Lab offers workers sense of real world
By Arlene Schauwecker
Photo by Arlene Schauwecker
Katrina Roseland (left) and Justin Orna pass cups of tomato juice through a window in the Purdue Food Science Sensory Evaluation Laboratory. The student workers conduct tests on food products to find out which ones customers prefer.
Katrina Roseland has fun with her Purdue Food Science Sensory Evaluation Laboratory coworkers, even on breaks when things don't always go according to plan.
Like the time their lunch order got messed up. Roseland and most the others laughed hysterically, while one coworker had to chase the delivery person down the hall in order to get her food.
"We do a lot of work and learn a lot, but we have a ton of fun, too, so it makes it all worth it," said Roseland, a food manufacturing operations junior from Laurel, Md.
Although the lab's student workers have a lot of fun, their work is serious. The sensory lab performs single-blind tests on different food products to see which ones consumers prefer. Some tests compare one product to another, others determine what consumers think of products that have an added ingredient, and still others analyze whether a new product will be viable in the marketplace.
For the companies that manufacture these products, the tests can be the difference in the way they produce or market their products.
And students do a lot of the work that makes these tests possible. They run many of the evaluations, make preparations and clean up afterward.
"The information collected for the studies helps the companies to make million-dollar decisions about their product lines and marketing strategies," said Steven Smith, a food processing specialist who runs the sensory lab.
Justin Orna, a senior food manufacturing operations major from Woodridge, Ill., works in the sensory lab and has enjoyed his time there. He said the people he works with have become some of his best friends. For Orna and many of his coworkers, the lab has become their hangout.
"On top of the friendships another perk to the job is all the food I get to try," Orna said. "I get to be a participant in most, if not all, of the experiments, and we get to eat the leftovers (if there are any)."
Some of those leftovers can be really great food, such as chicken cordon bleu or chicken Kiev, Orna said. The companies sometimes provide more food than the lab needs for their evaluations, so student workers have a chance to snack on what's left while they clean up and do their work. As a college student, Orna said he appreciates the opportunity to change up his usual lunch menu.
Another advantage of working in the lab is that students get to meet people from the industry and make priceless connections. "It was through the lab that I got my internship for this summer at McCain foods," Orna said. "It can then lead to a future job for me after graduation."
Smith also said the interaction between students and industry professionals is valuable. "Students get great real-world experience and exposure to contacts in the field," Smith said. "It can also lead them to their future careers."
"I think working in the lab will really pay off, plus I had wanted to work in the lab for some time now and just recently got the opportunity," Roseland said. "So far I have really enjoyed it. The lab is great."