Elizabeth Andress, professor of foods and nutrition and director of the National Center for Home Food Preservation, shares her knowledge of food processing and safety across the state and nation—as well as in classrooms at UGA.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my bachelor’s degree from Albright College in Reading, Penn., my master’s degree in family and child development from Virginia Tech and my Ph.D. in food science from Penn State University. I am a professor in the department of foods and nutrition in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and an extension food safety specialist. My job at UGA has always been primarily as a state extension specialist in food safety and preservation. I provide leadership to the statewide delivery of non-formal educational programs in home food preservation, consumer foods and food safety, and food service sanitation. Most of these programs are carried by county-based extension faculty; my role is to develop or identify curricula and resources, provide in-service training for these educators and assist with evaluating the outcomes and impacts of these programs. I also teach a course titled “Food Sanitation and Safety” in the department of foods and nutrition. For three years now, I have taught a First-Year Odyssey seminar about food safety. Since 2000, I have been director of the National Center for Home Food Preservation, funded partially by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The project team conducts applied research; runs a very popular original website (www.homefoodpreservation.com) and blog, online self-study as well as other resources; and provides training to extension faculty around the country.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I first came to UGA as an assistant professor and extension specialist in spring of 1989. I was recruited from a similar job at the University of Florida. I left briefly to work at USDA in Washington, D.C., from 1991-1994, as a national program leader for food science with the Extension Service-USDA (now part of NIFA in USDA’s current organization). I returned as associate professor and extension specialist in 1994. As much as I was enjoying learning about our federal government and having a national perspective on extension work, I missed being an educator and working in the academic environment. I was able to come back with a small administrative assignment, as well as teaching, and even though the administrative position was reorganized (downsized) away shortly after I returned, I have always been glad to be back in the role of direct education for community clientele and students.
What are your favorite courses and why?
The First-Year Odyssey seminars have been fun because they have allowed me to be able to relax more with students and set the content for the course totally on my own. It has helped me to understand students more, because I can see how they get started in their career here as freshmen. I also thoroughly enjoy the hands-on food preservation workshops I teach for consumers throughout the state and country as part of my extension specialist job.
What interests you about your field?
The field of food science is one that applies relevant aspects from various sciences such as microbiology, chemistry and engineering. I like being able to use the interaction to apply science to the everyday handling of food in practical terms. Food touches everyone’s life, and too many people probably consider themselves experts about food safety based on their own experiences. I like being able to teach people that there are scientific principles at play that can be learned and then generalized to other situations to help in their decision-making. I also like the relationship of food science to our current as well as historical foundations of agriculture in this country. I like that the food industry is huge, and there is an ever-evolving body of data teaching us new things about our food supply and food processing possibilities.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
One of my highlights was the day an undergraduate student walked into my lab asking if I had any work for her just so she could gain some experience. It was perfect timing for when I needed some research help badly although I had not told anyone I was looking yet. I had no idea she was volunteering and actually ended up offering her a paid job! The project she worked on became a Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities project for her, and I was very impressed by her dedication and interest. That student then became a graduate student of mine and has gone on to a great career in dietetics and made us very proud! All of my graduate students have been great workers and personalities to guide. One in particular was another highlight of my career because she was so interested in the consumer and food service food safety education extension programs I led. In addition to her own research, we were able to accomplish a lot in developing significant in-service trainings for county extension faculty of UGA. I am also proud of the work that I did with one of my former program assistants—who has since gone on to a great career—in which we created educational resources for developing the ability of county extension faculty in Georgia to deliver ServSafe and other food handler education programs throughout the state. Because UGA has allowed my career to develop as it has, I also need to say that I have been proud and humbled to receive several exciting awards. In addition to winning our college Outreach Faculty Award twice, I have received the D.W. Brooks Award, the Walter B. Hill Award and Hill Fellow Award at UGA, all of which are awarded for extension and public service programs. I was thrilled when I was only the second recipient of the national Outstanding Engagement Award for faculty from the Board on Human Sciences from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities in 2007. And since that time, I have been fortunate to also receive the Award for Excellence in Extension from APLU and the USDA-NIFA in 2012. This latest national award also led to my being asked to present a seminar for interns and staffers on food safety on Capitol Hill in April 2013.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
What I learn in an applied foods lab research setting, or my reading, is used in workshops, demonstrations for consumers and food service workers, as well as in the classroom at UGA. What I learn about young consumer attitudes and practices in the classroom with students also helps me target my extension programs for consumers. The classroom also makes me think about what is on the consumer’s mind as I write news articles, fact sheets and Web pages. The research I conduct is very applied and related mostly to my extension programming in home food preservation. Our findings get released on our website, and in our books and fact sheets, and therefore are immediately known to and used by consumers and other educators.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope they gain knowledge and skills that will be directly useful in their careers and jobs as they leave the university. I want them to have not only factual knowledge but also critical thinking skills so they can make informed decisions and interpret new information.
Describe your ideal student.
I like students who are hard working and are self-motivated to participate in their own learning! I also appreciate students who engage with other students and the class activities.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
The Trial Gardens behind the pharmacy building. I usually find some peace and calm as well as inspiration there.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
Travel around the state and other states, just learning about the natural beauty “out there” as well as how people live and how communities are set up and surviving (or not). Even though I have lived in quite a few states (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Georgia and D.C.), I still love learning more about the U.S.
Community/civic involvement includes….
The extension demands for assistance from all over the state and country, and the responsibilities of being part of the university community, do not leave me much free time. I do have a church home and participate in the hand bell choir as well as occasionally playing piano at church services. And I do like to volunteer at church events for the community as well as speaking for other groups who want some of my knowledge about foods, but I do not do these things nearly as much as I would like.
One of my favorite movies of all time is “The Shawshank Redemption” with Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. Why? Because it kept me engaged in the plot since I could not figure out what might be coming next, because of the riveting studies of the personalities in it, and mostly because the ending managed to surprise me. I had no idea that what happened was going to happen! I must admit I also like old-time musical extravaganzas—“old Hollywood.” Everything from Fred Astaire movies to “Hello Dolly” to Elvis Presley movies.
Proudest moment at UGA?
This is a tough one. Maybe when I was recognized as being capable to fill in as an interim associate dean and state extension program leader for an extended period. (And maybe the fact I keep afloat among all the organizational changes and reorganization of whom I work for!)
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
My academic training and career have taught me the importance of great mentoring. I was fortunate to have mentors who provided experiences beyond the classroom that increased my networks and real-life experiences early in my training. My mentors taught me the importance of professional ethics, perseverance and hard work as well as making my contributions matter to individuals and communities.
(Originally published Sept. 29, 2013)