Food Science donations help students, school upgrade

If you’re looking for a near-guaranteed job after college graduation, majoring in Food Science is an excellent option. And industry support is helping WSU’s School of Food Science educate and support current students as they complete their degrees.

Woman in lab coat writes notes while looking at beakers in a messy lab.
Jessica Melocoton working in the food science lab of her mentor, Minto Michael.

This summer, the Puget Sound Institute of Food Technologists (PSIFT) donated $100,000 to the school while also providing another $50,000 in student scholarships.

“This support from the regional industry means so much to our school, but also to the students they help,” said Girish Ganjyal, interim director for Food Science. “Seeing the smiles on the students’ faces was incredible.”

The student support means someone like Jessica Melocoton, a senior Food Science major, doesn’t have to worry about working to pay bills this semester. She is working for credit in assistant professor Minto Michael’s lab.

“I wouldn’t have had time to work in the lab if I had to work for money to pay rent,” said Melocoton, a Bremerton native who plans to graduate in May ’22. “I work 12 hours a week in the lab and was scheduled to work 18 hours a week at my job. Combine all that with classes and I wouldn’t have had time to sleep or study.”

That kind of impact is exactly what the Institute hopes for when they reach out to help students, according to Paul Cole, a 1989 WSU Food Science graduate.

“It’s part of our DNA to give back,” said Cole, a member of PSIFT’s Board of Directors. “We were once students and know it’s really expensive. I got a scholarship myself and I know it’s a big boost.”

PSIFT is a professional organization made up of food scientists who work in the industry. They keep members updated on new technology, network, and are a part of the National Institute of Food Technologists, said Cole, who works at Bell Flavors & Fragrances in technical sales.

Jacob Cleary said PSIFT is well known within WSU Food Science. The senior from Chehalis received one of the scholarships and plans to graduate in May. He appreciates the career options available to food science graduates.

“I earned an associate’s degree in business, but I learned how to make cheese in an orientation when I transferred to WSU,” Cleary said. “It was so cool to see that happen, and when they told me there are more jobs than graduates, I was sold.”

He’s been working at the WSU Creamery since he arrived and is now a leading student employee in ice cream production. His scholarship is helping pay for rent and tuition.

PSIFT normally provides $20,000 each year for scholarships, but they bumped it up this year, in addition to the donation.

The $100,000 donation will go into an endowment, half of which will be used to start a fund for an instructor for undergraduate teaching. The other half will be used to update undergraduate teaching labs and student recruitment efforts.

“They haven’t been upgraded in a long time,” Ganjyal said. “We want to get new equipment for students to learn on. The more real-world our equipment is, the more that benefits the students when they graduate and enter the professional world.”

Ganjyal, standing, holding can of Cougar Gold cheese.
Girish Ganjyal, WSU School of Food Science interim director

The instructor position is necessary because the department doesn’t have anyone dedicated solely to teaching undergraduate courses. Currently, only five faculty in the school teach classes, and they also do research, mentor graduate students, and other work.

“We desperately need teaching positions,” Ganjyal said. “This donation from the Puget Sound group is much appreciated as we kick off our efforts to endow this position.”

The total endowment will need to be $1.6 million for a full salary for the instructor. Ganjyal is hoping industry stakeholder companies will help fund the endowment, knowing that they’ll see a return on their investment in terms of hiring quality students coming out of the WSU program.

For more information about the School of Food Science or the endowment, contact Girish Ganjyal.