Posted: November 20, 2008

Jill Kuzo graduated with a degree in Food Science and was able to create her own position with Whole Foods Market.

Jill Kuzo

Jill Kuzo

Every college student dreams of getting the opportunity to create his or her own career. And, as Penn State graduate Jill Kuzo found out, sometimes opportunity comes from the most unexpected of places.

After graduating from Penn State, Kuzo became the Gluten Free Lab Supervisor at Whole Foods Market, testing the levels of gluten--a protein found in cereals, especially wheat--in food products produced by the company's Gluten-Free Bakehouse. Not only did Whole Foods allow her to create this position, but the company provided a laboratory and told her to pick everything from testing equipment to tables.

Kuzo, her team leader, and Bakehouse creator Lee Tobin presented invited testimony at a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hearing that sought input from various companies to help define the term "gluten-free." She created Whole Foods Market's presentation for the hearing. But before she had her own lab and meetings with the FDA, Kuzo was just like many Penn Staters on the hunt for work after graduation. Thanks to her Food Science degree from the College of Agricultural Sciences, however, finding work was not the nightmare most students envision it to be.

"Graduating from Penn State gave me the confidence to say I'm a food scientist," she says. "Plus, food companies have tons of jobs for food scientists. You don't think about it much, but there's a lot involved in even simple foods, such as potato chips. That's why there's such a low unemployment rate for food scientists." Kuzo looked into a number of jobs with various employers. However, washing dirty test tubes in a laboratory or being involved with traditional forms of food production simply did not appeal to her.

"I wanted to do something new," she says. "I didn't want to be stuck doing menial tasks in a lab." So, Kuzo chose Whole Foods Market--recently rated by Fortune 500 as one of the top 100 companies to work for--because it offered her a unique and more natural approach to food, along with some excellent employee benefits.

Reflecting on her experience working at Whole Foods Market's Gluten-Free Bakehouse, Kuzo is pleased with the opportunities for a good job her food science education generated. "Food science involves everything that happens between production on the farm and the food on your plate," she says. "Switching my major to Food Science was the best decision I made in college. I'm involved in something revolutionary that also helps the consumer, and I really enjoy that. Of course, I still have to wash dishes in my lab, but at least they are my own dishes!"