For three days a week this summer, Christian Leonard '23 as well as two other local area high school students interned with the University of Holy Cross’ (UHC) inaugural summer program for high school students and were exposed to how food is made safely. The program allowed the trio to share their interests in cooking and enabled them to concoct a few products of their own.
Over the course of the six-week internship, the student trio made several products, including their own barbecue sauce, a Mexican chocolate, and a blueberry cake mix, seasoning blends, salsa, jams, and jellies. They were supervised by Darryl Holliday, who has a Ph.D. in food science, is director of the University of Holy Cross’ food science program, and an associate professor of food science; and Dr. Soma Mukherjee, assistant professor of food chemistry.
“The Food Science Club sells the manufactured products on campus and at local farmer’s markets,” Holliday said. The club will continue making the top-selling new products.
How the program got cooking
A generous grant of $47,337 from The Joe W. and Dorothy Dorsett Brown Foundation made the University of Holy Cross Food Science Program’s 2021 Internship Program possible. While more than 40 students applied, Holliday said, only three were selected due to uncertainty about the COVID-19 pandemic. Acceptance was based on a student’s GPA and an essay about why they wanted to take part.
Blatcher said she wrote about her love of food and “how my sister was majoring in science and inspired me to do well in science. Putting those two things – food and science – together, I thought, would be great.” Participants were paid a stipend of $15 an hour and also engaged in the UHC Food Science department’s active food research for local companies.
“I learned that a food scientist makes sure your food is safe before it gets out to people – they test food and make new food, of course,” Blatcher said.
“We all just got along well,” Blatcher added. “The teachers taught us all new stuff – Dr. Soma taught us how to graph on Microsoft Excel; Dr. Holliday taught us how to make labels on food and the science behind it – how you have to sterilize every single product, make sure you have gloves on and constantly change your gloves if you are touching different things.”
Accomplished its goals
The internship was designed to expose high school students to food science and teach real-life research laboratory skills on a university campus.
“We wanted them to get experience in the three main areas of food sciences: food microbiology and food safety; food chemistry, and food processing,” Holliday said. The University of Holy Cross regularly conducts education outreach and testing for various members of the food industry – “everything from products with Coca-Cola to small start-up companies.” So, students spent their first two weeks in food safety and microbiology and learned to sample food items and test them for microbial safety.
“They sampled local foods, and the tests were sent back to the companies for their food safety program,” Dr. Holliday said. Then, they progressed to food chemistry – doing basic lab experiments for two weeks – and finally learned about food processing and how food is manufactured.
“Part of it was things they learned, but we wanted to give them hands-on experience,” Holliday said. “We spent a lot of time teaching food science techniques, so they could do experiments and projects with us.” Holliday hopes to receive a Brown Foundation grant to offer the program to more students in summer 2022.
“I think the students had a great time,” he said. “They learned a lot and were very interested in coming back next year. The program turned out to be valuable for faculty and student interns.”