Face-to-Face: Meet Shelly Schmidt June 2013

Ever wonder if anyone else is facing the same professional challenges as you? Or just looking to connect with some new people in your field? In IFT's Face-to-Face series, we will be introducing you to a different IFT member every month with a fun, insightful Q&A session.


This month meet...

Shelly SchmidtShelly Schmidt, Professor of Food Chemistry at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

  1. How did you get your start in the food industry?
    I graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in chemistry. I wanted to be a high school chemistry teacher. I interviewed at a few high schools and quickly realized that I would probably need to teach earth science or biology for a number of years, before I became senior enough to teach the very desirable chemistry classes. I wasn’t too enamored with the idea of teaching earth science or biology, so my second choice was to become a “Quincy” (for those of you old enough to remember the TV show). The TV Show Quincy was the forerunner of the many modern forensic science TV series that we have today (e.g., CSI and NCSI). However, there was a freeze on hiring of government forensic scientists at the time, so I needed to find a job “for the meantime.”

    A neighbor down the street who was working as a nutritionist for General Foods (GF), Pet Foods Division in Kankakee, Ill., and told me they were looking for a chemist. The next week I interviewed at GF and that very day I received a call that the job was mine if I wanted it. Little did I know, I was being offered a job in a discipline that would turn into my life long focus. While at GF, I obtained my Master’s Degree in Food Science through the University of Illinois Off Campus MS in Food Science Program. Through my work with intermediate moisture pet foods, I became very interested in the topic of water relations in foods. So, I headed back to school to obtain my Ph.D. in Food Science at Illinois under the direction of Dr. Marvin P. Steinberg. My love of teaching and basic research lead me to become a faculty member at the University of Illinois and the rest, as they say, is history!

    By the way, when the freeze on government hiring of forensic scientists was rescinded (I was at GF for about 6 months), I received a call from a government agency asking if I was interested in interviewing for a forensic science position. After a few minutes of questions, I quickly thanked the caller for their time and told them I wasn’t interest. It didn’t take me long to realize I had already found what I love doing best – being a food scientist!

  2. What do you love about your job?
    Being a Professor at a Land-Grant University is one of the greatest jobs in all the world – in fact, when people ask me if I have a job, I like to tell them I really don’t have a job, rather I have a life’s calling. Every day I have the opportunity to work with amazing graduate students carrying out cutting edge research, to teach bright minded undergraduate students studying to become tomorrow’s leaders, to work side-by-side with top-notch colleagues dedicated to solving problems to better the world, and to be involved in a number of service activities at the university, state, and national levels targeted at advancing the STEM education mission at all levels (K through higher education). I am very thankful for all the mentors that have provided me with invaluable input over the years, such as Dr. John Erdman, Dr. Barbara Klein, and Dr. Faye Dong. And I am very grateful for all the students that have passed through my lab and my classroom over the years – they make my life’s calling a joy.

  3. What is the biggest challenge that you face in your job?
    Time management – knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no”! Fitting in all that needs to be done in a day, week, month, and year is challenging, and not just fitting it in, but doing everything in an excellent manner. I have to keep reminding myself of the urgent versus important time management grid that I was exposed to a number of years ago. It’s easy to prioritize something that is both urgent and important, but I am working to make sure I don’t miss the important but less urgent matters both on the job and at home. Working to balance my professional and family life is always on my mind and heart.

  4. What have you learned or been exposed to in the past 12 months that has helped you in your job?
    I am constantly on the hunt for active and experiential learning activities that I can employ in my large enrollment classroom (FSHN 101 Introduction to Food Science and Human Nutrition) for the purpose of transforming my students from passive to active learners and deepening their learning of the subject matter. Recently I discovered a new activity – drawing for learning. Drawing-for-learning is a relatively new concept being promoted in science education to help students understand science, not just memorize and recite scientific facts.

    In drawing-for-learning science activities, students are asked to make their learning visible or explicit through drawing. For example, they may be asked to illustrate how the process of fermentation works in the making of Swiss cheese at both the micro- (what are the organisms doing) and macro- (what is happening to the components of the milk as the cheese is created) scales. The underlying hypothesis is that the act of producing the drawing (visual explanation), using the method and medium of the students’ choosing, will serve to deepen the student’s understanding of the subject matter (or perhaps better expressed at a higher cognitive level). My teaching assistants and I are developing four drawing-for-learning assignments for use in FSHN 101 for Fall 2013. Developing and implementing activities that enhance students’ learning helps me do my job better!

  5. How do you see the food industry evolving over the coming year?
    I think the focus of the food industry will stay where it has been for the last few years – developing and delivering healthy processed foods. In the past, the terms “healthy” and “processed foods” were not often used in the same sentence. I believe the food industry is making a concerted effort to change that, as evidenced by the myriad of products with low fat, low sodium, low sugar, high fiber labels claim. The Holy Grail of processed foods, however, is still to be developed: great tasting, convenient, low calorie, nutrient-dense foods.

  6. Fun Fact: What’s your favorite food?
    Boy, it is hard to narrow it down to just one food ... but if I have to, my favorite food would be ice cream. It is not only one of the tastiest treats I know, but it is also one of the most fun foods to show young scientists the many marvels of food science (e.g., demonstrating phase transitions by making liquid nitrogen ice cream).

If you are an IFT member and wish to be profiled, please contact Kelly Hensel at khensel@ift.org or 312-604-0211.