Penn State Berkey Creamery intern plays important role in product development

Alexandra Perez
December 19, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Abigail Rule, a senior majoring in food science in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, has gotten the inside scoop on product development, thanks to an internship with Penn State's Berkey Creamery.

While Rule, of Downingtown, always has been interested in the sciences, she was unsure of the direction she wanted to take before attending Penn State.

"I found out about food science after I got accepted to Penn State," she said. "I took a tour of the department, and I felt at home here."

In addition to taking courses such as food chemistry and food engineering, Rule gained valuable experience by working with Robert Roberts, professor and head of the Department of Food Science. In his lab, she had multiple responsibilities, including preparing plating samples and making samples for the Penn State Ice Cream Short Course. This work piqued her interest in the industry and led to the internship with the Creamery, an opportunity that has helped her to find her niche.

Rule said the internship has enabled her to learn about product development through hands-on experience, as her duties entail coming up with new products and reformulating current ones. Because she worked over the summer and throughout the academic year, Rule has participated in many projects and become comfortable with the process.

"I have been able to see things from start to finish," she said.

The first real project with which Rule was fully involved was the development of a new ice cream flavor, "White Out," which the Creamery unveiled earlier this fall. Starting last spring, she worked with Tom Davis, Creamery manager, and Naomi Minarchick, financial assistant, to perfect this new addition. Rule said that this project is very close to her heart because it's one that she started from the very beginning.

"It's amazing to see where it is now because it started as a name and a handful of ideas," she said.

White Out

"White Out," the Penn State Berkey Creamery's newest ice cream flavor, is a sweet and salty blend of popcorn-flavored ice cream and white chocolate chips.

IMAGE: Mitchell Valentin

Starting from scratch was challenging at times, she said. They brainstormed various flavors associated with white coloring, testing such flavors as marshmallow with white icing swirl, marshmallow with white chocolate chips, marshmallow with Irish Crème flavoring, and even spicy jalapeno. While none of these flavors stood out, they decided to test popcorn, which took the savory prize.

Throughout this project, Rule was very involved and worked independently, while also having ample support from the Creamery staff.

"Abbey was very instrumental on the 'White Out' flavor," said Davis. "She deserves to get credit for developing this."

While developing the flavor, Rule was surprised by the amount of time that projects take. Originally thinking it would take only a couple of months, she began to see that there is a lot more that goes into the process than just creating samples.

"I didn't realize how much reformulation goes into all of the samples that you make, and then you have to get opinions and make small tweaks to the formula," she said.

As Davis explained, "In product development, your achievement is what you have been able to learn and then how you're able to apply that to achieve a final product."

Although "White Out" is a big accomplishment of Rule's, it is not the only project that she has worked on, Davis added, noting that the Creamery has many other products in addition to ice cream. For example, she has worked on reformulating cream cheese and the new iced coffee beverages.

Davis tries to keep the interns working on multiple projects. Currently, the Creamery is trying to modernize its products and make them healthier, so he has had Rule working on developing nondairy options.

"Whether we launch these products or not doesn't matter — it fosters a creative approach, and that's what's important," said Davis.

Penn State's Berkey Creamery has given Rule a lot to look forward to when it comes to her future. Not only does she hope to continue product development, but she also would like to stay within the realm of ice cream, cheese and yogurt. Her work has given her a newfound appreciation for dairy products, which she hopes to pursue in her career.

Davis also would like to see Rule obtain a job in the product-development world. He hopes that one day she also can teach the process to others. 

"I think she has the creativity, the drive to do it, and the curiosity to learn," he said. "I know she has the ability to take a piece of information and build on it." 

When not working in the Creamery or studying for classes, Rule is a sister in Sigma Alpha, a professional sorority for women in agriculture, for which she serves as the head of the service committee. With this leadership position, she can share her passion with her sisters and plan volunteer projects for the organization. In addition, she is a member of the Food Science Club, which helped her discover many opportunities in the industry.

As a senior, Rule is grateful for the opportunities that Penn State has provided to help her grow academically, professionally and personally. She encourages students to be open to trying new things — whether it be a club or a class that piques an interest — because it is a chance to learn something about yourself.

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Last Updated December 19, 2018