Trailblazer Gives Back Through Food Science Scholarship

periodiCALS, Vol. 7, Issue 1, 2017

Liz Westring
Liz Westring, Ph.D. ’82. Photo: Christopher Pike

An early turning point for food science alumna Liz Westring, Ph.D. ’82, was a study on grasshopper diets she conducted as an undergraduate biology major at Stony Brook University.

“The main thing I learned is that grasshoppers are disgusting. I had to weigh them every week, and when you try to handle them, they spit at you,” she said. “So needless to say, I thought, ‘I need to go up the evolutionary scale.’”

She switched to human nutrition for graduate study and then on to food science, completing a Ph.D. at Cornell. Westring initially planned to pursue a career in academia, but Professor Emeritus Norman Potter ’50 encouraged her to first spend a few years in the industry. She took a job at General Mills and never left. Now, 34 years later, she is the company’s vice president for global quality and regulatory operations, accountable for all of General Mills’ products and brands throughout the world, ensuring that they meet all standards for food safety and regulatory compliance.

“When somebody opens up their pocketbook and buys one of our products, they’re saying they trust us to deliver,” Westring said. “This is a really inspiring area to work in.”

When Westring was hired in 1982, she was only the fourth female Ph.D. hired in research and development since General Mills was founded in 1856.

“One time, I had to go out on a plant visit with a new engineer who, truly, looked 15. We went to a contract plant in Chicago and everyone assumed I was his technician,” Westring said. “But I had it better than some. I had one woman in my group who did quality assurance in Buffalo. Her first day at work, she asked the plant manager where the ladies’ room was, and there wasn’t one.”

Since then, General Mills has undergone “not just an evolution, but really a revolution,” toward inclusive hiring, she said. Now, roughly 50 percent of the company’s new hires are women, and many hold graduate degrees.

The mentoring Westring received from colleagues at the start of her career helped inspire a lifelong commitment to mentorship. Westring participates in General Mills’ diversity mentoring program, is a past chair of the Institute of Food Technologists Education Committee and Task Force on Mentoring, and is a member of the Cornell Food Science Advisory Council.

She and her husband, Christopher Pike, are also extending their help to undergraduate food science majors at Cornell with demonstrated financial need, through the new Westring/Pike scholarship. The $100,000 scholarship endowment is funded half from Westring and Pike and half from the General Mills Foundation.

“I came from very modest means and never would have been able to go to Cornell graduate school if it were not for the teaching and research assistantships that I received,” Westring said. “I’m so thrilled to be able to give back, especially to food science. As a student, it was truly one of the most welcoming environments you could ever imagine; the commitment of the faculty and the community of the students, all within this umbrella of Cornell. It’s just magic.”