two students ice a cake in the Martha Bullen Bostick Foods Science Lab

Appetite for Instruction

The newly named Martha Bullen Bostick Foods Science Lab first opened in 2013 to meet the educational needs of human nutrition and hospitality management students.

Students utilize equipment including convection ovens, combination ovens, steamers, kettle cookers, proofing cabinets, etc. – tools for preparing and studying nearly every type of food.

But students learn much more than just what tastes good, said Dr. Kristi M. Crowe-White, former department chair of human nutrition and hospitality, who helped conceptualize and develop the lab.

“We want students to know the science of food and the chemistry of food,” she said. “We want our students to know why we’re asking them to prepare something a certain way.”

The skills gained in the lab prepare students not only for careers as dietitians, food counselors and professional chefs, but also a variety of fields in the food and beverage industry including hospitality and food service management, to name a few.

“It’s great that we have one lab for two distinct programs,” said Crowe-White. “Teaching students in the lab is 50% enriching the learning experience and 50% enriching their ability to communicate with clients and patients.”

Students working toward careers in hospitality management, event planning and more get hands-on experience with fundamental basics of the industry, like commercial kitchen operations.

Students not only become ServSafe-certified food handlers, learning about foodborne illnesses, but they also learn kitchen safety, such as how to properly handle and cut with a knife.

LaBethany Feagins-Marshall, a junior hospitality management major, said the complete learning she gets in the lab will prepare her for the next level.

“We learn a lot of things in regard to proper preparation of food, proper measuring techniques and we talk a lot about the different areas of food like food safety,” she said. “If you’re working in any area of hospitality, you do need that information because how are you going to let a client know that a dish isn’t something they’ll like if you haven’t tried it yourself or at least have that understanding of food and beverage operations?”

Courses in the lab not only support the demands of the hospitality industry but also support students working to become nutritionists and food service managers.

Our graduates leave knowing more than simply the theories of food preparation and modification. They have actual experience in a cutting-edge commercial kitchen to add to their skill set, putting them ahead of many of their peers.

Dr. Jeannine Lawrence

“These students are gaining a practical understanding of nutrition science and how to tailor this knowledge into lay audience summaries for counseling patients for both health and wellness,” said Crowe-White.

“As a patient or client, would you trust a dietitian who had never tried or prepared the foods you’re being asked to eat? We want students to be able to touch, taste, feel and experience every bit of learning.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about having a deeper understanding of food and food service all around, said Senior Instructor Morgan Milstead.

“Thinking about how food affects the body, if we don’t have an understanding of how something tastes or how we can evaluate something for sensory problems, we’re doing our patients and our guests a disservice.”

Some of the world’s earliest physicians regarded food as a healer of the body. It’s a concept that many subscribe to even today and one that inspires medical research and nutrition science.

A group of students work in an industrial kitchen.

The foods lab has been the site for both student- and faculty-led research. “The equipment in the lab has enabled us to pursue cutting-edge research on campus that we previously did not have the capacity to do,” said Crowe-White.

Those grant- and donor-funded research projects include working with the McCormick Science Institute to investigate herbs and spices for fueling good gut bacteria and improving cardiovascular and metabolic health.

Another project with McCormick resulted in the patented formulation of sugar-free chewing gum infused with spice to improve oral and cardiovascular health. Students and professors have also used the lab for research funded by the American Heart Association and Nestlè USA.   

Hospitality and nutrition majors aren’t the only ones benefiting from the experiential learning in the lab, said Dr. Jeannine Lawrence, interim human nutrition, hospitality and sport management department chair and professor.

“Over recent years we have hosted baking science courses with Honors College, Culinary Medicine courses, which was a collaboration between our department and the College of Community Health Sciences, and cooking classes for preschool food service workers in the community,” she said.

A group of students work in an industrial kitchen.

Crowe-White added that the lab’s unique community atmosphere enhances learning for everyone.

“Just practicing at home what you’ve learned in class can be isolating,” she said. “The lab is a safe space to experiment and learn through trial and error.”

Any student can walk into the lab for the first time without even the most basic cooking skills, and the professors and teachers prepare them to walk into their respective careers at the highest levels, Lawrence said.

“Our graduates leave knowing more than simply the theories of food preparation and modification,” she said. “They have actual experience in a cutting-edge commercial kitchen to add to their skill set, putting them ahead of many of their peers.”