Face-to-Face: Meet Michele Perchonok January 2011

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 new 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...

Michele PerchonokMichele Perchonok, Advanced Food Technology Project Manager and Space Shuttle Food System Manager, NASA/Johnson Space Center.

  1. How did you get your start in the food industry?
    I was a chemistry major and needed a summer job after my sophomore year of college. My father, who was VP of Marketing at Dunkin’ Donuts, was able to coordinate a job for me in their R&D Laboratory. The Director of the lab and a consultant that also worked on projects for Dunkin’ Donuts taught me about food science and encouraged me to study food science in graduate school. But, I really loved chemistry also. So, I gave chemistry a try the next summer with an internship at Brookhaven National Laboratory. By the end of the summer at Brookhaven, I realized that I preferred working in the applied sciences and that food science was what I wanted to study in graduate school. I have never regretted my decision to study food science.

  2. What do you love about your job?
    I love the variety. I am responsible for the food science research at NASA. But I am also responsible for the Shuttle Food System so I am exposed to  operations experience. This varied job description allows me to work with the engineers and scientists at NASA as well as food scientists in industry, universities, and other government agencies.

  3. What is the biggest challenge that you face in your job?
    My biggest challenge is to educate the people at NASA that food science is a science and it is technically challenging to develop a food system for a long duration mission–such as to Mars. Everybody eats and goes to the grocery store to shop for food and many believe themselves experts in food. However, they don’t realize that there is science behind the foods and ingredients that results in interesting and good-tasting meals. My most often used phrase when discussing our challenge to extend the shelf-life of our shelf-stable packaged food items is “chemistry happens.”

  4. What have you learned or been exposed to in the past 12 months that has helped you in your job?
    I have taken two leadership classes, which both included assessments of my leadership style. The assessments were done by food lab team members and by my managers. The results of the assessments and the learning in the classes have provided me with tools to improve my leadership style. And, although the food lab team produces high quality work now, I hope that some of the tools I have learned will make us even better at doing our jobs.

  5. How do you see the food industry evolving over the coming year?
    I think we will be seeing more nutritious convenience foods and food ingredients. We all know that there are too many obese people in the United States. However, many of these people don’t know how to eat healthy and will need to be “guided” by these new products.

  6. Fun Fact: What’s your favorite food?
    I love interesting salads but I have to say that I can’t go a day without chocolate!