Student Stories: Food science graduate carved out her own niche

October 01, 2009

Every college student dreams of getting the opportunity to land the perfect career after graduation, but if you can't find it, why not create it? While at Whole Foods Market, recent Penn State Food Science graduate Jill Kuzo had the opportunity to do just that as head of her own gluten-free testing lab.

At the company's gluten-free bakehouse, Kuzo tested levels of gluten -- a protein found in cereals, especially wheat -- in the company's food products. Not only did Whole Foods allow her to create this position, but the company supported her research with a laboratory that it let her design from the testing equipment to the tables.
 
Before she had her own lab, Kuzo was just like many Penn Staters on the hunt for work after graduation. Thanks to her food science degree from the College of Agricultural Sciences, however, finding employment was not the nightmare most students envision it to be.
 
"Graduating from Penn State really gave me confidence in my future as a food scientist," she said. "Food companies tend to have many job opportunities for food science majors. You may not think about it too often, but there's a lot involved in even simple foods, such as potato chips, which is why there is a demand for skilled food scientists."
 
Kuzo looked into a number of jobs with various employers. However, washing dirty test tubes in a laboratory or being involved with traditional forms of food production simply did not appeal to her.
 
So, Kuzo chose Whole Foods Market because it offered a unique natural approach to food, along with some excellent employee benefits. "I wanted to do something new," she said. "At Whole Foods Market, my day included anything but menial tasks in a lab."
 
After accomplishing her goal of establishing a gluten-free lab at Whole Foods Market, Kuzo recently began working as a supplier-quality specialist with ConAgra Foods.
 
"I think I've been very lucky being at the right place at the right time, and I really enjoy working at ConAgra Foods," said Kuzo. "I originally began as part of a temporary team investigating the country of origin of materials in their food products after the melamine outbreak in dog food.
 
"I was then given a second project to design an approval form for new suppliers and ingredients, and shortly after, I was contacted about a job as a supplier-quality specialist in Omaha. The job allows me to travel a lot, which I love. So while I'm still learning, I now get to see different food facilities in places like Quebec, California, Montreal and Chicago."
 
Reflecting upon her experience working at Whole Foods Market's gluten-free bakehouse and ConAgra, Kuzo is pleased with the opportunities her food-science education generated. "Food science involves everything that happens between production on the farm and the food on your plate," she said. "Switching my major to Food Science was the best decision I made in college. I've been involved in something that helps consumers, and I really enjoy that."
  • Jill Kuzo in her lab.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 18, 2010