On Campus: UCARE


Maya smiles for a photo in Selleck Dining Hall where she and her research partner, Chloe Hoover, are surveying students about their dining habits and food sustainability

Through UCARE, Huskers have the opportunity to conduct research as undergraduates. As one of her many involvements, UCARE has provided Maya Tanikawa-Brown—a food science and technology student from Central New Jersey—with hands-on experience and the validation to pursue research after graduating. With support from faculty advisor Dr. Heriberto Cerutti, Maya and her research partner Chloe Hoover are looking into dining hall sustainability. Read about her experience ⬇️

How would you explain UCARE to someone that’s never heard of it?

UCARE is a shortened acronym for the Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience. Here at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, UCARE provides an opportunity for undergraduate students to participate in research projects under the guidance of a faculty advisor. This arrangement allows for students to pursue research that is not always a possibility at other institutions while having the structure and support from UCARE to make their project possible. Additionally, UCARE helps students to present their findings at the annual Nebraska Research Days event.

Talk about why you decided to apply to Nebraska, and specifically go into food science and technology.

For a very long time, I knew I was interested in pursuing a degree in food science and that I would like to conduct research in some capacity. In elementary school I read about candy science and fell in love with product development and creation of novel foods. As learned more about food science, I became enamored with the depth of the field and how diverse the avenues were. I knew that someone as indecisive as me could feel fulfilled in such a wide array of possible concentrations. When it came to selecting which university, I felt CASNR as a whole and the food science department here were so warm and interested in who I was. I could envision myself succeeding at UNL and I am very glad I have ended up here.

Examples of the posters prompting students to take a survey
As part of their research, Maya and Chloe have put together a survey to help them gather student sentiment.

Tell us about your current research project.

Our research project is on undergraduate student perceptions of food sustainability in to-go dining at Selleck Dining Court and the feasibility of implementation of the proposed solutions. With our project we hope to propose practical solutions for reducing food waste and improving student perceptions on food sustainability through culture building. Many of these goals are derived from the responses we receive from our undergraduate student survey. We hope to reach undergraduate student populations to accurately depict their perspectives in our evaluation of the current and future states of dining sustainability at UNL. We know that there can be apprehension with making changes to an established system but are hoping that our findings can be a compelling source of evidence that the solutions will be successful in the current infrastructure.

How did you become interested in food sustainability and when did you decide that this was the area you wanted to conduct research in?

On a personal level, sustainability and environmentalism in its many capacities has been very important to me for a very long time. In my freshman year Honors Seminar course: Food Systems, Diets, & Climate Change taught by Dr. Cerutti, classmates Chloe Hoover, Matthew Dahlke and I worked on a final project on food sustainability. Prompted by a conversation with the Director of Dining at UNL, Dave Annis, our investigation proposed solutions for common complaints of our classmates about portion sizes and recycling opportunities. After our presentation, Ms. Hoover and I discussed how we would love to see a practical implementation of our findings and Dr. Cerutti agreed to advise us on our UCARE application and the endeavor in general if our project were to be approved.

What is your favorite part about having opportunities to research as an undergraduate student?

I am most grateful for all the support my research advisor Dr. Heriberto Cerutti, my project partner Chloe Hoover, and the UCARE coordinator Ms. Courtney Santos have provided. Being well-connected makes my role in investigation seamless because I have so many people to turn to when I have questions.

How do you think your involvement in UCARE will help you in the future?

Having official undergraduate research experience helps to validate my pursuits of being a researcher. Being a part of a program like UCARE has helped me realize that my work has value and that people are interested in investing in it (and me) despite not having graduated yet. It has helped me to advocate for myself and dream larger when gaining experience before I graduate.

What or who inspires/motivates you?

My other food science major classmates inspire me constantly because of the feats of greatness they achieve quite often. It is easy to marvel and be proud of these peers who have become friends. As I mentioned previously, the career of food science is quite broad and it is very exciting seeing each of us pursue various different endeavors in our time here and in our future dreams.

A headshot of Chloe Hoover
Chloe Hoover is conducting research alongside Maya for their UCARE project.

Who has impacted your time at Nebraska?

In my time at Nebraska, I have felt tremendously impacted by Ms. Charlie Foster who is the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Inclusive Student Excellence. Ms. Foster seems to be everywhere as the advisor of APU, Sister Circle, and generally in OASIS. She gently but firmly reminds me that I belong in innumerable ways when I need it most.

What is one piece of advice you would give a student interested in research as an undergrad?

Be flexible with the progress and outcome of your research if it does not follow your initial predictions. Learn from and see where your research takes you! I have learned most from research projects where the product was contradictory to my hypothesis and required a challenging analysis.

What is something you’ve learned that will stick with you after you graduate?

Do not be afraid to approach faculty or ask colleagues for their thoughts or advice on your obstacles. You would be surprised how many people are in your corner and want to point you to resources to make you successful. There are so many student services available to undergraduates that are severely underutilized; it does not hurt to ask.

What has made your college experience remarkable?

So far, being involved and busy has made my experience at UNL remarkable. Although I have the terrible habit of overbooking my planner with events and meetings, I have not regretted trying to do everything. As students here, we pay for everything around us. It is a shame to not take advantage of all that there is to offer on campus and in our student organizations. I am also an RA on campus, and I often tell my residents that I have made the most genuine and profound relationships outside of the classroom. It is in spaces of personal commonalities such as hobbies, identities, and passions found in student organizations where I have made my best friends. For example, I knew no one when I first moved to Nebraska, but I found an instantaneous family when I joined the Trumpet Line of the Cornhusker Marching Band (CMB) in August of 2021.

What do you hope to do after you graduate?

After I graduate, I hope to attend graduate school and pursue a career in food safety research.

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