By Chanelle Denman
Dr. Helen Joyner spent the summer moving from Raleigh, North Carolina to Moscow, Idaho to take a position with the School of Food Science at the University of Idaho. “When I first saw Moscow and Pullman, I thought they were very picturesque. You think you are in the middle of nowhere, but really there is a lot here and a lot of networking opportunities,” says Joyner about her first time seeing the Palouse. Since arriving in Moscow with her husband, Glen, and their cat, Denali, she has been busy setting up her office, preparing to teach, and adjusting to life away from family, friends, and humidity.
Next spring Joyner will begin teaching Food Engineering at the University of Idaho. Her goal for the class and students is to create an environment that is current and interactive. She wants students to leave the class with an appreciation and understanding for food engineers on what they do and how they do it. “When they go out and work in the industry, I want students to be proficient and anticipate the needs with the food engineers,” she emphasized. A self-proclaimed fixer, Joyner’s challenge to her students and others is to ask questions, investigate, and ask why something happened, or what would happen if the processed is reserved.
Joyner’s aspiration in becoming a professor is to embody many of the characteristics that her mentors bestowed upon her. In teaching, her goal is to be open and caring, listen to students and their needs, and be an engaging professor. As a researcher, she continually strives to critically analyze all research and data to ensure its authenticity and viability. And as a food scientist, she wants to develop relationships within the industry that are long lasting and that will enrich her expertise in her career
“I stumbled across food science after I found out that I had food allergies,” says Joyner, “I wanted to know as much as I could about the changes I would have to make in my life and so I took a food science course and loved it.” While she still went on to earn her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering, it was after eating her first loaf of gluten-free bread when she decided to study food science for her masters and Ph.D., focusing her research in tribology and rheology. Her research focus gives her a unique position because it extends to various aspects of food science from processing to chemistry to nutrition, among others. “I tell people that my job is to smoosh food until it breaks,” says Joyner. She loves to see people’s reactions because it opens up a conversation to teach people more.
When Joyner talks about her research, she is energetic and communicates easily about different foods and their structures, and how changes to foods can have an effect on a desired product. “I think that fat-free sour cream tastes nothing like full-fat sour cream,” Joyner stressed, “It has a grainy texture. It is not smooth like traditional sour cream.” From sour cream to gluten-free bread, Joyner has endless examples of foods that do not adjust well to change as well as those foods that do transition well.
Transitioning to life on the Palouse has been relatively easy for Joyner and her husband. Leaving the humidity behind in North Carolina has been one of the easier parts of moving across the country. Denali, her cat, has found her new home on top of the cabinets, looking down on the world. Glen has had to adjust to becoming a morning person to accommodate working on east coast time. The use of Skype has helped being far away from family and friends.
“I am not used to people stopping for pedestrians or people being so helpful in the stores,” says Joyner, “It’s been a little bit of culture shock with how nice everyone has been in helping us get settled here.” Enjoying the small town life of Moscow, Joyner is ready to begin her career as a professor and build lasting relationships with colleagues, industries, and students.