New food science director looks to grow school’s prominence and student population

Soo-Yeun Lee grew up in South Korea with a love of learning, but also an interest in leadership and activities uncommon amongst her fellow students.

Portrait photo of Soo-Yeun Lee
Soo-Yeun Lee

Lee will return to that leadership interest when she takes over as director of Washington State University’s School of Food Science.

“I want to bring everyone—students, staff, and faculty—together with the goal of growing the school and making it the best food science program in the nation,” said Lee, who starts Jan. 1, 2023.

“Dr. Lee is a renowned food scientist and teacher with proven academic leadership experience,” said Wendy Powers, the Cashup Davis Family Endowed Dean of WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. “I look forward to working with her as she takes our very successful food science program to the next level.

“I want to thank Girish Ganjyal for his tireless efforts as Interim Director for over two years. He’s been a great leader and will be a fantastic resource for Soo as she learns more about WSU and the school.”

Lee, who has been a professor at the University of Illinois for 21 years, is an internationally known researcher in the field of sensory science.

Lee initially chose to study food science in part because it has a nearly 100% job placement rate for college graduates. That was true when she earned her bachelor’s degree in the 1990s and remains true today.

“That’s a big selling point to potential students,” she said. “I look forward to working with industry partners in Washington and around the country to make sure they know about the skills our students have upon graduation.”

Lee’s track record in research and teaching is excellent, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, she reflected on her career thus far and what she wanted to do next.

“I like being an educator and scientist, and I plan to continue both roles, but I want to make a difference in a bigger way than just with my students or my research,” she said.

Lee previously served as an associate head for the department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and assistant dean for the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences at Illinois. Her interest in the WSU director position came about because she enjoyed those leadership roles and respects the work being done here.

“WSU is renowned for its food science program among those in academia and in the industry,” Lee said. “My sensory science research should also be a perfect fit with other work being done in the school.”

Sensory science is a blend of working in laboratories and with people, a combination she enjoys. After all, everyone needs to eat, and taste is king when it comes to food.

“It’s easy to talk with people about what I do,” Lee said. “I have done a lot of work on picky eating, and everybody knows at least one picky eater. Working to make healthier options that are tasty to a lot of people is very rewarding.”

Lee received a bachelor’s degree in food engineering at Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea, then earned a Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis. She’s moving to WSU along with her husband Youngsoo Lee, who will join the faculty in WSU’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering.