For the Love of Food

For the Love of Food
Anna Schmenk Found Just What She Needed in CFAES

By Sherrie R. Whaley 

Playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”

If that is true, then alumna Anna Schmenk possesses one of the most natural, heartfelt, and authentic loves you will ever find.

With a major in food science and technology, Schmenk just received her bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) last month. She graduated with a 4.0 grade point average, as well as research distinction. A food technologist job awaited her at SensoryEffects, a Missouri-based manufacturer of food and beverage ingredients.

The path Schmenk would take in her life was never in doubt.

The Henry County native gained a passion for food early on. Her parents, Don and Diane Schmenk, had (and still have) a huge garden and a flock of chickens and layer hens. Most food the family eats is homegrown and home-prepared. An annual hog butchering day keeps another family tradition alive.

Anna Schmenk shows off her foodie mortarboard to Grandma Annie Gable on graduation day.

Summers were spent helping out on her grandparents’ dairy farm in nearby Leipsic, Ohio, with much of that time on the heels of her Grandma Annie Gable. A cook who rarely, if ever, uses a recipe, the now 82-year-old shared her secrets with Schmenk, who soaked it all up like a sponge.

“My grandma would milk cows, cook these large breakfasts and lunches for family and farmhands, and babysit at the same time,” she said. Little did she know the impact her work ethic and food proficiency was having on her granddaughter.

“Both my mom and grandma were instrumental in fostering my love for food,” the 22-year-old said. In elementary and high school, she naturally gravitated to
4-H cooking projects and FFA food science and technology contests.

From Henry County to Columbus

When the time came, Schmenk couldn’t wait to dive into food science and technology classes at Ohio State. “I knew I wanted to stay in Ohio. When I visited campus on a high school tour, I totally fell in love with it,” she recalled. “The faculty were so friendly, and the campus was just beautiful.”

She wasted no time in discovering all that Buckeyeland had to offer. Her food science classes turned out to be just a small part of that. She also took advantage of many available opportunities, including undergraduate research, mentor programs, extracurricular activities, and internships—something she advises that all students do.  

“The connections I made and the opportunities available were just huge. I’m not the shyest person, and I’m certainly not afraid to ask questions,” she admitted. “I always tried to sit relatively close to the front of my classes and talk to my professors after class.”

Anna's soybean research won first in a state food technology competition and third in a national competition.

One professor who Schmenk impressed was her adviser, Dr. Luis Rodriguez-Saona. Not only does he teach food science classes, but he also conducts research aimed at improving the quality and safety of agricultural products using novel analytical technologies. Schmenk volunteered to be part of his research group when she was a junior and, for almost two years, worked in Rodriguez’s lab on high-oleic soybean oil.

Working side by side with graduate students and Rodriguez, she created models for rapidly determining protein and oil in both high-oleic and regular soybeans by using infrared and Raman spectroscopy. “High-oleic soybeans are a healthier soybean for food ingredients and cooking oil,” said the Northwest Ohio native. “I learned firsthand how academic research aids the food industry." Her research project also won first place from the Ohio Valley Section of the Institute of Food Technologists and third place nationally at the 2017 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) conference.

"Anna was a very bright and motivated student who outperformed in our food science field and was always ready to help in extramural activities. As a professor, students like Anna bring the satisfaction of knowing that our field is in outstanding hands," Rodriguez said. "Anna brings pride to our university and is an example for younger generations of students to model. I hope she will come back for graduate school--the scientific community will benefit immensely."

Anna (bottom row, far right), with other members of the MARS Product Development Team.

In July, Schmenk will once again represent Ohio State at the 2018 IFT conference in Chicago. She is part of an Ohio State food science team participating in the MARS Product Development Competition. Just like a real-world situation, the team developed a new food idea, then used design thinking, prototyping, and sensory testing. They had to carry their concept through marketing and production and even designed the plant process and equipment needed for production.

The all-female team developed Banzo Bites, chickpea wafer snacks that are allergen-free and also taste good. Allergic individuals often encounter problems when one of the top eight allergens (milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans) are hidden in processed products. Banzo Bites could be a great option for both schoolchildren and adults, Schmenk said.

The Ohio State MARS team has already risen to the top of the competition by making it to the finals round. Twenty-three teams entered the competition, and only six were invited to Chicago where the winner will be announced. 

Burning the Candle at Both Ends

When not in class or in the lab, Schmenk kept busy serving as a council representative for a CFAES learning community, a member of the Food Science Peer Mentor Program, and contest coordinator for the Ohio FFA Food Science Contest. She also coordinated a food science pilot plant event, in which she scaled up a kitchen recipe, ordered supplies, and directed an apple pie assembly line with other food science students.

The Food Science and Technology Peer Mentor Group (with Anna, front and center) pose in the Howlett Hall Pilot Plant after an apple pie-making event for students, faculty and staff.

She even took the time to return to a Henry County high school, Liberty Center, to give a presentation on colored yogurts and flavor. 

Her agribusiness minor came in handy when Schmenk joined a team of Ohio State students who participated in the Fisher College of Business’ Best of Student Startup (BOSS) competition. She was part of a 2018 BOSS team that made it into the finals where five student teams pitched their ideas in a Shark Tank-style competition. The product Schmenk's team pitched was the idea for Banzo Bites, the same product they are competing with at the July 2018 IFT Conference. "Although we did not win anything, I'm very proud that it was the first food product to ever make it to the BOSS finals," she said. 

Schmenk also took advantage of CFAES’ Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering program designed to build confidence in female students for a smooth transition to the workforce and for a successful career. The Aspiration for Women’s Advancement and Retention in Engineering and Sciences (AWARES) program offers students an established learning community and guidance by a female mentor in their field of study.

“AWARES provided me with expanded skills and understanding of my personal brand, workplace conflict, diversity, and implicit biases,” explained Schmenk. “It was empowering to network with female peers and mentors in various STEM fields.”

No Slacking in Summer

As Schmenk saw it, summers were a time for strategically gaining more experience and knowledge in the food arena. She worked in a grocery store and a restaurant where she had direct contact with consumers and learned how food products are advertised and sold. 

She interned in research and development with the J.M. Smucker Company in Orrville, Ohio. “I critiqued lab formulations for a new snack product and scaled it up to pilot plant production,” she said. “I also worked with a flavor supplier on a seasoning revision and optimized some formulas for texture, product flow, and flavor.”

Her next internship was at SensoryEffects in Defiance, Ohio. An ingredient supplier company, SensoryEffects has plants in six states. Schmenk worked as a regulatory and quality assurance intern.

“It was a great experience. I was able to see the measures and procedures a food company goes through to create a safe and successful product,” she said.

She also impressed her superiors enough that she had a full-time food technologist job waiting in Defiance after graduation.

Scarlet and Gray Forever

Although unsure of her future plans just yet, Schmenk is excited about the prospect of having time to read some magazines. She could conceivably return to Ohio State someday for a graduate degree. But it’s a sure bet that, thanks to her family and their CFAES connection, she’ll be back on campus quite often.

Her father graduated in 1990 with a forestry degree. He serves as forest manager of the almost 3,200-acre Maumee State Forest in Fulton, Henry, and Lucas counties. Schmenk’s brother, Michael, is a junior studying agricultural engineering, and her sister, Holly, will be an incoming freshman studying animal sciences this fall. Her mom, Diane, works as secretary on the family dairy farm, which is now run by Schmenk’s uncle. Diane makes sure her entire Buckeye clan is well-fed and has everything they need. The entire close-knit family values spending time in Columbus and enjoys trips to Ohio Stadium to cheer on the Buckeyes.

The entire Schmenk family after an Ohio State football game: (l-r) Michael, Anna, Holly, Diane, and Don. Go Bucks!

Looking back on Ohio State’s role in developing her passion for the food industry, Schmenk said, “As a food scientist, Ohio State prepared me for a lot of areas: research and development; food safety; regulatory issues; technical sales and marketing; flavor chemistry; and quality assurance.”

“From the first day I stepped foot on campus, CFAES and the Department of Food Science and Technology felt like such a family—and family is so very important to me. I’ll forever be thankful for the opportunities and support I received there.”

Credit: The photo at the top of the page was taken by CFAES photographer Ken Chamberlain. All others were provided by Anna Schmenk.