Alumni Profiles - Meet Matt Sullenberger
Hometown: Lancaster, PA
Year of Graduation: 2010
Majors: Plant Science, Food Science
Minor: Environmental Soil Science
Undergraduate Campus Involvement:
Food Science Club, Food and Culinary Club, Intramural Soccer, Blue Hen Ambassador, Ag Ambassador, Institute of Food Technologists, Undergraduate Research on Plant mRNA, Study Abroad to Ecuador/Galapagos Islands
Current Position of Employment or Education:
Ph.D. Candidate in Plant Biology at Penn State University
Describe your best Ag experience:
My best Ag experience was the study abroad trip to Ecuador during the winter of my sophomore year. During the trip, I lived with a family in Quito, Ecuador's capital, learning about their culture and improving my Spanish. On weekends, our group spent 3-4 days traveling around the country studying plant diversity in different ecosystems. We spent time in the mountains, the desert, and along the coast. We also spent several days in the Amazon rain forest and another four days at the Galapagos Islands. Seeing the incredible biodiversity across so many landscapes and climates, as well as being immersed in a completely new culture, opened my eyes to the world beyond this country. The things I learned on the trip, both academically and culturally, could never be mimicked in a classroom and I am grateful to have had that opportunity.
Which Ag course was your favorite and why?
My favorite Ag course was Food Science Capstone, a product development class. The class is the culmination of the Food Science curriculum, designed to apply all the major courses to a real-world application. The class is divided into teams, acting as food companies, and each team is responsible for developing a new food product of their choice. Nearly all the work throughout the semester is independent of classroom instruction; time is spent researching, developing, and testing the food product. The process includes brainstorming, marketing research, cost evaluation, packaging, food safety, contacting actual companies for information and ingredient samples, and development and testing of the actual food product. The course ends with a product launch in which each group sets up a stand advertising their product and giving away samples. The entire course is a simulation of a real job in the food industry; this type of learning is something rarely offered in other courses and truly prepares students for a career in food science.
Tell us about your current position or program of study and what led you to that field.
I am currently a Plant Biology Ph.D. student at Penn State. I am working in a tomato breeding lab researching late blight resistance. The disease is most famous for causing the Irish potato famine but can be equally devastating on tomato crops. For my studies, I am identifying new sources of genetic resistance in wild tomato species and breeding that resistance into cultivated varieties, most of which currently have no resistance. I chose this field because of the huge benefits it can have to agriculture. Incorporating genetic resistance into any food crop not only decreases the use of chemical control, it also raises crop yield, saves money, and increases the overall food supply. I have a strong interest in food crops, both the agricultural and food production side, and I hope to improve food crops in an attempt to battle the issue of world hunger as the human population continues to grow.
How did your College of Ag experiences prepare you for your current job or post-graduate education?
I can say with confidence that I would not be where I am today without the opportunities and experiences offered by the University of Delaware. Through my courses, I was able to combine majors in Food Science and Plant Science to gain a broader understanding of our food production system. I gained a broader awareness of culture and biodiversity through Study Abroad and was able to build confidence and leadership experience by becoming an officer in multiple clubs and organizations. And, most significantly, I was provided undergraduate research experience in a prominent lab. This was perhaps the single most important factor for acceptance into my current program; I performed independent research, equal to what I would be experiencing in graduate school, and I still benefit from the connection with my undergraduate research adviser and what I learned from the work.
What advice do you have for students interested in your field?
If interested in pursuing any career in agriculture or science, my best advice is to join clubs and organizations, both academic and professional. Graduate programs and employers are looking for more than just good grades; they want to see experience outside the classroom. Involvement in research, internships, and organizations shows motivation and real-world experience that is essential to a successful career.