Tell us about your career path at Nestlé Purina.
Ultimately, R&D was my passion and I returned to engineering as a Manager, then a Group Director, and now I currently serve as the Vice President of the Product Technology Center (PTC). It's funny because this is not what I imagined in my 10-year plan when I decided I wanted to become a people leader. If I would have scripted how to get there, I would have been totally wrong. It goes to show you, focus on a goal and you'll get there.
My passion for pets started when I was young and I knew from the beginning that I wanted to dedicate my life to bettering the lives of our furry friends. Growing up, I showed and trained my dogs and cats in 4-H, volunteered at animal shelters, and organized birthday parties for my cats. Like many animal science majors, I wanted to become a veterinarian, but I was also very interested in nutrition for myself. After my first animal nutrition course at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a lightbulb went off. I found a way to combine both of my passions: nutrition and pets. I continued my education by obtaining a Master's Degree and PhD in Animal Sciences/Nutrition. Through research and fellowships, I had numerous opportunities to present my work around the U.S. and in Europe, teach in a classroom and laboratory setting, and study nutrition in different species –even humans!
My career started in 2014 as an external contractor for the Quality Systems Group at Nestlé Purina where we focused mostly on research for the sales group, and surveys about employee satisfaction. I was fortunate to eventually join the company full time as a Data Scientist on the Strategic Analytics Team.
I was hired into an entry-level position as part of the Information Systems & Services (IS&S) organization of IT with the understanding that I would need training and development in order to excel in my role. I had prior experience with e-commerce and technology as applied to business, which primed me for success. As soon as I accepted the position, I began studying for ISTQB Certification and became a certified Foundation Level Software Tester within four months of my hire date.
I was a graduate student in biotechnologies in France – my home country. My first internship was at the Nestlé Purina Research Center as a laboratory technician in St Louis, MO. I loved it so much there that I made sure with my school director that I could go back for my most important internship, e.g. the one validating my Master’s degree.
Why did you decide to join Nestlé Purina?
After I determined academia wasn't for me, I started to consider places I could use my skill-set and came across opportunities in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry. Nestlé Purina's culture topped other CPGs, and after a lot of research on the organization, it appealed to me because of the diversity amongst the people and the work I would be able to do. It is a lean organization, meaning I won't have to worry about "trimming the fat" as they say, and I'll get to do impactful work.
Working as a Nutritionist at a major pet food company was my dream job; I joined Nestlé Purina in January of 2015 after working as a Postdoctoral Research Associate, where I focused on ingredient evaluation for their application to pet food.
My grandparents owned and operated a small business as a Purina retailer that sold animal chow and pet food for over 50 years. As a result, I was raised around Purina products and grew to admire the important role this organization plays in the St. Louis area. I always hoped to continue the family legacy and join Purina someday. Prior to starting at the company, I completed a Master's Degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and worked in a research lab at the Missouri Institute of Mental Health. I decided to transition from an academic environment to industry and was fortunate to find a role here that used my research expertise.
What are your primary responsibilities?
As a Director, I was hyper-focused on operations like manufacturing and engineering. As a VP, I spend my time planning work to develop products that meet consumers' needs. I'm more focused on the front end of the business, but my understanding of Nestlé Purina research definitely comes into play. It takes a long time to conduct meaningful research and develop a new product. Sometimes things don't go as planned, so I need to envision pretty far ahead. I've also gotten back to some basics, like nutrition, food experience, and ideology.
My role functions primarily as an internal consultant for projects across the company that may involve complicated data or statistical analyses. I guide the research design and analytical approach, extract and/or request data, and program the analyses in order to help others find new insights.
I am part of a research laboratory specialized in molecular nutrition and immunology, meaning we study how nutrition is beneficial to pets’ health. All of our research is non-invasive and harmless for cats or dogs. My current role is at the interface of the laboratory work and of the researchers. That gives me the opportunity to participate in many aspects of research, such as brainstorming, running analysis in the laboratory, interpreting data, or managing a project.
As a female in STEM–what’s it like? Any advice for others considering a similar career path?
Very rewarding with its own set of unique challenges. It is interesting because there are obstacles in the U.S., but those issues magnify themselves when you're working in a global role. I would say age presents its own set of challenges, too. In a STEM field, it is important to establish credibility. A lot of those biases subside once you're credible. It's a big mountain to climb, and women can struggle due to the fear of speaking up and being wrong. It's okay to be wrong! I once had a boss say to me, "I know you know the answer; why aren't you speaking up?". I actually have a daughter who is about to graduate with a degree in Industrial Engineering and enter a STEM field. I tell her not to take a step back from the table–continue to work hard and problem solve, and the rest will come.
I've always had a more applied mindset when it comes to research, and I love that this job allows me to do science, but see my work translated into a product. At Nestlé Purina, a lot of time and resources are invested in bringing science to life in our foods.
Tell us about the most exciting project you’ve completed or are currently working on?
I recently completed a project that added a unique functional ingredient to some of our dry product lines. The project started as an exploratory project, but quickly escalated and two global markets will or have already launched products using the new ingredient technology.
We do the kind of research that builds a lot of knowledge about pets, and that is often parallel to human nutrition research. For example, we are exploring the pets' gut microbiota—the community of bacteria that resides naturally in the digestive tract. We also look into canine and feline cytokines, which are little molecules used by the immune system to send messages locally and across the body. Even though some knowledge on the human side is applicable to pets, we always find something unique to cats or dogs, and I find that fascinating!
What additional advice would you tell someone considering a career path in STEM?
Ask for feedback! It can be hard for women to do so, but it allows you to gather insight as to how people view you. Don't take constructive feedback as negative—use it to continuously improve yourself. I think this is also important as a female to not get pigeon-holed, per se. You own your career, so don't be afraid to raise your hand, put yourself out there, and take a risk. It might make you feel uncomfortable, but that's good—it's how you know you're growing.
Go for it! Purina is a wonderful place to work and I have enjoyed my experience tremendously. Within the world of Nestlé, there are countless opportunities for growth and development, the sky is the limit. I believe that Purina’s dedication to employee development makes it a welcoming environment for STEM careers. Learning new skills is encouraged, and in an IT environment, this translates to learning and applying new technologies to a business context.
Outside of work, what are you passionate about?
Animals, spending time with my family. I also like to read and hike. I read a lot of historical books—I'm reading one on historical leaders right now. I also read some thrillers just for fun! Beyond that, staying up to speed on scientific research and leadership.
I love photography, traveling, cooking, DIY projects, and of course my pets! I have one cat (Prada, a Maine Coon mix) and two dogs (Midnight, a Chiweenie and Guinness, a Doxalier). I adopted Prada when I was in graduate school. I found both of my dogs on Petfinder and, yes, my dogs come with me to work every day!
I am the pet parent of two cats, Jessa and Bailey, who somehow find a way to make me laugh each day. I have been a season ticket holder at the St. Louis Muny theatre for over 10 years and love music in general. I am also passionate about promoting and improving public education in Missouri.
Interested in one of our STEM opportunities? Apply today to start your career with Nestlé Purina!