Though not typically considered a lab, the kitchen is the place where Dr. Janelle Walter, associate professor of Nutrition sciences, does much of her research. Food science looks at the chemical components of food to determine whether or not food products are safe to consume, as well as how likely certain substitutions are to be used. "Just because something is edible does not mean people will want to eat it," Dr. Walter advises. Her interest in food science engages not only Dr. Walter's hands in the kitchen, but also those of her students.
Since her freshman food preparation course at the University of Houston, Dr. Walter has been intrigued by the biology and chemistry of food. Recently, she has used that passion to investigate the problem of obesity in America. "Many people want to blame McDonalds and other fast-food restaurants for juvenile obesity; however, we have found that the problem rests in families. We value time more than we do nutrition," Dr. Walter clarifies. She utilizes her knowledge of not only food science, but also home management, child development, and even clothing and textiles to address such problems.
Dr. Walter introduces upper level students to the methods of professional scholarship in her field. As juniors, students in Dr. Walter's Advanced Food Science course are required to complete a research project displaying the effects of manipulating a specific variable in food preparation. Dr. Walter teaches students to do research and report their findings in a clear, concise manner as if they were being submitted to peer-reviewed, scholarly journals. By expanding her students' research and communication abilities, Dr. Walter aids the students by "helping them read research, as well as perform their own."
Outside of the classroom, Dr. Walter initiates research by serving as the faculty advisor for the Family and Consumer Science Honors society, Kappa Omicron Nu. Writing and research are the main priorities of the society. Kappa Omicron Nu sponsors a biannual national conference, called Conclave, where students in all chapters present their research and compete for awards. Every year this competition occurs, Baylor University sends two or more students to compete; in many years, students return with prizes.
This past year, three Baylor undergraduate students attended the conference. Senior Mary Ellen Herndon received first place for her presentation about comparative research in egg white based substitutions in muffins. In addition to Herndon, Jennifer Marquez also presented research about food substitutions; she used rice flour in place of wheat flour in bread. Lauren Darr presented about family systems and dynamics at the conference as well. In years when Conclave is not held, Dr. Walter encourages students in Kappa Omicron Nu to submit research and attend the professional American Family Consumer Science Society conference. Through both Conclave and the AFCSS, Dr. Walter's students learn how to professionally complete and present research about food science.
After receiving both her Bachelor of Science and Master's degrees at the University of Houston, Dr. Walter completed her Ph.D. in Home Economics Education at Iowa State University. She also taught home economics in public schools before becoming a registered dietician.
Dr. Walter encourages students interested in food science research to ask professors about the research they do, as well as look at opportunities the AFCSS may offer. Dr. Walter entices students considering graduate school to do research now because it not only familiarizes them with current research methods, but also propels students "into professional work early in their education."