New Governing Board member on research, teaching, and AOCS
Silvana Martini, a native of Argentina, has held a research and teaching appointment at Utah State University in Logan for more than 13 years. In addition to teaching two undergraduate classes (sensory evaluation of foods and chocolate: history, science and society), she also teaches a graduate course on crystallization in foods. Her research relates to the physicochemical characterization of fats and the role that fats play on sensory perception.
As if that doesn’t keep her busy enough, her involvement with AOCS is wide-ranging and includes her role as a senior associate editor of the Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society. Her most recent contribution, however, is as a member of the AOCS Governing Board.
“The Governing Board is responsible among other things for ensuring that the Society has an appropriate mission statement that is in line with the needs of its constituents,” she explains. The Board also evaluates the performance of AOCS’ chief executive officer and provides oversight for the financial resources and assets of the Society. “Within the Governing Board, I am involved with the Constituent Relations Working Group, where members work to improve and monitor programs and services offered by AOCS, including conferences, seminars, short courses, and awards.”
Involvement came easily to Martini, who says she had always wanted to volunteer for AOCS and give back to the organization that has done so much for her. “Perhaps the biggest challenge that I would like to address is to encourage more and more people to be involved with AOCS. Perhaps this could be summarized as member retention and commitment to the Society.”
Her volunteer work supports the AOCS mission by encouraging and promoting the dissemination of research related to fats, oils, proteins, and related materials. She is also active in promoting professional interactions by contributing to the organization of meetings and by encouraging colleagues and students to join AOCS.
“My volunteer work for AOCS has helped me to grow as a professional,” she stresses. “I have acquired significant leadership and communication skills through it, and involvement has broadened my professional network. Volunteering for AOCS has also allowed me to meet professionals outside my area of expertise, to establish new collaborations, and to broaden my knowledge of fats and oils research.”
A commitment to education and AOCS
Eric W. Cochran
Three characteristics that sum up Eric Cochran are commitment, a passion for research and education, and a habit of saying, “Yes, I will!”
As a professor of chemical engineering and director of graduate education at Iowa State University (ISU; Ames, Iowa, USA), Cochran’s primary role is to teach and mentor both graduate and undergraduate students—a role he has performed for the past 13 years. “Graduate education is research-intensive,” he notes, adding that his research group at ISU specializes in novel biobased plastics and heterogeneous polymeric materials.
Within AOCS, Cochran has been vice chair of the Industrial Oil Products (IOP) Division since 2018. As a divisional vice chair, he also participates in the AOCS Annual Meeting Program Committee. “Most of the time, my involvement takes only a few hours a month,” he says, “primarily through staying in contact with session chairs and AOCS program staff. We also have three teleconferences per year. In addition, I review award applications and hot topics.”
When asked how he became involved, the answer is one that many AOCS volunteers provide for that question. “There was a need,” he says. “One of my colleagues recommended joining AOCS and also asked me to chair a session.” In the midst of organizing the session, the vice chair position opened up, and Cochran was asked if he would consider stepping into that role.
“It was an easy thing to say ‘yes’ to,” he notes. “For one thing, it didn’t sound like it would take an inordinate amount of time. Plus, the best way to get involved in a new community is to volunteer.”
Cochran explains that the main challenge AOCS is addressing as a whole is declining membership. “We’ve seen it in the division,” he says. “Which means we have to make sure the value of the division is well-advertised and that we keep programming up to date and relevant.”
Part of the value to Cochran of his volunteer efforts is in getting international exposure. “I’m able to leverage my connections to increase attention to my research projects, to meet potential employers for my students, and to hear what everyone else is doing to make polymers from fats. Meaningful connections with people really happen at AOCS meetings because the size of the meeting makes it easier to have one-on-one time with people,” he concludes. “I appreciate that.”
Promoting AOCS in Latin America
Leon Espinosa trained as a chemical engineer and came to the fats and oils industries through his first job with Lloreda SA, a consumer products company based in Colombia that produces and sells food and cleaning products derived from oils. There, he worked on the design, manufacture, and startup of processing plants for tallow and soybean, sunflower, palm, palm kernel, and cottonseed oils.
“For the past 10 years, I have been with Desmet Ballestra,” he explains, “where my work is more related to the search for solutions for our customers.”
Espinosa became involved in AOCS in 2009, when his friend and fellow AOCS member Roberto Berbesi invited him to participate in the 14th AOCS Latin American Congress and Exhibition held in Cartagena, Colombia, in 2011. Ten years later, Espinosa is himself now chair of the Latin American Section and is working to organize and promote the 17th AOCS Latin American Congress and Exhibition, which will be held in Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, on October 8–11, 2019.
“Organizing a large meeting like this involves putting many puzzle pieces together,” he notes, “including the organizers, the presenters, and the logistics. Making each piece fit is like tuning a philharmonic orchestra.”
AOCS is important to the region, he suggests, because it provides access to the most recent information on topics of interest to those in the fats and oils industries. “A great advantage of a Congress like this is that it brings together a select group of people with in-depth knowledge of the subjects and allows participants to interact with people in similar businesses. Attending the Congress is important for all levels of employees within related organizations. New hires can start with the short courses and then participate in the main sessions and visit the booths to know what is available to industry.”
Espinosa echoes the sentiments of many AOCS volunteers when he says that belonging to AOCS helps members to know and relate to more people. “Expanding your network of knowledge and people helps you climb the ladder of your career,” he concludes.
A finger on the pulse of AOCS
One look at the Fast Facts entry for “other involvement” sums up why Janitha Wanasundara is known among AOCS staff as a “go-to” AOCS member who is always ready and willing to help whenever and wherever she can.
“With the increased attention to the science and technology surrounding plant-based proteins at the 2018 Annual Meeting, it wasn’t surprising that Janitha jumped right in and volunteered to co-chair the processing-related session at the inaugural AOCS Pulse Science and Technology Forum in November 2019 (www.aocs.org/pulseforum),” explains Jeffry L. Newman, AOCS senior director, programs.
Given her background, Wanasundara’s focus on helping AOCS broaden its scope by providing information and programming on pulses (high-protein, nitrogen-fixing crops that are a part of the legume family) makes perfect sense. “We saw inquiries about plant protein increase in early 2010 and knew it was time to expand the offerings of the Protein and Co-Products Division,” she says. “After all, AOCS is a natural home for pulse-related research, given the expertise and technology represented by the soy protein industry.” (See https://www.aocs.org/stay-informed/hottopic/ pulse-crops-for-a-sustainable-future.)
Wanasundara’s own research on pulses goes back to the early 2000s. Then, when she joined Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in 2004, she was part of the national research team for bioproducts and clean technology. “Most of my research is related to the chemistry and technology of utilizing the proteins of Canadian crops for bioproducts, understanding the nature of proteins in oilseeds and pulses, and developing different compounds and molecules,” she notes.
Her volunteer work for AOCS, which she estimates generally takes no more than several hours per month, complements her responsibilities on the job by allowing for interaction with academic, government, and industry leaders in plant proteins and oilseed processing, as well as biofuels and biofuel co-products. She also was involved with a special issue of the Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society on plant and alternative protein sources. That effort in particular has advanced her “scientific involvement in relation to editorial work,” she says, adding that all of her volunteer work has allowed her to get to know many fellow peers from other countries as well as the next generation of science leaders—graduate students.
“AOCS is a great place to meet new people,” she says.
Volunteerism and professional development
If there is anyone who perfectly illustrates how volunteering for AOCS meshes perfectly with professional development, that person may just be Susan Seegers.
On the job at Bunge North America while wearing her manager of technical operations hat, she oversees two main laboratories that support product developers and researchers dealing with oils, grains, and milled products such as flours. For AOCS, she serves in two primary capacities: as chair of the Laboratory Proficiency Program (LPP) and as chair of the Flavor and Oxidation Subcommittee of the Uniform Methods Committee (UMC).
Seegers estimates that she spends no more than an hour a week (if that) conducting her volunteer work. In addition, as both LPP chair and subcommittee chair, she attends a yearly meeting held in conjunction with the AOCS Annual Meeting & Expo (AME).
“My main responsibility for LPP is to look at all the different proficiency programs AOCS administers to see how many participants are utilizing them and to analyze which are the most effective. In a nutshell, we make sure AOCS is providing services that are needed in industry, government, and academia.” Beyond that, Seegers and AOCS staff members work to predict what upcoming needs LPP participants will have.
Seegers also reviews any appeals generated by participants after their LPP results are posted. “Most often, participants appeal typos, which we don’t correct. They can also appeal if they had an equipment issue or they think there was something wrong with their sample,” explains Dawn Shepherd, AOCS laboratory program manager.
Seegers’ work with the Uniform Methods Committee keeps her up to date on the latest work being done by analysts and researchers on flavor and oxidation. “I keep my ear to the ground for people wanting to bring forward new methods, either by presenting at the AME or to the UMC.”
Seegers became involved simply by going to meetings and asking, “Can I do something?” It helped that her manager encouraged her participation. “You just have to put yourself out there and go for it,” Seegers says, adding—with a laugh— that “AOCS has never said no!
“Everything that I’m doing for AOCS directly relates to my work,” she notes. “Plus, chairing technical sessions at the AME provides another avenue to see what’s coming and what people are talking about. It’s a great way to keep current. Beyond that, volunteering is another form of networking with everyone from instrument makers to analysts with other companies to contract labs.”
Volunteering as a networking tool
“I’ve been involved with AOCS since 2011,” said Cynthia Srigley, a research chemist with the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “From day one, I felt welcomed by the community and that my research was valued and appreciated.”
Srigley joined FDA in 2011 as a postdoctoral research fel-low working on analytical meth-ods for trans fat. Her current research focuses on analytical methods development and val-idation for the analysis of fatty acids, sterols, and other lipids in foods and dietary supplements. “Marine oils are my favorite matrix,” she noted, “because of their complexity.”
Srigley is serving her second term as secretary/treasurer of the AOCS Analytical Division. As such, she works with AOCS staff to develop the division budget, to plan the annual luncheon, and to record the minutes from the Executive Committee and Analytical Division Session Planning Roundtable meetings. “I felt that this role would be a great opportunity to contribute my technical and leadership skills in serving AOCS,” Srigley added.
“I find that one of the best ways that my work supports both FDA and AOCS is by participating in multi-laboratory stud-ies,” she remarked. This has allowed her to develop a strong network within the Analytical Division. “The Division members are an exceptionally talented group of individuals, and I am comfortable reaching out to them for technical assistance or recommendations.”
Srigley has a suggestion for students and others, like herself, who are early in their careers. “I highly recommend attending the short courses offered each year prior to the start of the Annual Meeting. These courses provide a basic techni-cal background and introduce the various areas of the research within industry, academia, and government. More importantly, they offer the opportunity to network with experts in the field and other AOCS members. It’s great way to kick off the Annual Meeting,” she concluded.
A focus on the future
“AOCS has done so much for me in my career,” says Rick Theiner, “that it motivates me to give back.”
And give back he does. As chairperson of the AOCS Annual Meeting Program Committee, Theiner leads the efforts to plan and implement the technical program so that it has the broadest possible appeal to “members and their bosses, business folks, and students.” The time he spends varies with the season, but he stresses that AOCS staff and member volunteers “are great about working together to ensure that it’s not an onerous amount.”
Theiner, who joined AOCS in 1998, began his involvement by joining the Surfactants and Detergents Division, becoming vice chair in 2012. Division vice chairs automatically serve on the Annual Meeting Program Committee; at that point, Dilip Nakhasi of Stratas Foods was the chair.
“I was lucky to work with a chairperson who was passionate about programming, and that passion was contagious,” Theiner notes.
The challenges of the committee are manifold and include working to help AOCS stay relevant and up to date with technology and research as well as building bridges between industry and academia.
“We pay attention to what sessions and presentations draw an audience and what draws a crowd,” he says. “This helps to shape future programming, but it also helps in identifying areas that we, as an organization or division, want to highlight. Our goal is to encourage session and division chairs to look at what happens during their technical sessions and report back what would make a good Inform or journal article.”
When asked why his volunteer work is worthwhile to him, Theiner grows serious. “The bottom line is that I have benefitted personally through my membership more than I ever would have expected. My first meeting in 1996 was eye-opening. I often think about how many people don’t know that AOCS is here to help them. They get out of school and think they are done. Given how the organization has enabled me to excel at a job that I love, it only seems right to try and pay some of that back by doing my own small part to help continue the development of this organization and its membership.”