Making Graduate School Work For You: The Creation of Tufts Food Works

By Katie Andrews

Tufts Food Works members at the Taza Chocolate Factory.

Maya Behar is a 2nd year FPAN student interested in culinary nutrition and food access in rural areas. This summer she completed an internship at WIC in Virginia and gained new insight into the concept of food awareness and nutrition.

Lauren Abda is a 2nd year FPAN student with a BS in Nutrition and Food Science from the University of Vermont. Her specialization is in entrepreneurship. Last semester she completed an internship at Techstars working on technology for Ginger.io, a company that studies patient behavior via mobile sensing platforms. She plans to continue working for start up companies that focus on developing technology to promote health initiatives. 

Maya and Lauren are the co-chairs of Tufts Food Works.

Tell me a bit about Tufts Food Works – what is the mission of the group?

Tufts Food Works (TFW) exposes students to individuals and initiatives in the private health sector. Our goal is to provide a resource to the Friedman student body for making internship and career connections.

Hmm – can you give me some examples of the “private sector”?

 First of all, it’s not as evil as people think it is! The private sector encompasses those in the nutrition field who are earning private profit – that includes big and small agriculture, family farms, entrepreneurship, technology, food trucks, bottled tea, publications – we’re not exclusively talking about Cargill and Monsanto. Think “beneficial work that helps the public health sphere but isn’t publicly funded.”

That does encompass a lot! So what prompted you to start Tufts Food Works?

Lauren: The concept stemmed from a conversation with Jim Tillotson, for students interested in private sector work. We realized there was no aggregated resource for students; Tufts does a lot of great public work and research, but the private sector is kind of taboo.

Maya: I have helped launch two food businesses and knew I wanted to go into something similar but I wasn’t making those connections through Tufts. So we took it upon ourselves to build our own networking opportunities.

How do you perceive the role of student groups at the university?

It is our responsibility to fill a niche; the interests of students are so varied. TFW rounds out the community – academically we are exposed to more classes in the public sector – but through TFW, we make the same opportunities available to students in the private sector.

 Tell me about the events that Tufts Food Works hosted in your inaugural year.

Our speaker series started in January 2011 with one speaker a month. Speakers included Debra Wein from Sensible Nutrition/Wellness Workdays, Jeff Barry from Boston Organics, and Jeff Allar from Stonyfield . We visited the Taza Chocolate Factory and Australis Barramundi sustainable fishery in Turner Falls. We try to pick speakers and events that cover all Friedman interests, from sustainable agriculture to private practice.

Tufts Food Works visits Australis Barramundi sustainable fishery

Maya: Speakers have been really excited to come in. Jeff Barry was a Fletcher alum. Tina Galante (FPAN ’12) got her internship from attending that Boston Organics lecture. That in a nutshell is what we are trying to do – bring the private sector and Friedman together.

Lauren: The process of finding speakers and events has been really organic. For the Australis visit, Ellen Cynar (FPAN/MPH ’12) read an article about the farm and said she wanted to go. So we made it happen! It has been the work of the entire TFW board including Ellen, Rachel Kirk, and Jillian Gladstone that has led to the success of the group.

I hear you have a new directed study available! How does that work?

We meet Thursdays from 5-8pm. Each week features a different speaker related to an aspect of business development, along with a related book discussion. When Debra Wein came, Jillian Gladstone read The Small Mart Revolution, and then led a discussion with Debra about small business development. The session was intended to focus on the nitty gritty – what does it take to start your own business? We really needed the details, because there is no class that teaches this type of information.

Maya – It was really interesting to ask Debra questions: how many months into your business until you saw profit? Did you experience legal hassles? When did you hire employees? People are more willing to be honest in this smaller environment. The speakers are really forthcoming. And we’re not even paying them!

How has running Tufts Food Works added to your experience at Friedman?

Lauren: The problem with the program here is that it is so short – if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, you have limited time to explore. TFW has helped me focus my interests. I was all over the red line last year, going to lectures at Fletcher, Harvard, and MIT. I listened to people from Whole Foods, Nestle, and doctors in private practice all speaking on nutrition. But to me, the most interesting concept is: “How do you start of all these businesses?” TFW is helping me answer that question.

Any advice for first year Friedman students?

Expose yourself to as much as you can! View graduate school as a holistic experience and take your focus outside of the classroom. This is a rapidly growing field and so much can come from one individual idea, so get exposure to that. If you only pay attention to what goes on in class, you miss a lot going on in the field of nutrition.

Finally, tell me about some of the things TFW has planned for the upcoming month!

 Some highlights from our fall lecture schedule (all speakers are Thursday, 5-8pm in Jaharis 133):

October 6, 2011 – Entrepreneurial Marketing, Natalie Laidler-Kylander, Fletcher School

October 13, 2011 – Small Business Finance, Pat Schena, Fletcher School

October 20, 2011 – Sustainable Business, Green Restaurant Association

October 27, 2011 – Entrepreneurship, Lynn Coody

If you are interested in joining Tufts Food Works or in private sector internships, email to tuftsfoodworks@gmail.com.

Katie Andrews is a 2nd year dual Nutrition Communications/DPD student at the Friedman School.  She is the current Editor-in-Chief of The Sprout and is passionate about getting accurate, science-based nutrition information into consumer’s hands. As ‘The Aspiring RD,’ she blogs about current nutrition news, ways to stay healthy and fit in Boston, and the interesting and delicious foods that cross her path. Find her at www.theaspiringrd.com.

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