As a teen growing up in El Salvador, Zoila Chevez got interested in food science after several of her friends became vegetarians. “They began questioning where their food came from, and this piqued my interest,” says Chevez, now a doctoral student in horticulture at Auburn University in Alabama and a Member-at-Large of IFT’s Student Association (IFTSA) Board of Directors.
But finding her way toward a science of food career took some doing. “I had no idea that food science as a career even existed,” recalls Chevez, who left her home country to study at an agricultural university in Honduras before coming to the United States for graduate school. “I just knew I wanted to explore food production on a large scale and make a difference in a practical, applicable way.”
Today Chevez is well on her way to making that difference not only by honing her expertise in produce safety but by committing to help the next generation learn about food science earlier—and more easily—than she did.
Chevez has shared her knowledge as a volunteer through Pathful, an innovative virtual career platform that connects food science experts directly with K-12 classrooms. IFT members at any stage in their careers and from diverse corners of the science of food profession have access to the program through IFT’s Feeding Tomorrow Fund, which is committed to raising awareness about food science as a career path and attracting the food scientists of the future.
On a recent virtual panel for high school students about women in the science of food, aptly titled “I Can Study Food?”, Chevez and two other female graduate students explained what food science is, shared personal stories about how they got involved, and encouraged others to pursue the field in college and beyond. It’s an experience Chevez wishes she had had. “It’s something I would have loved when I was in high school,” she says, “and I’m so glad I’m able to give back now by helping others.”
IFT members with a demonstrated interest in teaching young people are invited to visit Pathful Connect to learn more and get involved. “This is a great opportunity for food scientists who are interested in volunteering in classrooms,” says IFT’s Director of Academic Engagement Christina Ginardi, who coordinates the program. With food science careers across disciplines expected to grow 9 percent by 2030, she adds, “[Pathful] is a wonderful way to let students know that food science could be a viable route for them.”
One of Pathful’s strengths is its convenience. Busy professionals can be anywhere geographically and simply “pop on during their lunch break” to present to a class, Ginardi says. The platform requires some basic training on how to deliver an effective online presentation and offers additional coaching for volunteers who would like extra tips. But volunteers don’t need to be experts in public speaking to participate, she adds.
Since 2021, 22 IFT members have participated in sessions that have reached 64 classrooms in 33 states. Ginardi would like to see those numbers grow—and encourages interested IFT members to visit Pathful’s user-friendly site to set up an account, add a photo, and indicate their areas of expertise.
“It’s important for people with experience in the industry to help grow the future generations,” says longtime IFT member Lauren Lackey, president and owner of Centauri Innovations, a Chicago-based product development consultancy firm. Lackey presented at two recent Pathful sessions, including one dedicated to women in food science and another about resume building. “I have high schoolers myself, and they only know about food science from me,” Lackey adds. “It’s up to the people in the industry to share opportunities with the up-and-comers.”
Interested in volunteering virtually in a K-12 classroom to nurture the next generation food scientists? Contact IFT’s Director of Academic Engagement Christina Ginardi or sign up directly on Pathful Connect.