Faculty Spotlight: Stephanie Smith

Stephanie Smith

We’re excited to feature Assistant Professor Stephanie Smith, a consumer food safety specialist in the School of Food Science. Smith will receive tenure and a promotion to associate professor in July, one of ten faculty members to be promoted this year within WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences.

How did you first become interested in food science?

I was a postdoctoral scientist at the University of Idaho, doing NASA-related research in the laboratory of a food science professor. As I learned more about food science, specifically food safety, I knew I could apply my microbiology research and skills to help make our food safer.

Foodborne illness is mostly preventable, and reducing it means dramatically lower costs to both human health and the food industry. Many technologies developed for NASA, like controlling microorganisms in the built environment and eradicating resistant organisms, can also be used to improve food safety.

Stephanie Smith and her son in the stands at a Washington State University football game
Smith and her son at a WSU football game

What brought you to WSU?

While completing my doctoral degree, I had the opportunity to develop science communication skills, and I wanted to use those skills to build interest in STEM and educate the public. My most rewarding moments were at public outreach events, and I wanted to continue that kind of work throughout my career.

WSU had an opening for a food safety extension specialist, and I knew I would be a perfect fit. I was excited to bring my research skills to WSU to make an impact on food safety, while also educating people about why it’s important to keep our food safe.

Tell us about your work at the School of Food Science.

My primary job duties are within Extension. As the statewide consumer food safety specialist, I work to increase knowledge and best practices by developing and delivering food safety education to consumers as well as individuals working in direct-to-consumer markets. The overarching goal of my program is to better equip people to prevent foodborne illness and outbreaks.

I also train the next generation of food safety professionals in undergraduate and graduate courses, as well as conduct research to drive the development of new information and technologies to improve food safety knowledge and best practices.

Stephanie Smith holding her son in front of a sign reading "National Forest Wilderness"
Smith and her son on a hike

What do you like most about your job?

It’s hard to pick just one thing! I really enjoy doing research, teaching, and Extension outreach. What they all have in common is advancing scientific knowledge and sharing it with WSU students and the public. It’s incredibly rewarding to make an impact and improve the lives of others.

Why should prospective students consider food science?

We are faced with the challenge of feeding a growing population with healthy and safe food while preserving limited resources. There’s a tremendous need for food science and food safety professionals, so our alumni are in high demand.

After graduation, they go on to create new products that end up on store shelves, develop more nutritional foods for people with sensory issues, teach individuals and companies to keep food safe, and much more. There really is something for everyone, and a career in food science is very rewarding!

The back of a camp trailer with a license plate reading "Cereus"
“My new camp trailer… I work on Bacillus cereus and my license plate reflects that!”

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?

It’s hard to say because I have so many interests. I’ve always wanted to be a microbiologist, and it’s hard to picture myself doing something that doesn’t involve microbes. My doctoral degree is in environmental science with a focus on microbiology, so I have a strong interest in environmental challenges and using natural microbial populations to better understand and address them.

Stephanie Smith standing in a river, fishing

I’m also very interested in social justice, mental health, and addiction. Ultimately, I want to use my skills to make a positive impact on people’s lives.

When I’m not working, I like to travel and fish, so you can probably find me outdoors enjoying nature.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I encourage students to learn more about food science and consider a career in this field. You won’t be disappointed!

If you were a food, what would you be, and why?

Probably something with chocolate and salted caramel. You can’t go wrong with those!