[00:00:01] Speaker A: Greetings scholars, and welcome to following the Gong, a podcast at the Shrier Honors College at Penn State.
Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our Scholar alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar alumni have gone on to shape the old after they rind the gone and graduated with honors and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Doheen, Class of 2011 and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back.
[00:00:54] Speaker B: You.
[00:00:55] Speaker C: This episode will be of interest for scholars who are interested in food science and product development generally. It'll also be of interest to those who like baking or coffee and those who are in a Stem major but love the arts too. It's also great for alumni who are interested in getting more involved as volunteers. Natalie Keller, Class of 2017, is a food scientist at La Clone Coffee Roasters in Philadelphia, where she works on recipes for canned coffees, bag and box, and other product formats. Before joining them in September 2021, she spent four years at Mondelis International developing new cookies for major NABISTO brands. She earned a BS in Food Science with honors from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences in 2017. She also currently serves as the president of the Staller Alumni Society. Natalie is happy to speak further about careers in food and CPG industries finding internships, volunteering, or what makes a good cup of coffee. Feel free to connect with her at LinkedIn. In this episode, Natalie shares her insights on getting the right cup of coffee to enjoy with the episode. Translating high school interests into your major at Penn State and choosing the Shrier Honors College community.
Getting involved in Shrier student council to acclimate to the college. Pursuing undergraduate research and internships as a scholar. Putting science into action in a food production setting and translating that to a full time job. The value of the London study tour or as we call it, the Maymaster. Regardless of your major, writing a thesis with a microbiology focus that contributes to the food safety, body of knowledge and learning even from not positive results. The art and science of developing new food products from cookies to coffee the product development cycle and the balance between R and D and marketing. The differences in working on large teams at large companies and small teams at small firms. Learning from staff at all parts of the company. Going from job number one to job number two and leveraging your experience in transferable skills along the way. Getting involved as an alumni volunteer with the Honors College and paying it forward to current scholars the value of dancing in Thawn, particularly for the Shrieer Student Council, taking advantage of opportunities for intellectual curiosity and understanding the why and the reward of networking, even if you don't quite know what you're doing with that. Let's dive into our conversation with Natalie. Following the gong.
[00:03:12] Speaker B: Natalie, thank you so much for joining me here on following the Gone. Now, before we get started, if you read Natalie's bio, natalie, I'd love if you could share maybe a preferred coffee blend that our listeners should grab and hit pause, go grab, and then bring back to listen to the rest of this episode. So what do you recommend?
[00:03:31] Speaker D: Yes, of course. So, working for La Cologne, I'm definitely going to recommend a La Cologne blend. And I think one of my favorites and one of the first ones I tried was our Afrik blend. It's a medium roast, and I think it's great for someone who wants to get into understanding the nuances of coffee. The cup actually changes over time. It really starts out as something chocolatey, cinnamony, something that's really baked, and as the cup sits, you actually get to taste those fruity notes that come through on lighter roasts. So something like raspberry, red berries and stuff like that. When I first tried the product, I was very impressed with myself, but I think maybe it's an easier blend for people to start out with to understand the nuances that come with a cup of coffee.
[00:04:20] Speaker B: Well, if you have access to that, go grab some. Or just grab your favorite flavor, your favorite blend that you have available and come back and join us. So, Natalie, you didn't always want to work with product development and coffee. So what actually drew you to Penn State and the Shrier Honors College when you were in high school?
[00:04:37] Speaker D: Yes, so I went to a high school that had an Agriculture Sciences department, comrade Weiser, outside of Reading, Pennsylvania. So Sean's familiar with the area, having grown up there as well, and my teachers, Adam Searfoss and John Seavert, were just really terrific and really allowed us to explore every facet of agriculture sciences, biotechnology, and everything that comes along with it. So when I was a high school student, I was very interested in food microbiology, and my senior project actually looked at different methods for preventing the growth of E. Coli in food. So one of the main foodborne pathogens that the industry deals with. So I had always thought that I would go and do some sort of research with food safety, with food microbiology and pathogens. And I had known that a lot of students from Conradweiser had gone onto Penn State, onto the College of Agricultural Sciences there and had great careers in food science, in biotechnology, immunology, and all these great fields that were heavy in research and heavy in the science that I really loved. And so Penn State and the College of AG was always pretty much where I wanted to go since I was a freshman and sophomore in high school and what drew me to the Honors College really was the research component. I had known from the very beginning I had wanted to get into a lab, wanted to get my hands dirty and do some really tangible work. I didn't want to just be washing dishes and doing media plates and things like that. I wanted to be one of the people in the lab doing the actual research. And I knew that Shrier was a way for me to do that. And I was able to actually get a position in a lab within my first month of being at Penn State. And one of the reasons why my lab advisor had allowed me in was because he knew I was a Shire scholar and knew the drive that came with that, the academic curiosity that came with that. So it really was my way in to seeing whether micro and the research side of the food industry was right for me.
[00:06:52] Speaker B: So you dove right into research and now as we're recording this, you are currently the president of the Scholar Alumni Society and you got very involved as an alum because you were very involved as a student, but that wasn't always your plan. So what changed along the way to not only just do the academic excellence with integrity, but also your opportunity to create opportunities for leadership and civic engagement?
[00:07:20] Speaker D: Yes. So I think my journey at Shrier is a bit different and probably a bit surprising to anyone who knows me today because I really bleed blue and white and anyone who knows me knows that I'm involved in Shire and I'm involved in the Penn State Alumni Association. But when I started as a scholar, honestly, I wasn't even sure that I was going to accept my acceptance into the Honors College. I didn't even know if I was going to go through because I had thought that I wouldn't be able to make the grades that I could not possibly compare to the other great scholars who were going to be there. I thought the environment was going to be cutthroat and I thought that I really wouldn't fit in. But my high school teachers really helped me decide and helped me see that this was a great opportunity and it would be a mistake if I didn't even just try it. So the worst that could happen was that I try and I don't succeed. But how was I ever supposed to know that this was going to be the right opportunity if I didn't decide to take it on? And I'm so glad I did because once I got to Shrier, it really became my home within Penn State. I was involved in student council as a way to become a bit more familiar with the Shrier community. And today my best friends that I see on a weekly basis are people who I met through student council and by being involved there, by knowing more about the college. The students were so welcoming. My classmates were incredible, and I had some great opportunities. I was able to have a position as a PR chair in Shrier student council. I was able to dance for them in Thawn my senior year, I was able to do study abroad through the London study tour, one of Shrier's signature programs. I was able to be a team leader in showtime. And I think really what changed for me was the community that I saw within Shrier. It really just felt like everyone was reaching toward a common goal together, trying to better the university, trying to push ourselves to be the best students, the best student leaders that we could be. And I really thought that our staff at the honors college wanted all of the students to succeed as well. And so that was one of the reasons why I really decided that I wanted to give back at an early age, after graduation, and I wanted to become involved right away to try to give back to the honors college. That was so formative in my experience at Penn State and try to make sure that other students had those opportunities that I did and recognize how great those opportunities are.
[00:10:13] Speaker B: So you were definitely very busy. You're in the lab, you're working with student council, you found time to study abroad, and we'll talk about that in a minute. But I'm curious, knowing the career path that you're in, you probably had some pre professional opportunities that you were able to take advantage of. What were those? How did you secure them? What advice do you have for students looking into internships, co ops, that sort of thing?
[00:10:34] Speaker D: Yes. So my first opportunity was research that I was able to participate in with Dr. Edward Dudley up in the department of food science. It was a great research opportunity working with e. Coli and listeria, which was definitely my dream as a high schooler going into college and something that I still really value today. The kind of research that his lab does is absolutely incredible. And after having that lab experience, I did want to see if product development, which is kind of the different sector besides quality in the food industry, if that was right for me. And I actually had an internship opportunity with mondelis international, who manufactures nabisco brands during the summer between my sophomore and junior years, and then again between my junior and senior years. So the Mondelese team came to recruit at Penn State, and I was able to secure an interview with them. It went either very well or very poorly, and it ended up going very well because I got the offer and then made my way into product development and really loved it. Really loved how you are able to see the tangible results and see the science being applied in such a real way, seeing whether your rich crackers get burnt or not. You can understand the chemistry of browning and seeing if your nutter butter icing is squeezing out from the sides of the cookie how viscous it is and how you would combat that in a production setting. So it was a really great opportunity, and then I was able to, from my internships, secure a full time offer after graduation with that company. And I was there for four years before moving on to La Colomb, where I am today.
[00:12:26] Speaker B: Sounds like you took full advantage of that opportunity. And another one that you mentioned earlier was what we affectionately call the Maymaster program. Can you tell us about that and how, if I recall correctly from previous conversations we've had, it had next to nothing to do with your major, but really helped give you a full, well rounded experience.
[00:12:46] Speaker D: The London Study Tour was something that was always talked about by Dr. Stoller at showtime, at different events when I was a first year scholar. And it was always something that I thought in the back of my mind when I first heard it, yes, I'm going to reach for that. I'm really going to try to do that.
London was always something or a place that I really wanted to visit. I love British history, I love the theater. And the London Study Tour really focuses on how diversity is presented through the arts and through theater specifically. So we saw twelve plays in twelve days on that trip, and I'm a huge Broadway fan. I love plays, I love musicals. And so it was right up my alley, just doing something so fun and so different than my Stem heavy course load. Honestly, it didn't even feel like a class. It was a break. It was something that was just so fun for me to learn that it didn't even feel like it was work. And being able to pursue that, I think was so great because I was able to meet so many other scholars that even though a lot of us had the same background, a lot of us were from Pennsylvania, a lot of us were white and more privileged than a lot of other students. I was still able to really learn a lot from those students, from the way that we think and how our backgrounds influence that, from our variety of career experiences. And we really were just able to learn a lot and grow together, traveling together, seeing these shows, learning from them, hearing each other's different perspectives. It just really opened me up to see how much diversity there was in people's ways of thinking and really allowed me to appreciate the level of diversity that we have at Penn State. People may not really see it or realize it when you're walking down the street or when you're in a classroom, but there is so much that the Penn State community has to offer in terms of learning from other people learning about yourself along the way. And I think that was something that was super rewarding to me that I was able to get out of that course.
[00:15:05] Speaker B: I think that's great. And one of the other major types of learning that you do as a scholar is your thesis. I'm curious, did it have anything to do with your standby of E. Coli or was it more product development focused?
[00:15:19] Speaker D: Yes, so my thesis was focused on food microbiology, having done research in that area for quite some time. So instead of looking at E. Coli, which was the organism that my lab was focused on, I took things in a different direction and looked at Listeria monocytogenes, which is a bit of a different organism in the food industry. It does really affect us. It affects outbreaks in lunch meats and lettuce and cantaloupes. It is a nasty bug. And so what I researched was whether an emulsifier so a common ingredient in the food industry, lecithin, coming from soy, it's something that's natural, it's found in a lot of foods, whether that ingredient could help enhance an essential oil's ability to kill microorganisms. So I used lecithin and eugenol, which is a common oil found in clove, and whether those ingredients together could inhibit the growth of Listerium monocytogenes. A graduate student, Hao Shu Zhang, found that it was effective against E. Coli. However, my research found the opposite. With Listeria, my plates were full of bacteria every single day for months and it was really disappointing. But understanding the why behind that was also very interesting. I had results and really, my thesis said, yeah, this didn't work. But really, that secondary question of why didn't this work? Was very interesting and very intriguing. So understanding the differences between E. Coli and listeria, what could allow E. Coli to be killed but allow listeria to still thrive in this environment? Understanding the difference between the organisms was something that was really interesting and obviously an unexpected result, but really allowed me to think in a different way and take an experiment that may seem unsuccessful, but really we learned something from it and hopefully we'll be able to apply that to future experiments as well.
[00:17:30] Speaker B: That's really fascinating because these are things that if you hear about in the news, it's a bad thing. You don't think on the regular of all of the protocols and procedures to keep your food safe and all of the thought and continual involvement of this in your industry. Now, you came in wanting to do that, but you discovered product development. Walk us through between your experience at Mondelez and now at La Colomb, what is at least a close to a normal day like for somebody in these types of roles, for somebody who may be looking to go into this industry and follow a similar path to what you've done.
[00:18:06] Speaker D: I've been at Locom about three months now, so I'm still trying to understand what a normal day would look like.
However, I can tell you that I am in the lab nearly every day at La Coleman, both at my previous position in product development as well. So I'm doing a lot of shelf life studies, setting up, organizing product that we get in from our plant out in Michigan and also making product on the benchtop. So I will take coffee concentrate, I'll take milk, I'll take different ingredients, flavors, things like that, and try to make the next great draft latte in a can that La cologne produces. So doing a lot of flavor improvements to our current products, working on new and future products is something that my job really focuses on.
But really it comes down to being in the lab, having my hands dirty, maybe covered in oat milk one day. They weren't yesterday, maybe deep in coffee and deep in other ingredients as well. But really what product development comes down to and what a job like this entails is being able to take the science and apply it to that food product. And I find one thing that is really super rewarding at my current position is that so much science comes into making a beverage from mixing milk, which is not very acidic, with coffee, which is something that's a really acidic product. How does this affect the end product?
How does your flavor change over time? The different processing that you have to do with a beverage is all something that was new to me coming into this role, and I'm really enjoying the learning process of it all.
[00:19:56] Speaker B: Now, going back to your previous role, earlier in this conversation, you referenced some products like Nutter Butter and Ritz crackers. Do you have any insight on what it was like to be kind of a professional baker in those roles? Because I know from stories you've shared in the past, there's lots of work with ovens. You referenced Browning the crackers. Give us some insight on what it's like to work. You work with beverage products right now, but what was it like to work with the baked goods that you find in the snack aisle?
[00:20:25] Speaker D: Sure. So I worked on everything from Chips Ahoy, Nutter Butter, Belveda Biscuits, and pretty much any cookie besides Oreo during my time at Mondali. So one thing that surprised me was really how similar the products are to products that you make at home. I mean, we mix our chocolate chip cookies in the food industry the way that you do at home. Starting with your wet ingredients at home, you're doing butter and sugar and eggs. We might not have eggs in the industry because that's a heavy allergen, but mixing our wet ingredients, adding flour at the end, chocolate chips go last so that they don't get crushed. It's all very similar. But just instead of mixing a dough in your KitchenAid, we're mixing 10,000 pounds at the same time. So really just more dough than you ever could imagine, but something in a similar vein. I really learned the ins and outs of the science behind baking, and I was always a baker at home. It was something that I really inherited from my grandmother. But after working in the industry, whenever something went wrong in my cookies, I asked myself why, and I think I became a bit more critical in my own baking, saying, oh, the browning on the bottom, isn't that even something that I really wouldn't even look at prior to having my job in the snack food industry? But really, now whenever I bake, I am talking to myself saying, oh, I got to make sure this is all creamed and the sugar is dissolved so I don't get improper mixing pockets of butter that might melt and things like that. So really, I'm still applying it today when I'm a baker at home.
[00:22:17] Speaker B: As you were relaying that story, I just had Paul Hollywood's voice in my ear talking about how this is a nice bake underneath and scratching it and prove saying that this is a lovely flavor. For those of you who are fans of the Great British Bake Off. Now, Natalie, I want to throw you a curveball that wasn't on the questionnaire that I shared in advance. So you work in product development, and there's got to be a give and take between the scientists in the lab and the marketing folks. How do ideas generate and how do you make those visions a reality? Like, what is the normal timeline from somebody thinks of the Craziest Oreo flavor, the new Chips Ahoy flavor, the new coffee blend suggestion for Blueberry here to actually getting it on the shelves at Target, at Giant, at Wegmans. How long does that take?
[00:23:14] Speaker D: That's a great question, and I think it really varies depending on the team that you're on, depending on the people you're working with as well.
Typically in the industry, we say it takes about two years to get from idea to market. And that's probably something that has a bit more work to it than just switching out a new flavor, using a new chocolate chip or using a new flavor going from vanilla to French vanilla or something like that in a coffee blend. Usually you have your concept testing your generation of ideas, and that can come from the marketing team or it can come from us in product development. I find that at my position at Law Cologne, we do have a lot of freedom on the product development side to try new things. There are some different flavors that I'm working on and want to bring to our marketing team, and I'm going to surprise them with some flavors that I might think are good as well as some that they suggested or thought would be interesting to see as well.
Working at La Cologne now, it's a smaller company than my previous role, so there are four people in the entire product development team, including myself, including my manager. And I came from a team of probably 60 to 80 people in that same sector in mondelez. And although the team is a lot smaller, I think we're able to get things done quickly.
Our team at la columb's smaller, we communicate faster, we just work in a different way.
There aren't as many stages that we have to pass through, whereas Mondley's definitely had a more established process, which was great, and each has its own benefit. But I'm learning that at la colomb, I think projects are going to be a bit faster paced. I don't think I'm going to get 18 months to develop a coffee flavor. Maybe I'll get a year. But either way, I think it's something that you can get done. In product development, we do have a give and take, and if we see our launch date creeping up, we do tell the team we have to compromise in some way. If you want three flavors to launch, maybe we can only launch two in the time that we have. Or instead of doing the depth of consumer testing that we want to do, we may have to give and take there. So it really all is a balance. But either way, we always want to present the best product that we can that consumers will enjoy.
[00:25:45] Speaker B: What would you say are your favorite products that you've helped develop? Pick one each from Nabisco and one from your current role.
[00:25:53] Speaker D: So I think my favorite product that I launched at mondelez was probably the fudge covered nutter butter. It was one of the first projects I worked on. It was the very first thing that I saw on the shelf as a full time product developer. And I just have such fond memories of that project. I was in Toronto, where we made the product a lot. I was there with my coworkers for six weeks in a row. We were traveling Sunday to Friday, sunday to Friday, back and forth, and I really was able to learn so much. I bonded with that team at the bakery. Having known them, having worked together towards this common goal, this big project together was just such a rewarding experience. And I still keep in touch with my coworkers, who I worked with during that time. Mary Beth and Hightow really became mentors for me. They were more senior in the business, and I was able to really learn from them. And right now at la colomb, I'm only three months in, so I can't say that I've launched anything yet. But I am working on a product that we want to bring to the cafes as a way to make things easier for our baristas and our teams there in working on our signature draft lates. And I'm really excited to be able to see that implemented in the future.
Being able to work with those teams is something that is so different that I never experienced before. Working with people who are serving our products to customers is a really unique experience and I really appreciate everything that our baristas and those teams know about the products because I'm sure that they know even more than I do right now. So being able to learn from them, being able to work with them, I think is a really great opportunity as well.
[00:27:48] Speaker B: Now, earlier you mentioned that you took an internship with Nabisco into a full time job and you spent several years there, but you recently transitioned, obviously, to La Colomb. What brought that about? What helped you realize that it was time to make a change if there was something? And how did you go about that process to go from job number one to job number two? That's not something we typically talk about with students. They're so focused on job number one, but eventually there will be job number two. So how did you make that transition?
[00:28:21] Speaker D: That's a great question. It's something that when I look back on, I did really think about this a lot. Moving from where I was comfortable, where I knew how things worked, was a really big step into being vulnerable and putting myself out there and seeing where I could fit in the industry besides my role at Mondelez.
I really appreciated my time there, of course, but I found that I wanted to take a different step in the industry. I wanted to challenge myself, I wanted to really keep learning. And I applied to a lot of positions where it was something that I didn't have a ton of experience with. Obviously, I ended up going into beverage, which from my resume, my hiring manager could see that I didn't have beverage experience prior to La Colomb. And that was something that I brought up in my interview saying I don't have a lot of experience here, I have a lot to learn, but I have the drive, I have the project management experience to get me there. And so really looking for something different was what drove me to start looking at other places. And it also was a personal choice as well. Being able to be closer to my family, closer to my friends, finding something that really made me feel fulfilled and having personal happiness as well was something that was important to me, especially coming out of the Coronavirus Pandemic, which we're still in today. And so really, how I went about the job application process was going on any website I could, looking up food companies, looking onto their career tabs page, going on LinkedIn, and really I applied to positions I didn't want as well, to try to just get some interview experience and things like that. Because the last time I had interviewed was when I was actually a student at Penn State, because I had worked at Know starting as a sophomore, junior in college.
And really one thing I learned through the. Job application process was to be humble.
I came from a giant in the food industry and going through the interview process and applying to different things. And yes, I was faced with rejection a lot of the time was something that I came to terms with. And of course, I will be honest, I applied to probably 30 positions. I didn't get 20 offers, I didn't get ten, I didn't get five.
So really it was all a learning experience though, because you, throughout the application process, can learn as much from a company as they can from you, from meeting the people there, from hearing about the types of projects you would work on and things like that. So really, throughout the entire process, I was treating it as if I was interviewing these companies as well, thinking, are these people that I'm going to want to work with one day? Are these products and projects things that really interest me? And if they weren't, it's okay to pass on that opportunity until you find something that really is fulfilling and checks the boxes that you want to get checked off.
[00:31:56] Speaker B: So you talked about learning and you went from this monster sized big player to a more of a boutique firm and you talked about that you had these different team sizes. What would you find were kind of the advantages and drawbacks to the different sizes and what skills beyond the bench skills, but more of the leadership, the communication, the teamwork. Did you find that you needed to develop to manage these two different types of environments?
[00:32:20] Speaker D: This is a great question, Sean, and honestly, I'm probably talking about this with my boss frequently as well, seeing what I can learn and what I can take from a larger company experience and apply it to a small company. And so where do I start? You asked a lot in that think, you know, at Montelse, at a larger company, you're going to have more established processes. So we have our StageGate, we have our project management system and it really know to get to point C, you have to pass A and you have to pass B. And I really do think that that sort of project management system is effective because once I learned it, I knew it like the back of my hand. And I was really confident in being able to present a project, being able to come from the perspective of an R and D team and say, this isn't going to work, or say, well, to get to this next phase of the project, we have to do X, Y and Z. And having that experience, having gone through that level of rigor and really testing a project and testing your ideas to the brink and seeing where you could fail, where you would succeed, really allowed me to be confident in going into plant trials, into trying new products and putting it in front of consumers. And so if I can apply some of those learnings to the smaller business where I am now. I think that is going to be something that is really rewarding to the team there. I found that at a larger company we did have a lot of communication. I think no matter where anyone works, they think that they have a lot of emails. I have to say knock on wood right now. I don't think I get a lot of emails at Cologne, but maybe I just jinxed myself. I think with a smaller team it does feel a bit easier to communicate. We can get together quickly. We have an established meeting each month where we go through new products and things like that. And so really making sure that your team has a common goal and has milestones along the way and that you stick with that is the way to succeed. Whether you are at a large company, a small company, whether you're in quality, whether you're in product development, and honestly, if you're a scholar, if you're in engineering, if you're in arts, whatever, having those smaller project milestones along the way to meet that large goal at the end is what is going to get you there. Holding yourself accountable, being able to hold your team accountable as well and work together towards those milestones along the way, I think is really important.
[00:34:56] Speaker B: Really good advice. One of my classes that I had in the fall semester, we had a major project but it was divided up in parts A, B and C and that helped along the way. And I think you'll probably see that with your syllabi if you're a scholar listening to this. So switching gears a little bit, we talked about this a smidge at the beginning. You currently serve as the president of the Scholar Alumni Society. What really drew you to become involved as an alumni volunteer and what is the impact that you're hoping to make on current and future scholars?
[00:35:24] Speaker D: Honestly, as a fourth year student in the Honors College, that's where my journey started really as an alumni volunteer. I think back to those days in the spring of when I handed in my thesis, when I had just a few weeks left on campus at Shrier. And really how I tried to take advantage of all of my time there and be with my friends, be with the people in Shrier that I really loved working with. And during that time I really realized how much my time as a scholar impacted me professionally and personally. I think that the experiences I had as a scholar, the opportunities, the friends that I had made have really molded me into the person I am today. I feel like I learned so much about myself as a scholar and that sounds cheesy and no one is paying me to say that right now, but really it did have that level of impact to my life today. And so as a young alum, I really wanted to give back to that community, to those people who helped shape me into who I am. And that was where it all started. So as a young alum in New Jersey, I didn't know a lot of people, I didn't know a lot of Shrier alums in the area. But I signed up for our alumni admissions interview program day in Princeton. Not knowing anyone, I drove down there and did some interviews for AAIP, and I actually met some members of the Scholar Alumni Society Board there. And everyone was so welcoming, so nice, and even encouraged me to remain involved and get more involved. And that was something that really led me to applying for the board and eventually getting a position on the board.
And I think really as a board member and as a president today, my goal is to be able to connect alumni and students and really support students in any way that we can. I know that when I was a student, I really had formative experiences when I was in Shrier, and I didn't do a lot of networking with Scholar Alums. But now that I'm on the other side, I just want to keep giving back to students and seeing how we can help them. And so if a team of alumni can help scholars realize that we're here to help, we're here to help you find a job to practice interview skills, I mean, maybe one day we'll be proofreading theses, for all I know. But however we can support students I think will enable us to have an even greater involvement of Scholar Alum for years to come. So by helping out students, we can build a greater alumni base and this cycle will just keep feeding itself.
[00:38:19] Speaker B: Well, as somebody who works with you day in, day out, I really appreciate that. Natalie, for those of you who haven't put this together yet, I work with the Stal Alumni Society, so Natalie and I meet weekly, along with Kat, our vice president, who you can hear on a previous episode of this podcast. Now I want to move towards your kind of reflective part of this conversation. Natalie, what would you say is your biggest success to date?
[00:38:43] Speaker D: I feel like this whole podcast has been reflective, so I wouldn't necessarily call it a particular part, but I guess a particular question. I think my biggest success professionally, of course, was landing a job. Landing two jobs now that I'm at my second role in my career. But when I look back at my time at Penn State, thon really was the culmination of my experience as a student and as a scholar.
I met some of the greatest people that I know through Thawn, which I participated in with the Shrier Student Council. And my fourth year at Penn State, I was lucky enough to dance for Shrier STUCO, to represent the Tyler Miller family, which was our Thawn family. At the time, and it was honestly the most rewarding experience that I had. And I never imagined myself being so involved and so passionate about a cause. And I think that really exemplifies my experience at Penn State. I never expected to love the campus, to love the college, to love the university the way that I do. But here I am now on the other side, so happy that that happened and that it was hard to say goodbye and that I miss it today. I'm really fortunate to have had that great experience and Thawn really just is the prime example of that. It was the best 46 hours of my life. I had so much fun. I remember being on the floor thinking, this is the most fun I've ever had. And just to be able to be in that moment and realize what's going on and realize the feelings that you have while you're there, I was just really fortunate to have that opportunity.
[00:40:26] Speaker B: What about a transformational learning moment?
[00:40:29] Speaker D: That is a great question, Sean. I think I had a lot of different learning moments at a Trier, of course, but I think the entire thesis process was a really big learning moment for me from the research side. Allowing being able to learn how to think critically, how to evaluate scientific papers. That's something I still do today. And after this call, I'm going to go do some research for one of my projects at La Colomb. It's something that still impacts me today, but I really think know, going back to what we talked about with my thesis and how Listeria just kept growing and growing on my media place and asking that why question, I think was really a big learning moment for me. Because looking back, I think if I could change anything, I would probably push myself even further as a scholar and try to dig deeper into that why. Could I spend some extra hours in the lab trying to figure out what the heck is causing Listeria to grow so much? What sort of research can I do? What sort of extra experiments can I do? I think that's something that really impacted me, that I still have the drive for today. Trying to understand the science behind everything I do in the lab.
Something tastes good. This coffee tastes good. But why does it taste good? What is causing this to taste rancid or bitter? What is causing this product appearance to look not the way a coffee should look?
Really trying to understand the why behind everything is something that motivates me to be a better scientist every day. And I think it really started with my time as a scholar and working on my thesis.
[00:42:12] Speaker B: You kind of alluded to this earlier in the conversation, but how do you approach mentorship, both as a mentee, because you're still in the early stages of your career, but you're starting to get to a point where you can mentor up and coming food scientists as well. So what is your approach to both sides of that equation?
[00:42:29] Speaker D: Yes, I think as a Mentee advice that I would give to scholars would be absolutely network and do not be afraid to ask questions, especially today. I have found that networking is so much more rewarding than you could ever imagine it being, especially when you're a scholar. When you're 1920, you really have no idea what you're doing, and you say, I don't even know what sort of question I would ask a mentor or someone older in my field right now if I had the chance. But honestly, don't be afraid of asking a stupid question, because now that I'm on the other side, I would absolutely do anything to help out students who want to know about the field of food science, about being in product development, about research and things like that.
Mentors are a lot less scary and a lot less intimidating than they seem. If they're anything like me, which hopefully they are, I like to think of myself as nice and approachable.
So I guess thinking from a mentor side, especially being more junior in my career, I'm closer to the college experience than people who are 20 or 30 years out, more senior in their careers. So I can still look back at my years as a student and see how they're impacting me today. And really, I think my approach to being a mentor is helping students understand what is motivating them, how they're going to get from point A to point B and what they can do in between. How they can keep learning from the experiences that they have, how something can not only build their resume, but build themselves as well. How are you going to learn from this experience? What can you take away from this, both as a student and as a person as well, and how these opportunities are going to help you to grow? I think that is something that is really important for students to see, for students to realize.
And so hopefully as I gain Mentees along the way, I can help them do that.
[00:44:40] Speaker B: Speaking of people who have impacted you, are there any professors or friends from your scholar days that you would like to give a shout out to while you're here?
[00:44:49] Speaker D: Sure, certainly. I'm afraid that you're going to take the awards music and ease me out because I have such a long list, so I'll try to keep it short. Dr. Ed Dudley in the Department of Food Science was my thesis advisor. I'm so grateful to have been in his lab to have had the experience, and for him to take me in as a freshman.
I really had such a rewarding experience with him in his lab, and I think just the Department of Food Science as a whole, great professors, great research going on still. You know, look today to see what's going on at the Department of Food Science. Can I utilize any of these learnings and in my role today?
They're doing some great stuff, and I think that being in that program was so unique. It was a smaller class size. Our professors really got to know us, and that was something that really meant a lot to us as students. For professors to know your name, to know where you're going after school, to have small talk with you while you were waiting for class to start. People don't often think that they get that experience in college, so being able to know my professors in that way was really great. I, of course, have to shout out the entire team at the Honors College, especially being an alumni now. I appreciate you guys more than ever. I love working with you.
I talked to Sean. This is our fourth day this week talking, so I feel like I talked to the people at Shrier more than I talked to most of my friends. But I also have to give a shout out to the friends that I made at Shrier. There are many of them, so I won't name all of them, but there are people who I still talk to today who I was able to learn so much from both about the world around me and just learning about myself as well. These people really shaped me into who I am. I'm so grateful to have had those experiences with my friends at Shrier that really molded me into the person I am today.
[00:46:48] Speaker B: Sir, as we're wrapping up, do you have any final advice for students to make the most of their time here?
[00:46:54] Speaker D: I would say do not be afraid to take advantage of the opportunities that you have at Trier. If something feels like it's a reach, don't think it is, because you never know. You might surprise yourself in what you can accomplish. When I applied to my internship at Mondley's, I definitely thought that it was a reach. Because it was September of my second year of college, I certainly didn't think I was qualified. But hey, I got the job. And it led me to an incredible start to my career in the food industry. I didn't think I was going to get picked for the London Study tour, but I did get picked and it was just one of the most transformative experiences during my time at the Honors College. So really there are so many opportunities for you at Penn State. At the Honors College, you can't be afraid of rejection or the worst possible outcome. The worst possible outcome is you may not get chosen. You may be rejected.
Maybe you reapply next year and you get it instead. But you're never going to know that experience if you don't try.
So keep moving forward, keep being positive. Try to take advantage of your time at Penn State. You won't be there forever. So just also savor your time on campus. Pass by old Maine for me. Sit in the atherton courtyard for those alumni who can't these days.
[00:48:21] Speaker B: If those current students wanted to connect with you and pick your brain further than this conversation today, what's the best way for them to get a hold of you?
[00:48:31] Speaker D: LinkedIn is probably the best way to get a hold of me. Natalie R. Keller is the address of my profile, so you can find me there.
[00:48:42] Speaker B: Finally, as is tradition here on following the Gone, if you were a flavor of berkey creamery, ice cream, which would you be? And most importantly, as a scholar alumna, Natalie, why would you pick that flavor?
[00:48:54] Speaker D: I have been thinking about this for a long time. Sean and I will have to say that we talked probably six months ago at this point and I was the first person to pick alumni swirl because I believe blue and white. But I'm going to be original and take back that answer.
I think I would probably be the apple pie flavor at the creamery. It's not something that I eat every time I go there. It is a seasonal flavor. But honestly, I'd probably go for alumni swirl because it is my favorite. But the reason that I would be that is a there are actual pieces of pie crust and they are the greatest surprise when you eat ice cream and to find these little pieces of pie. But also when I think back to Penn State, this happens to me in the fall and the spring. I think some alumni can relate. When you see the leaves changing, especially if you're in Pennsylvania in a place that has four seasons, you have that sort of transition of cold weather, of the perfect time being outside and reminds me of my days at penn State of the great weather that we have in the fall, of the leaves changing on Mount Nittney, of that sort of game day energy you have at Penn State, that energy that is there on campus in the fall, in the spring. People being outside, people being happy to be where they are. And I think that's sort of exemplified because when I go through a day like that, when I step outside of my apartment and I feel that cold weather, I honestly say, oh, this reminds me of my days at Penn State. And so thinking back to those seasons, I think that apple pie may be the best way to capture that feeling in an ice cream flavor.
[00:50:36] Speaker B: I agree with you on that, Natalie. Anytime it's a cool, crisp day with blue skies, maybe a few white puffy clouds, I always describe that as football weather because that makes me think of Happy Valley. And I think that can just really bring back some amazing memories for you as an alum, for you students listening for whenever you graduate and move on to other things like working at La Colomb as a coffee scientist. So, Natalie, thank you so much for all your service to the college. I know you were an early champion of this whole idea with the podcast for the Scholar Alumni Society who sponsors this show. Thank you so much for that. Thank you for joining me today and from the comfort of your closet here and giving so many great insights on careers in food sciences and product development. Great to have you on the show.
[00:51:27] Speaker D: Thanks so much.
[00:51:34] Speaker B: You.
[00:51:35] Speaker A: Thank you scholars for listening and learning with us today. We hope you will take something with you that will contribute to how you shape the world. This show proudly supports the Shrier Honors College Emergency Fund benefiting scholars experiencing unexpected financial hardship. You can make a difference at raise. psu.edu forward slash Shrier. Please be sure to hit the relevant subscribe like or Follow button on whichever platform you are engaging with us on today. You can follow the college on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to stay up to date on news, events and deadlines. If you have questions about the show or a Scholar alum who'd like to join us as a guest here on following the Gone, please connect with me at scholar alumni at psu.edu. Until next time, please stay well. And we are.