Skip to main content
Agriculture and Food

The Dairy Best: Students Make — And Scoop — Sweet Summertime Treats

A smiling person in a red car grabs an ice cream in a waffle cup off of a blue tray.
Written By Gabby Ferreira | Photos by Dylan Head

A student presents a tray with three ice cream scoops into a car's open window.
One of the Creamery's student employees serves up scoops of student-made ice cream at the weekly drive thru.

The hum of machinery is the soundtrack to a delicious Learn by Doing experience: ice cream making.

On this summer day at the Cal Poly Creamery, students are making a batch of their best-selling Mud Pie flavor — a chocolate ice cream with hints of coffee and swirls of crushed Oreo cookies — and training a new crop of students. 

Since the students are just making one flavor of ice cream today, it’s considered a “slow” day — but they’ll still fill hundreds of pints.

Toni Rocha, a fifth-year food science major, bustles around the processing area, helping the newer hires in different spots on the assembly line and answering questions.

“We’re always getting new students, and I really like helping and teaching them,” said Rocha, who has worked at the Creamery for about a year. “We’re all figuring things out and working together as a team.”

One of those new students is Allison Lee, a fourth-year food science major who learned about jobs at the Creamery during Open House.

A student employee holds a card reader outside of a car at the Creamery's drive thru.
A student takes orders at the Creamery's weekly drive thru.

“It seems like a really cool place to work and good product development experience,” she said. “I’m excited about the knowledge I’m gaining by doing this myself.”

After some initial chatting as they check the machinery and ensure everything is in good working order, it’s showtime. The large machines roar to life, and there's a slurping sound as the liquid ice cream mix starts processing. The students take their places for the first step: quality-testing the mix before it heads down the assembly line.

As the processed mix begins to slide out of a tube, Creamery Production Manager Katy Pankey passes a gloved hand under the hose to test consistency before the nascent ice cream can move on to the next step. A few students dip plastic spoons into the creamy concoction to taste for the right balance of flavor. There’s a lack of coffee, so students add more until the mix is just right. 

Then it’s time to hook the tube up to the ice cream filler machine: everyone takes their spot on the line as the ice cream empties into the cardboard pints, which are then scanned with a serial number, organized on crates, and taken to the deep freezer. More ice cream for the Creamery’s weekly drive-thru shop is stored in giant plastic tubs for easy scooping.

Cars wait in the drive thru line at the Creamery on a sunny day.
Student employees deliver ice cream and other delicious treats to customers in waiting cars at the weekly drive thru.

“I’m just excited to learn about the process,” said fourth-year biology student Gabriella Richardson, who applied for a job at the Creamery after speaking with her friend Emily Henriksen, who is also working today. “It’s been really interesting, and it’s good to learn how to work with others in this environment.”

In all, the students fill at least 288 pints and seven one-gallon tubs of the delicious flavor, according to Pankey. On a normal day, the students manufacture three ice cream flavors and pack about 100 gallons — that’s 1,400 pints — of ice cream.

The Creamery produces six flavors including Maple Sea Salt, Vanilla Bean, Double Dutch Chocolate, Cookies & Cream and Strawberries & Cream. All are available at the Creamery’s drive thru on Fridays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. (along with an array student-made cheeses), or at local grocery stores including California Fresh Market, Vons and Spencer’s Fresh Markets.  

A dry erase board with ice cream, cheese and other Cal Poly-made items for sale.
A dry-erase board at the Creamery's drive thru shows Cal Poly-made goodies available for purchase.

In addition to the wealth of practical knowledge students gain, being able to see their products on shelves makes it that much sweeter.

“It’s fun to know what I’m doing and to have a part in making the food Cal Poly puts out,” Rocha said. “I love being able to say that I helped make this ice cream or that cheese.”

Want more Learn by Doing stories in your life? Sign up for our monthly newsletter, the Cal Poly News Recap!

Subscribe to the Recap