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Sophia Elie

About Sophia

  • Field and focus area of study: Food Science and Technology, Food Safety
  • Hometown: Oak Park, Illinois

  • Fun fact: I enjoy salsa and bachata dancing.

  • View Sophia's LinkedIn profile

What were you doing prior to your degree program?

I was working full-time as a quality analyst for PepsiCo which involved evaluating quality systems and manufacturing lines of global equipment suppliers.

What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome in order to participate in the program? 

Since I work for PepsiCo, figuring out how to balance work, classes, research, and business travel has been my biggest obstacle. It’s difficult, but I'm doing it, it's working out, and I'm loving the experience.

Why did you choose to pursue the MPS degree?

In my new role with PepsiCo as a Food Safety Processing Specialist, I needed formal food microbiology skills for the food safety side of my work. I learned over the years that I truly have a passion for solving problems and using my talents to keep people safe. This role allows me to use my education and work experience to do both all the while learning at the top university for food science and technology. PepsiCo fortunately has an Education Assistance Program for all eligible employees that reimburses tuition if you're full time and also have great performance ratings. The MPS degree allows me to craft my master’s degree based on the skills I need, providing customized flexibility.

What are the strengths of the program, in your opinion?

Flexibility is by far the greatest strength. Flexibility in choosing classes, program length, and choosing your MPS project.

What have been some of your most rewarding moments while in your program?

Since I'm simultaneously working, the most rewarding moments are when I've learned a new concept in depth and then can immediately apply the new knowledge or skill to a work project.

What are your short term and long term career goals?

Short term, I'll continue to hone my skills as a regional process authority. Long term, I'd like to branch out and understand global regulations to able to work on global projects.

What courses stand out as most helpful for your specific career goals?

The food microbiology lab course as well as the food bioprocessing systems course were the most enlightening and helpful courses for me thus far. I came into the program with no formal microbiology training and limited knowledge of other types of processing other than thermal processing for beverages. The food microbiology lab course was an intense hands on course that allowed me to master a plethora of standard methods used in the food industry in a short period of time. I'm now better equipped with knowledge to complete my MPS project and well as troubleshoot spoilage issues in my everyday work. The food bioprocessing systems course expanded my knowledge of technology used at other food companies such as supercritical fluid extraction and extrusion. You never know when a technology used in one industry can solve a problem in another.

How has your MPS experience changed you, both personally and professionally?

Personally, I thought I knew my limits, but this experience, in addition to working, has smashed those limits to pieces. Professionally, I've become an expert in lightning speed. Any doubts I had about my abilities, both personal and professional, no longer exist. My professional work is also very specific to beverages, but the MPS experience has broadened my knowledge-base to include many types of foods.

What’s your favorite thing about living in Ithaca?

The nature. The campus in all its natural beauty is the perfect environment for learning.

What advice would you give an undergraduate student who is preparing to jump right into the MPS program?

There are so many great classes that you'll be tempted to load your schedule up with everything. However, that will make for an extremely exhausting experience. Focus your classes on what you'll need for your career.

What student organizations are you involved in?

I don't have a lot of extra time, but I've attended some Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GPSA) and Black Graduate and Professional Student Association (BGPSA) general body meetings and events. I mostly attend the stress relieving events such as the "paint and sip" event BGPSA recently put on right before finals. These events force me to slow my brain down, laugh and unwind for a couple hours. It's important to insert these things into your schedule for a healthy balance.

How have the faculty supported your educational goals?

They’ve been absolutely supportive! I could not have asked for a better program advisor, Randy Worobo. He's very personable, encouraging, and flexible. It's been a privilege to learn from him and all the other faculty.