Agriculture internships enhance graduate student experiences

Jose Daniel Estrada, an LSU doctoral student in food science from Honduras, explains tasks he was responsible for while participating in an internship with General Mills Inc. (Photo by Tobie Blanchard, LSU AgCenter)

Adriana Gaitan, an LSU graduate student in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences with a focus in human nutrition, traveled to Guatemala, where her internship involved collaborating in a study that evaluated how a lipid-based nutrient supplement affected the breast milk of Guatemalan women. (Photo provided by Adriana Gaitan)

News Release Distributed 10/16/15

BATON ROUGE, La. – LSU graduate students in agriculture are expanding their knowledge and enhancing their collegiate experiences by participating in internships.

The internships give students opportunities to travel and work with people of various backgrounds, as well as acquire valuable on-the-job training in fields they hope to work in once they graduate.

Jose Daniel Estrada, a doctoral student in food science from Honduras, worked for General Mills Inc. in Minnesota. His projects involved determining how to make Pillsbury Grands! refrigerated biscuits flakier and what new flavor Pillsbury should add to its sweet roll repertoire.

His internship included working in pilot and processing plants, as well as collecting and analyzing data. Projects he worked on were designed to help the Pillsbury brand remain a strong force in today’s economy. One project involved improving the peel-ability and awareness of layers in Pillsbury’s refrigerated biscuits.

“We found consumers like more layers in their flaky biscuits,” Estrada said. “Cracking on (a biscuit’s) sidewalls is what consumers want to see. They like to peel back the layers and put a different food item like jelly or peanut butter on each layer.”

So Estrada and other researchers set out to study how to improve the biscuits to give consumers what they want. After tweaking the formulation, they determined which ingredient levels would provide the most peel-able and visible layers and still meet the approval of the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Estrada also was involved in determining which flavor Pillsbury would use to make a new line of seasonal sweet rolls.

“We found consumers are looking for the ultimate indulgence during the winter holiday months,” he said. “We conducted flavor-sort tests to determine what flavor consumers wanted in a new sweet roll variety. Excellent progress was made in the development of a product to be launched in the winter of 2017.”

Customer satisfaction was just one topic Estrada learned during his internship with General Mills. In addition, he learned that teamwork and networking are keys for success. He said interns should make a plan from the very beginning of each task but stay flexible in the event something needs to change for the task to be successfully completed.

“I also learned that people should find ways to be a leader wherever they go,” he said. “And that leading companies are looking for individuals who fit in their culture. My experience was comprehensive. The projects I participated in were both creative and technical. I learned a lot.”

Adriana Gaitan is another graduate student in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences, with a focus in human nutrition, who participated in an internship. Gaitan’s study took her back home to Guatemala, where she collaborated in a study that evaluated how a lipid-based nutrient supplement affected the breast milk of Guatemalan women. The study’s participants were women volunteers who were breastfeeding their babies.

“The area we conducted the study in has a high poverty level,” Gaitan said. “We wanted to determine the short-term response of breast milk micronutrient concentrations to a lipid-based nutrient supplement.”

The researchers wanted to determine if the nutrient supplement allowed the women to produce higher quality breast milk. This could benefit the babies by making them healthier, which, in turn, could benefit society as a whole.

Part of Gaitan’s responsibilities included collecting data and developing templates to use for entering data from the study. She learned a lot about collecting usable data and some not-so-usable data. While collecting information for the study, she said, she noticed some level of distrust from participants.

“To gather the data, we had to ask the women a series of questions,” she said. “Sometimes their answers would be outright lies. I mean, we knew they were lying, but what can you do? We were careful to note data we believed was inaccurate.”

Gaitan said these experiences in data gathering taught her the difficulties of what a field study involves, how to overcome these difficulties and the joys of successfully reaching a goal.

“This experience has reminded me how important it is for me to appreciate how fortunate I am for being where I am today,” she said. “Every person has something to teach me. And if I listen and pay attention, I can learn.”

Internships play a major role in students’ education in the LSU College of Agriculture.

Estrada’s and Gaitan’s internships examples of opportunities available to students. Marlene Janes, LSU AgCenter and LSU College or Agriculture professor and coordinator for graduate studies for food sciences, said students interested in internships should check with their major professors to find out what is available.

Denise Attaway

10/17/2015 12:23:10 AM
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