Scholar trains educators from Ethiopia in detection of foodborne pathogens

Jeff Rice
September 26, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Cassidy Prince has learned a great deal about foodborne pathogens while working in the lab of Jasna Kovac, Penn State assistant professor of food science. She also has learned how gratifying it can be to pass what she has learned onto others.

“It’s really special to teach somebody and give them the knowledge that you have,” the junior microbiology major and Schreyer Honors Scholar said.

Working with Naomi Niyah, a Penn State doctoral degree candidate in the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences’ Molecular, Cellular, and Integrated Biosciences program, Prince created a training program for educators and researchers from government agencies in Ethiopia to assist with detection and monitoring of foodborne pathogens, which was implemented in Kovac’s lab in the Rodney A. Erickson Food Science Building during a two-week stint in June. 

With assistance from a Schreyer Honors College travel grant, Prince accompanied Kovac to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city, and the nearby town of Holeta this August to follow up with a group of 30 students and test the sustainability of the protocols, which were designed to allow for the detection of foodborne pathogens in dairy products.

“This is something that we want people and labs in Ethiopia to be able to use on a long term, beyond the completion of this project,” she said.

Developed in collaboration with Jessie Vipham, assistant professor in the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry at Kansas State University, and assistant professor Ashagrie Zewdu of Center for Food science and Nutrition at Addis Ababa University, the training was part of the ENSURE project. Catharine Cutter, professor of food science and Penn State Extension assistant director for food safety and quality programs, and Kerry Kaylegian, assistant research professor and extension dairy foods specialist, also were involved in the project.

Kovac recommended Prince for the project after hearing of her interest in development work; she had traveled to Panama with Global Medical Brigades and collaborated with local physicians to set up day-long clinics.

“It was very good for me as a mentor and her [Prince's] teacher to see how she developed analytical skills, knowledge and confidence that helped her teach very effectively in a setting with limited resources,” Kovac said.

Toward the end of the visit to Ethiopia, Mestawet Taye, a food and animal sciences professor from Hawassa University, made it a point to commend Prince in front of the group for her efforts. 

“She said that Ethiopian universities should really look up to the way students are trained at Penn State,” Kovac said. “She was very impressed by her knowledge and skills.”

Kovac was impressed by Prince’s desire to work on improvement materials for the training even after returning to State College. She has invited her to join her when she returns to Addis Ababa this coming spring, as scientists on the project move into the molecular identification stage after samples are collected from a number of sites in Ethiopia this winter.

Prince said the experience has made her consider a career in higher education and potentially lead her own lab someday.

“It’s incredibly amazing to know that what you’re doing and what you can do impacts people from all over the world,” Prince said. “You can use your knowledge and teach people, and they can teach other people, and you just develop this entire network of knowledge."

About the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total more than 2,000 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth Campuses. They represent the top 2% of students at Penn State who excel academically and lead on campus.

Last Updated September 30, 2019