Gatepost Interview: Vinay Mannam, Chemistry and Food Science professor

Nadira Wicaksana / THE GATEPOST

What is your educational and professional background?

I have a Ph.D. in food science and technology. So, the way I got that degree is not really straightforward. I have my undergraduate degree in agricultural engineering, but I was always interested in food processing – what happens to food after we produce it in the farms and how it gets to our kitchens. So, I then got a master’s degree in biosystems engineering, which is similar to agricultural engineering. Then, I got my Ph.D. I worked for about six months in the food industry in two companies. Then, I got an opportunity to be a teacher. I wanted to be in a setting where I can share my passion about the subject. … I didn’t realize I wanted to be a professor until I was in grad school – being in that educational environment, being around faculty. It was a place where I could guide students to learn about a subject. That environment really interested me more and I wanted to be a professor. Then I joined Framingham State in 2014. It‘s my fifth year here. This is my first teaching job, and I think that this place gives you an opportunity to grow, even as a faculty member.

What research opportunities have you been given?

Once I started getting to know students as well, I got a sense of what resources we have and what research we can do here … looking at resources, looking at what students’ interests are. Most students are interested in getting jobs right after they graduate, some are interested in grad school, some in industry experience. I started looking at the research opportunities that would fit that, based on the resources and based on the needs of the students. Not long-term projects, but those that can fit within a semester or two. Most students, the most they can spend on research is a semester, but if they’re lucky, they can spend two semesters. … One of the first research opportunities was where we partnered with a company in Worcester called Table Talk Pies. They make small four-inch pies, snack-size pies. We were able to do a shelf-life study. They wanted to find a way to replace the preservatives they used and replace them with more green, natural preservatives. Three students were on that project. … The University also provides funds for us to do research, so almost every year, I apply for those funds.

The University recently received a $1 million grant for STEM. How do you think you will be able to utilize those funds?

The principal investigator is our chemistry and food science department chair. It’s a very exciting project and I’m interested to see how it goes. The way they will use that grant – they have an overarching goal to improve student learning and they have a few areas where they want to improve first-year experiences. … I hope that I can use some of those funds to improve my own in-class environment, designing the curriculum and subject matter in such a way that will improve student learning. The opportunity will allow us, as faculty, to sit and talk more, even though we do that already.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a professor?

I often talk to my friends and I say it’s like you’re a performer. You want to know the audience. As a teacher, you have your students – they’re either there because of their interest or they’re forced to take it. They may or may not pay attention. As a teacher, it’s my job to keep them attentive, but they are there to provide you that attention. And if I am teaching in a way that is not exciting, I can lose them. … I like being able to share what you’re passionate about, being able to share your experiences. Every faculty member on this campus is passionate about the subjects they teach and having the opportunity to be on the other side teaching to students who are interested – I think that’s really rewarding.

Do you have any advice for FSU students?

Lots of advice! I do this all the time, actually. I think for me, and most of the faculty, the idea of learning was very different 20, 30 years ago. But the fundamental principle behind it is that you’re curious. And my advice is to stay curious. Use the time when you’re on campus to utilize resources. Sometimes, when students are on campus, they think about other things – the job they need to get to, the weekend plans they have. When you’re in the classroom and at the University, you already set aside the time to do this. It’s like buying a bottle of juice, taking a few sips, then throwing the rest out. I also say students should join clubs. It’s another way to get more from the campus. I advise the Food Science Club, and they plan out a lot of events over the semesters. I think a university is a place where a lot of resources are sort of underutilized. Students have so much to do right now compared to my generation. We didn’t have much to do on campus. We didn’t have cell phones, we didn’t have social networks, we didn’t have this constant flow of information. I can understand the struggle. But that should not dictate the way we learn and focus. Just realizing how much of a resource time is is very important. You won’t have the same time to learn and concentrate as you do in university.

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