Here’s one sure-fire way to get high schoolers interested in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) career: Teach them to make their own pizza.

That was the idea behind a food science camp—called Pizza-ology—offered by the University of Idaho (UI) in Moscow, Idaho, from July 6-12. The camp, which was free, immersed students in discussions and activities about sustainable food practices and introduced them to the various career possibilities in food, including restaurant management, agriculture and research.

Eighteen students from across Idaho took part in the camp. This was the camp’s second year—the pilot program drew 12 students in 2022, the Lewiston Tribune reported.

Related: This pizza magnate founded a university—and an entire town

Wooster’s Pizzeria and Maialina Pizzeria Napoletana, both located in Moscow, also participated in the camp, along with other local restaurants.

The students went on day trips to restaurants, farms and foodservice facilities to learn about the chemistry of food, sustainable agriculture practices and practical science.

“Food science camps, as a hands-on STEM learning experience, are rare,” said William Tai, the camp director and a doctoral candidate for STEM education at UI, in a statement. “It is even rarer to find one integrating learning experiences from local vendors and restaurateurs. We hope Pizza-ology can provide insight into what it takes to source ingredients for the food that students love, explain the science behind food preparation and promote interactive science camps to get students interested in STEM.”

This photo shows two students, both male, with their hands in a dough mix.

University of Idaho

Day 1 of the camp focused on glutenin and gliadin proteins in pizza crust and bread. Students learned about the formation of gluten by comparing the “stretch length” of dough made using wheat flour and rice flour. They also kneaded and baked their own bread and posed questions to experienced bakers.

On Day 2, they chose veggie and fruit toppings for their pies, studied the intricacies of acidity, pH and plant anatomy and delved into the complexities of pizza sauce. They also toured a local vegetable farm.

Related: Who are the country’s leading pizza influencers for 2023?

Cheese was the featured topic on Day 3, as the students broke into groups of two or three and learned how to make their own mozzarella while studying the enzymes, proteins and bacteria involved in cheese-making.

Day 4 brought an exploration of cured and smoked meats, food preservation techniques and the financial aspects of owning a business, culminating in a trip to a local pork farm. Day 5 dealt with the science behind the five senses, including how chemistry affects flavor.

On the last day of the camp, the students visited the Moscow Farmer’s Market to learn about sourcing ingredients, then went back to the IU campus and made their own pizzas from scratch for their family and friends.

“If they didn’t know how to make anything, they do now, especially from scratch,” Tai told the Lewiston Tribune. “What we’re doing here is really giving these kids the confidence to explore, not only in their cooking, but the science behind what makes these dishes so good.”

Ashleigh Miravete, a 12th-grader, told the Tribune she ate a lot of pizza during the weeklong camp—maybe too much. But the program, she said, “made cooking a lot less scary. I feel like I can do this.”

Pizza News