How does the global community achieve a safe, nutritious and sustainable food supply? Two University of Wisconsin-Stout food science students are researching solutions and have been awarded scholarships by the Institute of Food Technologists for their achievements.
The IFT is a forum for professionals to share innovative solutions in food sciences. Food and nutritional sciences graduate student Mallory Brask received the Wisconsin IFT scholarship, and food science and technology undergraduate student Rebecca Tabler received the Minnesota IFT scholarship.
Their research highlights UW-Stout's institutional commitment to experiential learning, said Maria Alm, interim dean of the College of Education, Hospitality, Health and Human Sciences.
"Mallory and Rebecca have worked closely with faculty on research projects. Their successes reflect the applied learning focus of our polytechnic model of education," Alm said.
A passion for the safe production of food
Brask, of Mount Prospect, Ill., decided to go into the food sciences because the field combines working with food and scientific principles. She received her undergraduate degree in food science and technology in May 2020 and is pursuing her master's degree.
"It is a multidisciplinary field involving chemistry, biochemistry, nutrition, microbiology and engineering," Brask said. "It gives the foundation of scientific knowledge to solve real-world problems associated with factors of the food industry. At the base of it, food science focuses on food and satisfying consumer demand."
Brask was an undergraduate researcher in the Food Microbiology Lab, working with FST Program Director Taejo Kim, who recognized her as an exceptional and gifted student.
"Mallory is the perfect model for an outstanding graduate researcher. I am very proud of her as a member of our research team," Kim said.
Brask is now a graduate research assistant focusing on the inhibition capacity of regular and ultrafiltered whey against listeria when stored at room temperature, she explained.
"The biofunctionality study has the potential to influence the food industry by reducing storage costs and maintaining product yield," she said.
Kim recommended Brask for the $1,500 WIFT Scholarship, which encourages her to stay involved in the industry and has confirmed her success. She looks forward to collaborating with industry professionals in the future.
"I think my study helped me win the scholarship because it is evolving and elaborate research," she said. "Microbiological aspects of food have been extensively studied. However, my study provides fresh insight into a new area. The results and information will greatly benefit the food industry, and I am excited to publish the results."
Brask is thankful for her family's encouragement and Kim's support and dedication to her graduate research.
"Dr. Kim's extensive knowledge of food microbiology and laboratory techniques have significantly advanced my confidence and abilities," she said. "I am thankful for Stout and all the opportunities it has offered me. The professors truly care about their students and inspire us to showcase our accomplishments."
Brask plans to graduate with her master's in May 2022 and would like to work in food safety and research and development. "Through my research, I have discovered my passion for ensuring the safe production of food," she said.
Dedication to research and involvement
Tabler's fascination with science and nutrition led her to the food science and technology program. Her interests began in high school with inspiration from her mentor in the confection industry and when she attended a food supplies convention.
Tabler received the $1,000 MN IFT Scholarship. Last year, she received the WIFT undergraduate scholarship. Recipients are rewarded for their volunteer service, leadership, academic achievement, professional development and research.
"The amount and variety of projects that I did displayed my eagerness to learn and the variety of knowledge I've gained," she said. "I think students should take advantage of any research opportunity offered by professors to show that you are committed to learning even beyond your expected coursework."
Kim was impressed with Tabler’s knowledge and ambition in research. “Rebecca is a highly dedicated student who knows how to motivate herself and to strive for excellence," he said.
Professor Eun Joo Lee served on the scholarship committee, representing UW-Stout. "It was a hard competition. I'm so proud of Rebecca. I think the scholarship is an outstanding achievement for her," she said.
"I have experienced how much success students achieve by participating in various research projects with the food science faculty. Students' research achievements may seem small at first, but like the snowball effect, they grow larger and lead to greater success," Lee added.
For students thinking of applying, Tabler suggested volunteering and getting involved with UW-Stout's Food Science Club, which partners with IFT. She was the Food Science Club secretary and treasurer and has volunteered for several organizations, including serving as a Wisconsin Science Olympiad lab assistant.
Tabler, of Milwaukee, graduated May 8 and is interviewing with companies in the pet food and dairy product industries and ingredient companies. She would like to work in the agricultural side of food science, focusing on food safety and environmental justice and plans to go on to her master's degree.
"The scholarship has given me connections within the Minnesota section of IFT, which will serve to open doors for me within the industry. Networking is extremely important because that is how you build your career, and it can provide a wide variety of job opportunities," Tabler said.
She suggests that even if students feel like they are too busy with coursework or jobs, "It's worth your time to apply. Not only does it uphold the reputation of Stout if you win, but it is also a great accomplishment to add to your resume. It shows your commitment to your hands-on studying within the field," she said.
The kinesiology, health, food and nutritional sciences department at UW-Stout offers five degrees, including three bachelor's, two master's and four minors.