After earning her BS in chemical engineering in her native India, Akhila Vasan landed at Oklahoma State University for her master’s program in food science. While there, the head of the Microbiology Dept. sponsored Vasan’s first trip to an IFT annual meeting, an event that she says revealed the variety available within the science of food. Vasan says that attending the 2007 annual meeting let her “see what else is out there in the field of food science … sometimes it’s easy to get lost in our little silo and [the IFT annual meeting] sort of opened up the world to this microcosm of opportunities within the field.”
In 2013, while working toward her PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Vasan won a Feeding Tomorrow travel grant and attended the annual meeting in Chicago, which helped her make her way back to IFT annual meeting.
At these IFT annual meetings, Vasan has found immense value in the networking and educational opportunities she has discovered. Participating in and judging poster competitions has helped her apply feedback and lessons to her own research, and interacting with ingredient companies on the expo floor has allowed her to “try a taste of the future” as she learns about the innovative new things these companies are making possible.
But perhaps the most valuable component has been connecting with other professionals who have helped guide and mentor her as she completed school and looked for her first job. “Small things have helped me be where am today,” says Vasan. “A lot of it would not have been possible without networking at conferences.”
One such connection introduced her to the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) Science and Education Foundation Fellowship, which Vasan began in July 2015. The inaugural holder of this fellowship, Vasan will transition to a full-time role with the foundation in April. She was drawn to the role because of the opportunity it provided her to share the importance of food safety to a nonscientist audience.
In her time with the foundation so far, Vasan manages and helps teach in a variety of food safety outreach programs, including Better Process Control School and FPSCA Preventive Controls, including internationally, allowing her to work toward her goal of making a global impact on food safety and food security through education. “I don’t have a typical day, and that’s what I love about my job,” she says.
Now an IFT member, Vasan looks fondly upon her experiences with the IFT Student Association at both OSU and UWM, where she participated in Quiz Bowl and shared experiences with other food science students. She attends the annual meeting nearly every year.
Applications are now open for the next Grocery Manufacturers Association Science and Education Foundation Fellowship. Learn more and apply here.