Samantha Lau is a 2017 IFMA Education Foundation scholarship recipient. She attends Cornell University and is majoring in Food Science. Find out what she had to say when we asked her a few questions about her foodservice scholarship and future career.
What is your major & what made you decide on it?
My major is Food Science. I originally started off as a Chemistry major at Wesleyan University but during the beginning of my sophomore year, I realized that the classes and electives offered at the school did not align with my interests. Because I grew up in New York City, I have been exposed to an array of dishes from different cultures. My passion for food and chemistry led me to researching future career paths that would combine the two. Upon doing some research, I stumbled upon Cornell’s Food Science website. I contacted some Food Science students at Cornell and those conversations helped solidify that this was the major for me.
How has your scholarship enabled you to pursue a career in foodservice?
This scholarship has enabled me to pursue a career in foodservice by allowing me to consider internships that are not only in my own city. My internship search has been greatly limited to the New York Metropolitan area due to housing costs and now I can expand my search across the states.
What was your first job in foodservice?
My first job in foodservice was in high school at a bar and grill on the Coney Island boardwalk. I was a server and occasionally the cook. Because Coney Island is the hotspot for both tourists and locals during the summer, the restaurant would constantly be slammed with customers. It was a very fast-paced environment and it taught me how to juggle different orders at the same time and to deliver great customer service.
What would you say is your "dream job" after you graduate?
My "dream job" would be a combination of product development and food safety/quality assurance. I have been exposed to both aspects of food science and I want to be in job that allows me to play an active role in both. As a result of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), there has been increased focus on the surveillance and safety of food. It is important to monitor the microbial and chemical contamination of processes. In addition, I enjoy conceptualizing new products and participate in the development and commercialization of the product. Because the development of a product is so extensive, there is a lot of collaboration involved and eventually, one will have to deal with many components such as engineering in scaling up production and food safety. Food Science is inherently multidisciplinary so I know my “dream job” does indeed exist.
What have you learned that you will apply to a career in foodservice?
From the Food Science curriculum, I learned the importance of food safety. With the infamous food-borne illness outbreaks from a well-know establishment, the importance of food safety has become more apparent. In foodservice, it is important to have Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans and documentation to guarantee the safety of products to the customers. A restaurant’s reputation can easily be damaged, and many people can become ill if there isn’t a food safety culture. Through my courses, I have acquired a great amount of technical knowledge necessary to communicate with industry professionals and I am able to both write and analyze the documents instrumental to a food safety plan.
What are some of the challenges students like you face in today's world of foodservice?
One major challenge students face is determining what position they want to have in the future. With a Food Science background, students are well equipped to enter positions ranging from food safety and quality, product and development, sensory science, and an ever-expanding list. It is difficult to hone in on one field to enter. There is also the fear that if one chooses on field to begin with, they will pinhole themselves in that position and will not be able to give their other interests a try. However, after talking to some industry professionals, I am happy to see that many companies do allow their employees to try different positions within the company and some even offer training to allow one to do so.
Do you have mentor? How have they helped you?
Every direct manager I have had in my past internships and the professors in the Cornell Food Science department have been a mentor to me, so it is difficult to choose one person for this role. However, I would say Dr. Alicia Orta-Ramirez, the former Director of the Undergraduate Program of the Food Science Department at Cornell has definitely made the largest impact. She was the first person I talked to at Cornell University and helped calm my nerves when I was questioning whether I made the right decision. She made my transfer to Food Science smooth and less stressful. She not only had a great wealth of knowledge in terms of student life and future career paths, but was the person I turned to whenever I had any problem. Even though I am sad that she pursued a great opportunity in Barcelona, she will still be a mentor to me no matter the distance between us.
What is your favorite meal?
My favorite meal would be roasted sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts, with seared salmon on a bed of mixed greens. It is my go-to meal at Dig Inn!
What companies have you worked at for internships?
I have worked at Acme Smoked Fish in Brooklyn, New York and Dig Inn in New York, New York. Both have been instrumental in opening my mind to the impact a Food Scientist can make on consumer needs and desires.
About The IFMA Education Foundation
The IFMA Education Foundation promotes the next generation of foodservice leaders. The Foundation is committed to give qualified culinary, marketing or food science students support toward completion of education requirements. Over the years, we've accomplished our goal by providing scholarships, publications, educational programs, internships and stipends to accredited institutions and individuals enrolled in accredited institutions.
Do you want to support the next generation of foodservice by making a donation to IFMA's Education Foundation?
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.