In just a few short days, leaders young and not as young from around the coffee world will gather together for the 2015 SCAA Symposium event in Seattle, happening April 8th and 9th. There’s an astounding five years worth of past Symposium coverage in our archives, and year after year, we come back to the same point: We think this event is among the most important on the annual coffee calendar. 

Symposium gathers together the most important coffee leaders in the world under one roof, for a precious set of hours meant to provoke thought, conversation, and unpack a year’s worth of insight. Each year at Symposium we encounter story concepts and ideas that eventually make their way to the pages of Sprudge, and each year we’re delighted to watch the event grow, change, and welcome new members.

To help encourage growth in this community, the SCAA has put together a fellowship program for the Symposium event, offered to coffee professionals who wish to attend the event but can’t do so on their own. Now in its second year, the SCAA’s Symposium Fellowship program received applications from 54 individuals from around the world. Twenty-five spots were made available, including one special fellowship, the Randy Wirth Memorial Fellowship, created in memory of Utah cafe owner Randy Wirth of Caffe Ibis, who passed away in a tragic motorcycle accident in April 2014 . The entire program has been generously underwritten in 2015 by S&D Coffee.


“The fellows program was designed to bring those people who are leading in coffee but cannot afford the conference fee,” SCAA Director of Symposium Peter Giuliano told Sprudge. “Young leaders at the beginning of their career, or leaders from origin, or those working for nonprofits: we want them to join the environment of discovery and discussion that is Symposium.” Fellows selectees will have the not insignificant Symposium entry fee waived, while the Randy Wirth Fellow will in addition receive transportation and lodging expenses.

In addition to sponsoring Symposium attendance, S&D and previous Symposium speaker Vida Asrina are fostering a fellowship environment to optimize the fellows’ interaction, networking, and experience at Symposium. “Our dream is to get them connected with mentors,” Giuliano said. “Part of the vision is that the fellows are likely to be speakers in a few years.”

In advance of this year’s event, we sat down with a few of the selected fellows to query them about their expectations for Symposium, and why this event matters. Our interviewees include Chris Bryner, founder of Bunna Bike in Sitka, Alaska; Ashley Prentice, a Guatemalan-born coffee professional with a Master of Coffee Science and Economics jointly offered by University of Udine, the University of Trieste, and Illy; and Emily Olson, a coffee professional currently applying her MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University at Saint Frank Coffee in San Francisco.

(This year’s first-ever Randy Wirth Memorial Fellow, Joanna Furgiuele, was unavailable for interview while teaching and doing field work in natural resource management in Mexico, as part of her dual degree graduate work at both the University of North Carolina and their rivals, Duke University.)


Will this be your first time attending the SCAA Symposium? 

Chris Bryner: Yup, this is the first, and I’m still shocked that I was chosen. I can’t wait.

Emily Olson: This is my first time attending the SCAA Symposium.

Ashley Prentice: Yes, first time!

Which speaker at this year’s event are you the most excited to see?

Chris Bryner: I’ve got one foot in each of two worlds: elementary education and specialty coffee, so I’m torn. To better teach my students about the world around them through the lens of coffee, I’m most excited to see Mayra Orellana-Powell. From a purely coffee centered perspective, I’m all about Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood.

Emily Olson: It’s kind of a tie between Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood and Bernard Lahousse.

Ashley Prentice: I am excited to hear Paineto Bakulu and Katherine Nolte form Bukonzo Joint Cooperative speak about gender equity and the impact they have had in the [western Uganda] region.

What does this opportunity mean to you as a coffee professional?  

Chris Bryner: I’m hoping that Symposium connects me with folks that can help me deepen my students’ [knowledge of] the world around them through the culture and science of coffee.

Emily Olson: I’m delighted to attend Symposium, but even more excited to go as a fellow. This opportunity means connecting with other professionals from all around the world and to better understand the broader scope and impact of specialty coffee.

Ashley Prentice: This is a great opportunity to get exposed to great industry leaders and influencers and learn from the best. I believe these kinds of events are a great time to grow and continue learning from great speakers or from peer to peer conversation.


Why should members of Generation Y and the Millennial Generation be interested in attending an event like Symposium

Chris Bryner: I think that the world today values and rewards depth over breadth. Symposium deepens understanding, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.

Emily Olson: These are the generations that will push the next series of coffee innovations forward. An event like Symposium would be attractive to someone in this demographic who wishes to gain traction for an idea or perhaps be invited as a speaker to present that idea in front of a progressive audience. It also doesn’t hurt that GenY-ers are so dialed into communicating via social channels to stay connected long after an event like Symposium.

Ashley Prentice: We should all strive to continuously improve as an industry and promote sustainability within our supply chains and the way we operate; I believe events like Symposium endorse this kind of thinking as industry leaders present innovative ideas and better ways of doing business.


What is the #1 thing you are most looking forward to as a Symposium attendee?

Chris Bryner: I’m hoping that I experience a moment—even a fleeting one—where, surrounded by some of the most important thinkers and doers in the industry, I feel that I belong here. It would be recognition that the work of teaching kids about coffee is not as crazy as it sounds.

Emily Olson: I’m looking forward to spending a few days fully immersed in all things coffee, especially the sensory science angle. Transitioning from the food industry where sensory is incredible important, I’m really keen on hearing how these concepts translate and learn a lot of new things. And, also looking forward to drinking a lot of really delicious coffee.

Ashley Prentice: Connecting with other coffee professionals.

The 2015 SCAA Symposium begins April 8th in Seattle, Washington. Check out a complete list of speakers, and check back here for coverage of the event on Sprudge. 

The post Meet The 2015 SCAA Symposium Fellows Ashley Prentice, Emily Olson, and Chris Bryner appeared first on Sprudge.