Sydney Tankard on left wearing gear for food safety inspection; right, professional headshot

Representing UD at the 2021 AFA Food Institute

July 28, 2021 Written by Jessica Smith | Photos provided by Sydney Tankard

Last May, junior food science major Sydney Tankard was chosen as one of 75 student delegates from across the country to represent the University of Delaware at the 2021 Agriculture Future of America (AFA) Food Institute.

Tankard first found out about the institute through her career community newsletter, sent by agriculture and environment career counselor Amber Ridgeway. “The application consisted of various questions and prompts related to my interest in the food industry,” says Tankard. “I was asked about my connection to different areas of agriculture and how I plan to make a difference in my future career. I remember speaking on food insecurity and food waste as major issues that I plan to impact change upon.”

When Tankard learned that she had been selected, she says she was both honored and thrilled. “I was extremely excited,” she says. “AFA is an incredible nonprofit organization that is dedicated to student success in fields of food, agriculture and natural resources. I knew I was in for incredible learning and networking opportunities. This organization is very competitive, so it truly did feel like an honor to be accepted.”

Typically, the AFA Food Institute takes place in Chicago. But due to COVID-19 restrictions and safety concerns, the 2021 event was held virtually. Despite this, Tankard says the institute was still just as engaging. As a chemistry and nutrition minor, she found friendship with students of similar interests.

“I was able to speak one-on-one with peers from schools across the country over the course of three days about food science, nutrition, poultry science and many more related fields,” she says. I found that food science in particular is a smaller major across the board, so these networking interactions were extremely meaningful, as well as beneficial.”

Tankard also attended sessions about product development, quality assurance and food waste from companies including Cargill and ADM. “I was allowed to sculpt my schedule toward my interests for the various sessions,” she says. “My professional goal of becoming a food scientist for a large food company was enhanced by the many professionals that were representatives from these companies.”

Overall, Tankard’s participation helped solidify her professional aspirations. “This experience showed me the many incredible career opportunities that I will be granted in the food industry,” she says.

Following her time in the institute, Tankard was selected as a quality assurance and food safety intern for Mountaire Farms at their Lumber Bridge, North Carolina location. Tankard’s daily duties include assisting the quality assurance manager and technicians with various projects within the plant related to food safety. “My main project includes working to improve the quality of various chain-link gloves by monitoring their lifespan and to reduce the likelihood of foreign material—such as these links—from being delivered to customers,” she says. “I also work in the lab to complete rinses and tests on products, as well as plating and checking for likelihood of foodborne illnesses.”

Tankard says this internship has granted her valuable insight. “This experience has given me a glimpse into quality assurance within the poultry industry,” she says. “I have learned various analytical laboratory procedures, food safety strategies and the effectiveness of a collaborative team.”

While at UD, Tankard participates in the Food Science Club and networking resources from College of Agriculture & Natural Resources (CANR). “Attending alumni and shadowing events has been extremely helpful in determining my future career goals,” she says. “I love to hear from peers, alumni and current professionals in the field to learn as much as I can about food science opportunities.”

For other students that are seeking internships and jobs in the industry, Tankard says it’s important to be open to new experiences, even if they seem out of your wheelhouse.

“Put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to apply for internships that hold different roles within food science, like quality assurance and research and development,” she says. “Food science is awesome and it’s alright to not know everything about the major just yet. The experience you gain from working internships and speaking with others will help guide your interests in the field and learn of its impact and importance to our favorite everyday food products.”

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