Internship focuses on sweet science

Melissa Tisoncik, graduate student, inspects chocolate created in the lab at Bevier Hall on Wednesday. Tisoncik and Nicki Engeseth, professor of food science and human nutrition, created a chocolate-themed internship. Brennan Caughron

By Melissa Zieff

Chocolate, aside from being an irresistible snack and a treat for a Valentine’s Day sweetheart, will be a topic of study for high school students this summer in “The Science of Chocolate” internship.

“Our goal is to introduce students to many aspects of food science through the study of chocolate,” said Nicki Engeseth, professor in food science and human nutrition and one of the founders of the internship.

Engeseth added that many of the high school students applying have an interest in science but possess little knowledge of the fundamentals of food science.

The chocolate, while teaching students about this field, also serves as somewhat of a recruitment tool.

The internship is funded by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture and sponsored by the University. Engeseth said she teamed up with Melissa Tisoncik, a graduate student, to create this chocolate-themed internship and has high hopes for its outcome.

“Chocolate is amazing, anything to do with chocolate is good for the human mind,” Tisoncik said.

“It’s also a good research subject because it’s involved in a lot of food chemistry.”

Specifically, Tisoncik said she hopes to research the separation of fat from chocolate as well as studying what happens to the chocolate as it ages in shelf life.

Tisoncik hopes the students will conduct their own research and experiments as well as learning how to cooperate with other students within the program.

Some planned workshops include the production of chocolate, looking at food science through chocolate, a history of chocolate, learning about different types of chocolate and, of course, eating chocolate.

“If you want to teach young kids something, it’s best if you teach them about something they are excited about,” Engeseth said.

Engeseth said she believes students will gain hands-on scientific experience through studying chocolate and hopes they will use the knowledge they obtain in this program throughout their professional careers.

“This program will give high school students more options,” Engeseth said. “It will also give them something unique to put on their resumes.”

Because this is the internship’s first year, it is not known how successful or popular it will be.

Funding from the USDA only covers the expenses of six high school students.

“We have already received over 20 e-mails asking for applications,” Tisoncik said.

Tisoncik added that if the internship is in high demand, it might even branch out to college students.

R.R. Berry, a sophomore in FAA, said she would be interested in participating in a chocolate-themed internship and wishes Engeseth and Tisoncik’s was open to other students at the University as well.

The internship takes place over a period of three weeks and also includes a trip to a local chocolatier.

Tisoncik also plans to work with high school science teachers to show them how to conduct similar experiments in their own laboratories.

“Chocolate comes from the Aztec word Theobrama cachoa, which means food for the gods,” Tisoncik said. “Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a food for the gods?”