamp is graduating at the end of this semester and is passing the WBC internship baton off to senior Alex Zeorlin.

Zeorlin started an internship at Aero Plains Brewing about a month ago and is moving to WBC to take over Feldkamp’s position when she leaves.

“Through the whole process you’re standing and counting cells, which isn’t all that glamorous,” Zeorlin said, “but… my ultimate goal here is helping this brewery save money.”

It’s incredibly expensive to get a batch of yeast and only put it through the process one time, Zeorlin said, so he tries to figure out how many times one batch of yeast can make it through the generation process in the brewery.

Though the job may sound boring to an outsider, Zeorlin said he really enjoys it because he is able to contribute to such an important process.

Feldkamp said doing the internship has prepared her for after graduation.

“When you’re trying to market yourself once you get outside of college it’s really difficult if you don’t have some real life on-site experience,” she said.