Research to Reality
CALS student discovers passion for meat science
A class on animal products for human consumption at the University of Idaho introduced Abbie Uhlenkott to a new passion — meat science.
A junior double majoring in animal and veterinary science: business option and agricultural economics: business emphasis in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Uhlenkott is looking forward to a future career in the meat industry.
“I started out pre-vet and thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, but exposure through working with a vet and participating in clubs, I soon realized there were other options in animal science.” Uhlenkott said. “My eyes were opened to a lot more opportunities and the path I’m on is much more in line with all of my interests, not just animals.”
Growing up in Cottonwood, Uhlenkott’s grandparents had a cow-calf operation that sparked her interest in agriculture at an early age. After coming to U of I, she realized she wanted to be the link between consumers and producers from a meat standpoint, such as linking meat products to restaurants.
Research with a Purpose
After taking a Live Animal and Carcass Evaluation course her freshman year and Animal Products for Human Consumption her sophomore year, Uhlenkott realized she wanted to work on her own meat science research project.
“I got really interested in meat science and started working in a meat science research laboratory. Knowing I wanted to go into the meat industry, I wanted to gain experience and do my own project,” Uhlenkott said.
She recently finished the research portion of her project with the meat science research team and is in the process of putting together reports and a poster she will present at the Reciprocal Meat Conference in Fort Collins, Colorado, in summer 2019.
The project focused on using potato starch to develop a more natural phosphate replacement in turkey. The goal is to create a product that will help producers market a juicier, more natural product, as well as utilize another commodity bi-product, potato starch. The project was started by another U of I student who decided to study abroad during the spring 2019 semester.
“The objective was to increase water holding capacity and weight of the product without affecting consumer taste or quality characteristics negatively,” Uhlenkott said. “My role was to plan and carry out the project and work with the research team to get it done. I worked with Ph.D. student Jessica Lancaster as well as Dr. Phil Bass and Dr. Michael Colle in the Animal and Veterinary Science Department (AVS).”
Uhlenkott’s favorite part of the project was looking at data they collected.
“It’s cool looking at how the data we collected came together to have a significant meaning,” she said.
Uhlenkott will gain additional experience in summer 2019 as an intern for Sysco’s Newport Meat Company in Irvine, California. Newport Meat Company is a quality meat retailer that focuses on fabrication of meat or cutting down meat primal cuts further into retail cuts to be distributed to restaurants and a variety of retail outlets.
“I’ll be in a pretty unique position,” she said. “I wanted to be busy and see all the industry that they could show me. I’ll be on the fabrication floor, go on sales calls, see procurement, finance and accounts, quality control, and just rotate through everything the company has going on.
“If everything goes well then it will turn into a career opportunity, and hopefully I’ll find out which area of the industry I fit in best. I want to be a positive proponent of agriculture and supply people with a quality product that is healthy, safe and wholesome, while continuing to support livestock producers.”
Connections are Key
Uhlenkott credits AVS Assistant Professor Phil Bass for her interest in meat science, as well as her future internship.
“Dr. Bass is the one that got me really interested in meat science and the meat science industry that I’m passionate about,” she said. “He just came out of industry and can really speak to that and convey that passion to us as students. His connections in industry are why I got the internship set up.”
She says the best part of her experience at U of I has been the people she’s interacted with.
“I have a lot on my plate all the time, without all of the people here I wouldn’t have had the support system and the much-needed advice, help, and encouragement to keep working and moving forward,” she said. “Dr. Gordon Murdoch in AVS is the reason I came to school here, he gave me the speech that scared me straight at the beginning, telling me it wasn’t going to be easy, that I’d have to work hard and do well if I wanted to make it. That speech mentally helped me prepare and be successful throughout college.”
Uhlenkott will graduate in fall 2019 and plans to take a few months to travel abroad before starting a career the following spring in the industry she discovered a passion for at U of I.
“If you love something, throw yourself into it, don’t let your own self-doubt prevent you from doing something,” she said. “You have a support system at U of I, don’t be afraid to lean on the support system you’ve got and just go for it.”
Article by Hannah Doumit, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Published in May 2019