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Department Continues Search for Head

The University of Tennessee is continuing its search for for the position of Professor and Head of the Department of Food Science. This is a 12-month, tenured position with a 100% administrative appointment. The Department of Food Science is a diverse blend of scientists and engineers contributing to land-grant mission of the university. The applied and basic research focuses primarily on microbiological food safety, chemistry and process engineering of food and biomass, and food sensory science. Approximately 80 undergraduate students are enrolled in the Department’s bachelor’s degree program with concentrations in science and pre-professional. In addition, approximately 30 graduate students are enrolled in the Department’s MS and PhD programs. Extension programs focus on food processing and food safety. The Department is housed in both the Food Safety and Processing Building and the Food Science Building. Diverse activities in food science are currently accomplished by its 16 faculty members and 11 professional, support, and clerical staff on the Knoxville campus. Encouraging experiential learning in undergraduate curriculum and research, creative achievement and real-world experience is a departmental goal.

The Search Committee will review and continue to receive applications until an appointment is made. Applications will be reviewed beginning March 31, 2020.

Full Position Announcement

2019 Fall Alumni Spotlight – Austin Morgan

Reconnecting with our former students is always exciting, but it is especially fantastic to watch them reach their goals! This spotlight is one of our fairly recent grads that tells us that many of his lessons didn’t come from the classroom but from other activities on campus. Austin Morgan was a UT Ambassador, ME4UT Team Member, SAA Member, and Ignite Team Leader. Participating in this groups taught him respect and 360 degree leadership principals that he has been able to apply in industry.


What year did you receive your degree/s from The University of Tennessee’s Food Science Department? Why did you choose UT’s Food Science program?

I received by B.S. in Food Science in May of 2017. I chose UT’s Food Science program because I was looking to study science, but I wanted a smaller program to do so. I began searching the website, and the simple description of food science was enough to draw my interest.

What is your current position and employer and how long have you been there?

I am a core product manager within the Food Innovation and Technology Team at Kentucky Fried Chicken headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky. I essentially manage the food safety and quality assurance aspects for oil and some non-oil-based sauces that enter the supply chain. I have been with KFC since January 2019.

How did your experiences at UT help to shape your career path?

My experiences at UT not only gave me a solid educational foundation, but also prepared me to be a well-balanced professional. I spent time getting involved around campus which allowed me to be comfortable with diverse groups of people. This level of comfort has taught me skills I need to converse with people from various backgrounds as I attend supplier summits and visits.

What are your future goals?

I hope to someday to manage a food safety and quality assurance department! Due to regulation and consumer trends, our field is always shifting. There is always a new challenge to overcome. The journey to overcome that challenge can be both invigorating and frustrating. However, once you find a solution you can take pride in the journey.

What advice would you give to current and future students?

My advice is to get out of your comfort zone and take risks. I followed this motto as an undergrad being very involved across campus. After graduating, I worked for a poultry manufacturer which was far outside of my comfort zone. However, I learned so many valuable skills, both technically and professionally, I would not have learned without the environments I was placed in.

2019 Graduate Student Awards


Below is the list of several of our graduate students’ award.

Anyi Wang

  • IFT Volunteer Section 3rd Annual State-Wide Competition for Food Safety Modernization Act, Food Safety, and Food Science Students – Oral Competition Finalist

Andrea Nieto

  • 2019 IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo, Nutraceutical and Functional Food Division – 2nd Place
  • IFT Volunteer Section 3rd Annual State-Wide Competition for Food Safety Modernization Act, Food Safety, and Food Science Students – Poster Competition Finalist
  • UT College Bowl – 2nd Place

Jennifer Vuia-Riser

  • IFT Volunteer Section 3rd Annual State-Wide Competition for Food Safety Modernization Act, Food Safety, and Food Science Students – 1st place (tied) in Poster Competition
  • IFTSA Excellence in Leadership Award – Finalist
  • P. Michael & Linda Davidson Graduate Student Award Winner
  • Food Science Club “ Most Helpful Graduate Student” Award Winner
  • IFTSA UT College Bowl Team – 2nd place at Midwest Area
  • Jimmy and Ilene Cheek Graduate Student Medal of Excellence – Finalist

Alex Pfotenhauer

  • Three Minute Thesis semifinals – 3rd place

Molly West

  • University of Tennessee Research Foundation Innovation Award (Hands on Classroom)

Tracey Lee Peters

  •  Honorable Mention – NSF GRFP 2019

Trent Kerley

  • IFT Volunteer Section 3rd State – Wide Research Competition – 1st place (tied) oral division

Shan Hong

  • IFT Volunteer Section 3rd Annual State-Wide Competition for Food Safety Modernization Act, Food Safety, and Food Science Students – 3rd place in Oral Competition

Purni Chalukya Kumari Wickramasinghe

  • IFT Annual Meeting 2019 Biotechnology division – 1st place (poster)
  • IFT Volunteer Section 3rd Annual State-Wide Competition for Food Safety Modernization Act, Food Safety, and Food Science Students – 2nd place (tied) poster
  • 5 Annual Women in STEM – 2nd Place winner (poster)

Nan Li

  • IFT Volunteer Section 3rd Annual State-Wide Competition for Food Safety Modernization Act, Food Safety, and Food Science Students – Poster Competition Finalist

When Architecture and Food Science Meet

Rutenberg’s students were to use “food as an analogy for architecture” and analyze food through these social, cultural, and formal lenses. The assignments included designing two building: the first was an area open to the public that invited them to experience what was happening on the farm and greenhouses. The second was an addition to the first and required an educational component including dining, laboratory, and exhibition space.

Students were challenged to take what they gained from analyzing food culture and make it spatial. As second year students, Rutenberg explains that they are “still learning fundamental architectural concepts and “grappling with how to represent their ideas visually.” Like food science, “design is an ever-evolving process” and Rutenberg explains food science to his students in the introduction of the first assignment as “As a discipline it does not distinguish between taste as a purely sensory phenomenon and as a pleasurable experience. Instead, it is both a chemical, biological, and evolutionary pragmatic response and also one entangled with historical, cultural meaning based on wants, rather than needs, over time.”

The first assignment in this project required the students to choose a food product and deconstruct the receipe. Students chose from a variety of different products such as french fries, kombucha, and nachos.

(image 1 by Alice Irizarry; image 2 by Logan Guidera)

During the second part of the project, students begin to present their ideas in more of a spatial concept. At this point, they have already been able to tour Dr. John Munafo’s food science labs and research greenhouses and start to incorporate the sensory experience of eating with the architecture of future research and experiment facilities.


(image 1 by Kari Beth Propes; image 2 by Joanna Martin)

By the third part of the project the students were incorporating all that they had analyzed and were finding ways to reflect cultural aspects into their work.



We would like to thank Dr. Micah Rutenberg and the students of Architecture 272 Spring 2019 course! We look forward to the future collobration and learning opportunities.

Nikki Reuter’s Research Experience

Nikki began her lab experience during her sophomore year in Dr. Neal Stewart’s lab in Plant Sciences, because she was interested in genetic engineering. By her junior year, her advisor Mrs. Jones, suggested that Nikki pursue the 4+1 program, where she would graduate with a master’s degree just one year after graduating with her bachelor’s degree.

Once she decided that the 4+1 was right for her Nikki began working with Dr. Scott Lenaghan, and immediately started studying molecular biology and learning proper lab techniques. Now that she is a senior, she will begin her project that will continue for a year.

Over the summer, Nikki worked as a lab tech for Dr. Lenaghan and assisted a postdoc with her project. The postdoc’s project focused on regulating certain gene expressions. While working in the lab Nikki helped prep and test constructs to see if they work through weekly leaf infiltrations and stable infiltration of inter nodes. When asked how this type of work relates to food science, she says that techniques developed can be applied to a number of food crops and could lead to break throughs in global food security.

Joshua Brantley’s IPPE Conference Experience

The International Production & Processing Expo brings thousands of people to Atlanta, Georgia each year. Participants include hundreds of companies that are there to showcase their company, meet with students, or participate in the 200+ hours of educational sessions offered.

“This past year I had the pleasure of attending the annual IPPE expo. This production expo was a great way for me to introduce myself to the poultry production community. This being my second year attending I was excited to reconnect with some of the employers I made connections with and build bonds with some new ones as well. The year prior I accepted one of the internships available with Wayne Farms to obtain a better knowledge of how the poultry industry works and the job opportunities available to new graduates. This Expo exposed me to many companies like Wayne Farms and gave me insight into the poultry production field. Likewise, I learned that there is a huge demand for interns throughout the industry ranging from live-animal production to fully-processed production. With this demand comes LOTS of opportunities. Companies are clamoring for budding talent and this is a great place to find your first internship and/or a job straight out of college. With that being said, the poultry industry is the most consumed meat in the world so finding a QA role or R&D role at one of the many companies at the expo will give you access to one of the biggest support networks in the world.”

– Joshua Brantley, Food Science Major

Check out the 2019 IPPE Wrap Up Report for more details about the expo.

Jennifer Vuia – Riser’s IFT Experience

IFT19 Student Experience

I was able to attend the Institute of Food Technologists 2019 (IFT19) Annual Meeting & Food Expo in New Orleans, Louisiana this past summer through the Student Organization Travel Fund granted to the Food Science Club. Traveling to IFT19 was an incredible experience as I was able to present my research conducted under Dr. Zhong’s United States Department of Agriculture National Needs Doctoral Fellowship. I was able to support my fellow graduate students as they presented their own work, and I viewed new products and technologies for the food industry at the Food Expo floor. I also gained professional development skills at the IFT Student Association (IFTSA) workshops that were held at the IFT Annual Meeting. Getting to meet other students who are involved in food science led to innovative and fresh ideas that were brought back to campus upon our return. Learning from other student’s club activities and making connections to improve our students’ experience has been invigorating. As outgoing Food Science Club President, it was an honor to be our Club representative to take the stage and accept the first IFTSA Chapter of the Year Develop Award. I made a lot of connections, friends, and memories at IFT19, and I would highly encourage any student to attend the conference!

IFTSA Board of Directors

This upcoming year, Jennifer Vuia-Riser will serve on the Institute of Food Technologists Student Association (IFTSA) Board of Directors as a Member at Large. Jennifer is one of four students selected to be a Member at Large for the upcoming year to serve on the Board. This Board is selected through a rigorous nomination and interview process before being slated as candidates that offer a diverse volunteer and educational background, passion for the science of food profession, and an unwavering commitment to each member in the IFTSA composed of over 2,900 students. Jennifer traveled to IFT19 in New Orleans, Louisiana this past summer and was able to attend Board orientation, training meetings, and led a session at the IFT19 Chapter Leaders Workshop. Throughout the upcoming year, Jennifer will be an Area Liaison to students from the IFTSA Pacific Northwest Area, organize and assist with workshops at the Institute of Food Technologists 2020 (IFT20) Annual Meeting & Food Expo in Chicago, Illinois, and will develop stronger connections with IFT, IFTSA, and the University of Tennessee Food Science program.

Area Meeting

This year, the Food Science Club is hosting the Institute of Food Technologists Student Association (IFTSA) 2020 Midwest Area Meeting & College Bowl Competition. This meeting further enhances students and their professional development skills by providing an opportunity for students from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Purdue University, University of Kentucky, UT, and Wayne State University to network, hear about the latest happenings in IFTSA, and explore UT campus and Knoxville. The College Bowl Competition will test students’ knowledge and understanding of food science in a trivia-like competition; the winners of which will have a chance to compete for $1,000 at IFT20 in Chicago! Jennifer Vuia-Riser (Lead Chair), Joshua Brantley (Co-Chair), and Bob Pellegrino (Co-Chair) have been hard at work organizing details! If you would like to support the UT Food Science Club in this endeavor, monetary sponsorships and in-kind donations are being accepted! Please contact Jennifer Vuia-Riser at


Niamh Schumacher – Let’s Raise Chickens, and Make a Profit”

Niamh Schumacher was a sophomore with a Food Science major and a pre-professional concentration, but that didn’t stop her from applying to an internship in January 2019 with the Smith Center for International Sustainable Agriculture, that specifically requested applicants that were either Juniors or Seniors. Her love for food and travel gave her the courage to apply for an internship that would take her on a journey around the world. Because of the desire to expand her world and experience new things, she left for Rwanda just 3 weeks after the end of the spring 2019 semester to begin work as a nutritional intern with the Feed the Tworore Inko, Twunguke (or Let’s Raise Chickens, and Make a Profit in Kinyarwanda).

The project’s aim is to increase income and nutrition of the locals participating by teaching them to raise chickens and incorporate them into their diet. The farmers raise a flock of chickens and sell all but three back to the project. The farmers are encouraged to incorporate the 3 chickens they keep into their meals and often share with other members of their community. A lack of nutrition has caused growth stunting in approximately 35 – 40% of the children in that area and as Niamh puts it chickens are the “perfect protein source”. Although she is a vegetarian, Niamh says that while she can get her protein from things that are easily available for use such as tofu, quinoa, and yogurt, Rwandan staple foods such as beans and potatoes don’t offer the same nutritional value.

While there Niamh not only taught the farmers about raising and eating chicken, but she led focus groups after the training sessions. During the focus groups she heard directly from the farmers about their experiences and some of the farmers received a food diary to track their meals. One of the major findings was that there is a complete lack of knowledge about the nutritional vaule of eggs. The consumption of eggs is limited to “children and the rich white men” as was told to Niamh by many of the locals. The data that was gathered will be evaluated and used for future projects.

Niamh says that some of the biggest life lessons was never taking for granted the sanitation (handwashing practices and clean water) we have and the fact that she doesn’t have to worry where her next mean will come from. Although many from that area are extremely poor, they are always happy. One of her favorite experiences was watching people in the community sing and dance. Her time there wasn’t all work. She did some amazing things like explore nearby cities Kigali and Gisenyi, try new foods such as mandazi (something similar to doughnuts) and ikivuguto (fermented milk), and hiking Mount Bisoke.

When asked what she would tell students who were like herself and not completely certain what they wanted to do after graduation, Niamh says she would strongly encourage students to get out of their comfort zones and try something new. If you have a passion for something like food or travel find a way to use that to open doors to new things like studying abroad or looking for internships in a field you want to learn more about.

We encourage you to keep up with Niamh and her adventures by reading her blog and following her on Instagram.

Dr. Molly West’s IAFP Experience

At the end of July, IAFP (International Association for Food Protection) gathered in Louisville, KY for our annual meeting. Professional Development Groups (PDGs) met on Sunday and are already brainstorming ideas for next year’s meeting in Cleveland, OH. The opening session kicked off with Dr. Barb Chamberlin from New Mexico State University’s Learning Games Lab. What was cool was seeing UT projects featured in the presentation. A project out of ALEC with GMA about outbreak education and the other was a joint project with plant science on produce irrigation. On Monday, roundtables, symposiums, technical talks, and poster sessions began. Throughout the week, I heard experts present about food safety concerns when using meal delivery services, novel teaching techniques, safety of cottage foods, outbreak updates, among many others. Personally, I think one of the best parts of IAFP is reuniting with fellow Department of Food Science alumni, who are now working all over the country, and project collaborators. While the conference was busy, it excites me to work in the field of food safety and see what accomplishments happen over the next year. I also presented a technical session on Wednesday about my dissertation research to researchers interested in food safety and epidemiology.

Food Science Department Seeks Professor & Head

The University of Tennessee is seeking applications and nominations for the position of Professor and Head of the Department of Food Science. Application will be reviewed beginning August 31, 2019. Applications must include: A letter of application summarizing the applicant’s qualifications AND vision of departmental leadership; A complete curriculum vitae; Names, addresses, email addresses and telephone
numbers of at least five professional references that the Search Committee may contact; and a copy of transcripts showing degree(s) conferred. Females and minorities are encouraged to apply. Nominations and questions regarding this position should be directed to Dr. Neal Schrick (search committee chair) at or Shelley Johnson at

Please read the full announcement for more details. .

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