CH Alumna Shares Unique Science Field with Girls in STEM Club

Co-presidents of the Girls in STEM Club Delia R. ‘21, Ann N. ‘21 and Chloe C. ‘22 hosted a virtual presentation by Director of Global Flavor Development at Coca Cola Ashaki Wilham ‘91 on December 17, 2020.
Ashaki’s presentation outlined the overarching career of food science in which her speciality, flavor chemistry, sits. Food science is the discipline in which biology, physical sciences, and engineering are used to study the nature of foods, the causes of their deterioration, and the principles underlying food processing. Ashaki shared fun facts about food, including that chemicals make up the flavors that are inherent even in natural foods like fruit, the chemistry of which changes as it ripens.

With only 500 certified flavor specialists in the country, Ashaki’s unique field utilizes a mixture of art and science in order to develop flavors. She explained that not only do you need a great sense of taste and smell to do this work, there are a number of skills and qualities that are needed to become a successful flavor specialist. Patience is not only a virtue, but a necessity as the work can be iterative - creating and testing multiple prototypes over and over. Teamwork is also a key ingredient because it is essential to incorporate different perspectives to create a flavor that is well-liked by the masses.

Ashaki's love of STEM was first ignited by her Campbell Hall Biology teacher in high school who inspired her to pursue the sciences. Ashaki went on to receive a B.S. in Biology from Vanderbilt University and has been working in the sciences ever since.

Attending members of the Girls in Stem Club asked insightful questions such as: “Can you be a flavor specialist if you have food allergies?” The answer is yes! This is why teamwork is so critical to the role. Your teammates can taste your creations for you. Another member asked, “What is the female to male ratio in your industry?” The answer: “In general there is a huge gender disparity in STEM careers with men greatly outnumbering women and flavor chemistry is no different.” Ashaki’s inspirational talk to these motivated young women could help change that!
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