For six years, IFT’s Emerging Leaders Network (ELN) program has supported science of food leadership development with educational offerings, an awards program, and networking options.
In 2020, the ELN program transitioned to a virtual format, and that continued this summer with the support of eight peer mentors, who helped lead a six-week virtual course that featured weekly live sessions. Forty-nine new professionals participated in this year’s program.
Peer mentors, who are past ELN participants, played an important role in the 2021 program, responding to participants’ questions, encouraging networking, and guiding them as they navigated the ELN curriculum. In addition, each of the mentors shared IGNITE presentations over the course of the program. IGNITE presentations focused on themes that ranged from individual career journeys to the ways in which participation in ELN has impacted the mentor’s workplace leadership.
Here’s an introduction to the roster of 2021 peer mentors, including their response to a question posed to them: What do you think is the greatest issue facing food scientists in the next five to 10 years?
Abena Foli is an associate director-food regulatory expert, leading the regulatory strategy for the cell-cultured meat program for EMD Millipore Sigma (Merck KGaA). She’s also the founder and co-owner of POKS Spices, a small business that has a goal of introducing American home cooks to West African flavors. Foli received a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Mount Holyoke College and a master’s degree in food science from the University of Minnesota. She and her husband have a three-year-old son.
Greatest Issue Facing Food Scientists: “The first would be information inaccuracy about what food science is, and how science is applied to food. Also, innovating in the food space without cultural appropriation would be an issue to navigate.”
Kelley Putt, who counts learning to brew her own kombucha among the skills she acquired during the pandemic, is a food designer at Kellogg’s, where she’s a member of the portable wholesome snacks team. A big fan of outdoor activities, Putt earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in food science from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Greatest Issue Facing Food Scientists: “Winning the trust of our consumers in these times of misinformation and deception. As representatives of the food industry as a whole, our job as food scientists is to not only continue bringing good food to the world, but also to educate it [the world] on the real science behind it.”
Sandra Reenders works in product development for Leprino Foods in Colorado, where she enjoys an active lifestyle that includes hiking, biking, skiing, flying, and exploring. She has a food science degree from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and includes upping her cooking skills among her recent accomplishments.
Greatest Issue Facing Food Scientists: “Consumers’ whims based on misinformation.”
Maxine Roman leads natural preservation and bioconversions platforms for Kraft Heinz. A food science PhD recipient from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she has experience managing research projects and developing pipeline strategies for ingredient, process, and packaging technologies. She recently learned to play the ukulele.
Greatest Issue Facing Food Scientists: “Redesigning the food system to achieve nutrition and sustainability goals.”
Henrietta Sameke is regulatory affairs manager at Prinova Europe; areas in which she has experience include quality assurance, product development, policy, and consultancy. She has a bachelor’s degree in food science and technology and a master’s degree in food science and is currently pursuing a doctorate in agri-food. She lists trading stocks and shares among her recently acquired skills.
Greatest Issue Facing Food Scientists: “Sustainability will continue to be a key area, and there will be a greater drive towards initiatives such as ‘zero waste to landfill’ in food production. In addition, as regulatory requirements become more complex, the monitoring of product compliance will require more specialized skills and expertise.”
Prateek Sharma is an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Science at Utah State University. He received a bachelor’s degree in dairy technology from a school in his native India, a master’s degree in food science from Technical University in Dublin, and a PhD in food technology from Riddet Institute, Massey University, in New Zealand. During the pandemic, he reduced stress by singing Bollywood karaoke songs and doing yoga.
Greatest Issue Facing Food Scientists: “The biggest issue is to provide affordable nutrition to a global population. This will necessitate research on exploring nonconventional sources to extract nutrients and deliver them in a cost-effective manner.”
Charlene Van Buiten moved to Colorado from the East Coast about six months before COVID-19 lockdowns began to take hold, to assume the role of assistant professor of food science and human nutrition at Colorado State University. Her research focuses on the structural-functional relationships of nutrients, specifically proteins and polyphenols, and how both structure and function are influenced by nutrient interactions. Outside the classroom, her activities include competing in triathlons.
Greatest Issue Facing Food Scientists: “I think the greatest issue facing food scientists in the next five to 10 years is consumer trust. We have a responsibility to become better communicators and provide information in a transparent, meaningful way so that consumers can make informed choices for themselves and their families based on fact rather than fear.”
Akhila Vasan is manager of food safety at the Institute for Food Safety and Health (IFSH). In this role, she works with the IFSH team to help address technical challenges through validation studies, task forces, consortia, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration engagement. Her hobbies in 2020 were tending an indoor plant garden and baking, but more recently her time has been occupied with caring for her infant daughter.
Greatest Issue Facing Food Scientists: “The ongoing pandemic has highlighted social and economic disparities around the world. Amongst the plethora of challenges we face as humanity, hunger and climate change are systemic issues impacted by our everyday decisions as food scientists. In order to address these issues, it is important for us to think and learn beyond the silos of food chemistry, food microbiology, etc., and address a change in the food system as a whole, impacted by the traditional fields but also inclusive of socio-economic factors, political challenges, supply chain issues, a complex regulatory landscape, and cultural identities. Food scientists need to understand the globally diverse landscape and develop unique solutions to produce nutritious food for all, using tools and technologies not typical in current food production.”