Face-to-Face: Meet Gabriel Keith Harris January 2016

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.


Gabriel Keith HarrisThis month meet...

Gabriel Keith Harris, Associate Professor and Undergraduate Coordinator of Food Science, North Carolina State University

  1. How did you get your start in the food science world?
    My interest in food science started when a dietetics professor of mine (I was in an RD program at the time) suggested that I attend the 1994 IFT annual meeting. I walked into the Atlanta Convention Center not knowing a soul. The first people I met were NC State graduate students, who were incredibly helpful and kind to me. Later, I met the NC State food science faculty, who were very friendly and answered my questions about food science. To top it all off, I was awestruck by the seemingly endless food expo. That was it. I was hooked. I applied and was accepted as a Master's student at NC State the next spring.

  2. What do you love about your job?
    I love that my job is to make others successful by preparing them for careers in food science. Working with students to develop them into successful food scientists is the best job I can imagine. I love teaching! I love that I get to work with brilliant faculty and colleagues from around the world. I love that it is my job to continue learning and to clearly communicate that learning with others. I love that I am never, ever, ever bored (ever).

  3. What is the biggest challenge that you face in your job?
    The biggest challenge by far is balancing work and family. Working with students, managing a research lab, writing grants and publications, as well as professional travel could easily take all of my time and energy. No degree of success on the job is worth ignoring one's family, so I strive to make family a priority, even when it means turning down "professional opportunities" to do so. My kids are growing up too fast to miss out on important milestones in their life. Certainly, I could not do what I do without the support of my wife, Claudia.

  4. What have you learned or been exposed to in the past 12 months that has helped you in your job?
    Two things come to mind: mentoring a PhD student-teacher and my sabbatical in Mexico. The mentoring experience, which actually started in June 2014, culminated in the student's teaching a section of my Introduction to Food Science course. Working to prepare him to teach the section involved having him first serve as a TA and then gradually giving him more and more responsibility. That experience and his many insightful questions caused me to reflect on everything I knew about teaching.

    The teaching sabbatical I've just completed at Tecnológico de Monterrey in Querétaro, Mexico (or TEC for short) has been tremendously helpful to me. It's been said that "a change is as good as a rest" and certainly I think that's been true in this case. Teaching new courses (new to me anyway) and working to set up research collaborations with my home university has been very challenging, but in a good way. I had the opportunity to work with students and faculty from over 30 countries during my time at TEC. TEC's entrepreneurial focus is quite unique in that half of their students go on to open their own business (or businesses). TEC has a new initiative called TEC21 that emphasizes active learning and the best use of technology in education. Working at TEC has given me a new, international perspective on education and research that I hope to apply at my home campus of NC State. Most of all, I'm thankful that my family was able to come along with me to enjoy the location and the experience.

  5. How do you see the food industry evolving over the coming year?
    I see companies grappling with current concerns about food safety and ingredient sourcing (such as production shortfalls in the chocolate industry) and planning for an eventual move away from fossil fuels for food processing. I also see further investigations into emerging technologies such as 3-D printing of food, CRISPR/Cas-9, and continuous microwave processing.

  6. Fun Fact: What’s your favorite food?
    Oh, that's a tough one! While anything related to coffee or chili peppers certainly has my interest, I would have to say that my favorite food is chocolate. In particular, Mexican hot chocolate, dark chocolate (65–85% cocoa solids), and mole oaxaqueño are my very favorites.

  7. You were presented with the William V. Cruess Award in 2015 and your essay is published in the January issue of the Journal of Food Science Education. What is your approach to teaching?
    My teaching approach is to serve as a coach and a storyteller. I serve as a coach in the sense that I strive to motivate students and work with them to develop the skill sets they need to succeed. Motivating students to do the hard work it takes to excel is challenging, but watching them become successful in their chosen field makes it all worth it. Stories serve as a way to connect what students need to know with what they already know in an interesting way. "Interesting" could mean surprising, funny, or just plain weird, but always means getting students involved, preferably in a hands-on activity. For instance, one day I was making ice cream with dry ice in front of 100 students. The mix foamed so much that it overflowed the bowl and half of it ended up on the floor. You can bet that our discussions of food-based foams were much more vibrant after that "mishap"! The goal is always to make a memorable impression that serves to help students retain and recall information. You know that a story has succeeded if students tell someone else (roommates, friends, or parents) about it, or if they start recording what's happening with their phones. Regardless of the role, the key word is "serve."

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