Published on 07/29/10

Student food scientists win national title

By Stephanie Schupska

The University of Georgia can add a new national title to its academic lineup. At a university often known for its sports, it was food science students who brought home top honors on July 19 at the annual international Institute of Food Technologists conference held in Chicago.

After winning the southeast regional IFT Student Association competition in March in Huntsville, the team continued its undefeated streak through the national competition. They faced off against the University of Delaware team twice – once in the preliminary rounds and again in the final round after Delaware cleaned up the loser’s bracket.

It’s tradition to celebrate any national title win, and this one was no exception. UGA topped off its win with a chant of “UGA, UGA, UGA” across the grand ballroom at conference center McCormick Place, led by UGA food science and technology graduate coordinator Mark Harrison.

“The winning’s very nice, but, realistically, being able to meet my colleagues both current and future and being able to test myself against my peers, is a wonderful thing,” said George Cavender, a food science and technology doctoral student with UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Cavender both coached and led the team as captain. Other members were graduate students Amudhan Ponrajan and Kathryn Acosta and undergraduates Jessica Highsmith and Winnie Lim. UGA assistant professor Ron Pegg was the team’s faculty adviser.

It took the UGA students four consecutive years of winning at the regional level to finally pull together their national title. Now they’re ineligible to ever compete in the college bowl again.

Cavender is okay with that.

“If you’re going to retire from national competition, that’s the best way to retire,” he said of their win. Plus, he plans to graduate in December.

Georgia history

Twenty-five years ago, the IFT Student Association College Bowl was first held in Atlanta.

“UGA has never won an event until now,” Pegg said. “And on the 25th anniversary, they brought the win back to Georgia.”

Besides the four wins that Cavender has been apart of, UGA has two other regional titles.

In the southeast region, they compete against Clemson University, Louisiana State University, University of Florida, Alabama A&M University, Mississippi State University and Auburn University.

Big event

More than 21,000 people from more than 70 countries attended the IFT10 meeting. According to Pegg and Cavender, it’s the food industry’s premier organization.

“It’s a phenomenally powerful networking tool,” Cavender said of the conference. And as for the college bowl, “I think it’s a very helpful thing. It encourages the retention of knowledge, and it increases students’ ability to speak in front of a crowd.”

Being drilled with questions by IFT judges makes later public speaking easier, he said.

Questions at the college bowl ranged from identifying an unshelled almond to determining whether certain bacteria are gram positive or gram negative (most of the more harmful bacteria, like E. coli, are gram negative).

More awards

The UGA team wasn’t the only UGA representative to bring home awards. Recent UGA graduate Ashley Hart won second place in the IFT Undergraduate Student Paper Competition. She co-wrote her winning paper, “Blackberry polyphenolic inhibition of proinflammatory mediators released from murine RAW 264.7 macrophage cell lines,” with Pegg and Phillip Greenspan, an associate professor in the UGA Department of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences.

“It felt amazing doing so well at a national competition like the IFTSA undergraduate research competition,” Hart said. “Even being one of the six finalists was an honor, so when I won second place, it was an extremely rewarding experience, definitely worth all that hard work.”

Hart is finishing up a summer internship with PepsiCo in New York and plans to attend graduate school.

Stephanie Schupska is the communications coordinator with the University of Georgia Honors College.

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