I started my freshman year in the Division of General Studies without a clear idea of what I wanted to do. I wanted something science-related, or STEM-related at the very least, because some of my favorite classes in high school were Chemistry and Biology. But, I wasn’t sure where to go with that.

In my DGS 101 class I learned about Food Science and Human Nutrition – something I didn’t know you could major in before then. It was perfect for me. Cooking has been such a big part of my family life; I learned to cook at a young age. In this major, I could connect cooking and food with my interests in science. It really matched up. In my sophomore year, I transferred to the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences.

The Food Science professors and advisors were great resources. I could go to them whenever I had questions. In particular, I connected with Professor Stasiewicz who conducts research on issues related to food safety problems. Upon recognizing my work in class and seeing me help out other students, he invited me to be a part of his research team. I was excited to engage in microbiology research. An example project that I contributed to involved conducting risk analyses to seek a better understanding of issues influencing lettuce contamination in the field.

Of course, my college experience wasn’t all academics. Throughout my four years, I was also a member of the Illinois Track and Field Club. This was something that I did in high school – shot put and discus. It was great to find a community of other athletes like me who wanted to keep competing and stay active. It gave me the opportunity to keep doing something I was passionate about, as well as to meet new people. Finding a healthy balance was so important to me.

I wrapped up my degree in the midst of the COVID pandemic. The job search process was difficult. I initially landed a temp position with FONA International and recognized it as an opportunity to break into a work atmosphere that interests me – so I took it. Three months later, I was hired on full time as a Junior Analytical Chemist. It has been a perfect match for me. I work for an analytical services group, which is a part of the larger Flavor Sciences team. Together, we essentially work to match flavor profiles by using gas chromatography machine to extract the chemical compounds that make up a food product. We then examine the pattern of those compounds and strategize the essential oils that will be the best match to replicate the original flavors. It is really fascinating work! I look forward to continuing to grow in this field, and to perhaps even work toward becoming a Flavor Chemist over time.

For students back at Illinois, I encourage you to always be on the lookout for new opportunities. There are so many different things to try… clubs to engage, people to meet, opportunities for internships and hands-on experiences. Find ways to stay engaged to make the most of your college experience. Then, when it comes time to put those activities together in one story, seek help from the career services professionals on campus. The Career Center really helped me improve my resume, strategizing interview question responses, and more.