Food Science graduate student honored for teaching and research

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A food science doctoral student in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences recently earned two honors, receiving a fellowship from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fund her research and winning an award for teaching excellence from the University.

Charlene Van Buiten, of Wallingford, Connecticut, received a National Institute of Food and Agriculture Fellowship from the USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. The fellowship program, which is intended to help prepare the next generation of scientists, will provide a $70,874 grant to fund her research project titled "Physicochemical Modification of an Immunodominant Gliadin Peptide with Dietary Polyphenols and the Potential Implications for Celiac Disease."

Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects 1 percent of the world population, is characterized by adverse reactions to gluten upon consumption, resulting in inflammation and permeability of the small intestine. The goal of Van Buiten's research is to demonstrate ways in which dietary polyphenols can reduce celiac-disease-related intestinal damage.

Exploration of the impact of naturally occurring compounds on celiac-disease-related intestinal damage eventually may provide a nutraceutical approach to treating the disease rather than the currently accepted treatment, which is adherence to a life-long, gluten-free diet.

Van Buiten also received the Harold F. Martin Graduate Assistant Outstanding Teaching Award for 2015-16. The award is sponsored jointly by the Graduate School, through the Harold F. Martin Graduate Assistant Outstanding Teaching Award endowment, and the Office of the Vice President and Dean for Undergraduate Education.

"Charlene’s enthusiasm and commitment to students and learning is evident even to the most casual of observer -- she is a gifted instructor," said Robert Roberts, head of the Department of Food Science. "And her research initiative is both insightful and promising. These honors are well deserved."

Van Buiten, who intends to become a professor at a research university upon earning her degree, is encouraged and honored to receive so much support from both the university and the USDA.

"I plan to build my career around investigating the effects of phytochemicals on the physical characteristics and physiological effects of immunostimulatory food proteins," she said. "The USDA Fellowship will provide the resources for me to perform cutting-edge techniques to complete my research project, and it also will allow me to share my work with a wider audience at national meetings."

Receiving the teaching award from the University was especially satisfying, Van Buiten noted, because she was recognized for something that she genuinely enjoys doing.

"In addition to my long-standing involvement with a senior level capstone course in plant food processing as a teaching assistant and co-instructor, I taught a one-credit elective course for seniors doing independent research that focused on communication skills in science, such as grant-writing and giving presentations to both technical and nonscientific audiences," she said.

"I've really enjoyed my opportunities to work closely with undergraduates, who continually inspire and challenge me to become a better instructor."

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Last Updated April 29, 2016