Texas Tech Student of Integrated Scholarship
College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources
Food science research has long been part of Graysen Ortega's life. A Lubbock native, he began working in the lab with Mindy Brashears, a professor of food microbiology and food safety, during high school, and his sustained interest led him to declare food science as his major when he began college. Since coming to Texas Tech, Ortega has stayed active in the laboratory, gaining acceptance into the Texas Tech University/Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Research Scholar Program. He also has presented his research on foodborne pathogenic strains of Escherichia coli and species of Salmonella at the annual conference of the Institute of Food Technologists. Because food science has a global reach, Ortega has had the opportunity to travel to Mexico periodically with Brashears and other researchers. Additionally, Ortega has cultivated interests outside the laboratory. He has served as an intern for the US House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture in Washington, DC, in addition to his role as president of the TTU Food Science Club and involvement with the Research Chef's Association. Ortega looks to continue his education, and while his plans are not yet final, he is leaning toward law school.
Learn more about Student of Integrated Scholarship Graysen Ortega in this question-and-answer session.
What got you interested in your major?
I am a senior food science major and agricultural communications minor. In high school I started doing research with Dr. Mindy Brashears to present at FFA Agriscience Fairs. I really enjoyed those projects, and they piqued my interest in food safety. At the end of my senior year, Dr. Brashears convinced me to major in food science.
What courses are you taking this semester?
This semester I am taking Agricultural Communication Campaigns; Selection, Care, Processing, and Cooking of Meats; Financial and Managerial Accounting; Food Science Seminar; and Dairy Products Manufacturing. In Agricultural Communication Campaigns we get to research and develop a communication and marketing proposal for College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR) to promote agricultural awareness on campus and in the community.
What is the most challenging course you've taken? How has it affected you?
Advanced Food Analysis is definitely the most challenging class I have ever taken. It is a very demanding food science class that involves advanced chemistry, a huge amount of material, and is writing intensive. Thankfully, the professor was great and was able to teach me more than I thought I could ever learn. That class really enforced the idea that hard work pays off. It also helped remind me to have faith, and God will help you through your challenges.
Have you completed internships or had other work experience applicable to your field of study?
In spring 2011 I was able to intern for the US House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture through the CASNR Government Internship Program. I also work at the International Center for Food Industry Excellence (ICFIE) at Tech, conducting research in Mexico and Costa Rica at beef processing plants. Both the congressional internship and my work at ICFIE have been incredible opportunities to gain valuable work experience.
Have you participated in research?
I am very blessed to have Dr. Brashears as a mentor, and she has been guiding me through research since I was in high school. I have been able to conduct research on foodborne pathogens, and my focus has been on E. coli and Salmonella. Since starting at Tech I have been able to present my research at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Conference, and I have become a TTU/Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Research Scholar. Currently, I am studying the prevalence of E. coli Non-O157:H7 STECs in Mexico.
What service projects (volunteering, community service, etc.) have you been involved in?
While not a typical service project, my favorite way to help people is through the work of ICFIE at Texas Tech. In Mexico the number one cause of death in children is foodborne illness. The work we are doing in Latin America is improving food safety and the public health, which is very rewarding. I also enjoy tutoring children and helping local FFA students with contests like the Agriscience Fair. Another fun project is giving food science demonstrations to elementary school students; we make "Raider Dots," and the kids love eating ice cream and watching us experiment with liquid nitrogen.
What advice would you give to other students who would like to be a Student of Integrated Scholarship? Students of Integrated Scholarship balance academics with additional activities, such as research, internships, service learning, and study abroad.
Try for whatever interests you, despite what you feel the likelihood for success is or fears you may have; take that nagging thought at the back of your head and make it a reality. It is also very important to find a mentor, tell them what your goals are, and let them help you. I never thought that I would be selected to intern in Washington, DC, or that I would get my dream research project where I get to travel to Mexico every few months, but I tried anyway, and everything went great. Just follow God's guidance, and let His plan unfold.
What are your plans after graduation?
Right now, I feel God is pointing me toward law school, but I am not ruling out graduate school. I would really like to have a career that involves food safety where I can represent American agriculture. I want to be a positive voice for our producers and help improve the safety of the food supply.
What experiences do you value most as a student at Texas Tech?
While the classes at Texas Tech are first rate, the experiences I value most are the extracurricular opportunities. Texas Tech has sent me to Washington, DC, to intern for Congress, on numerous trips to Mexico to conduct research, and to different conferences each summer. These are opportunities that students at other universities couldn't even dream of, and they are experiences that wouldn't be possible anywhere else.