Internship at McCormick & Co. 'spices up' student's experience

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Maya Alcalá, a student in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, is on her way to becoming a seasoned professional thanks to a summer internship with McCormick & Co., an opportunity that came her way at the college's annual Ag Sciences Career Day.

Maya Alcalá, a student in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, was an intern with McCormick & Co. Credit: Maya AlcaláAll Rights Reserved.

"If McCormick hadn't been at Career Day, I'm not sure I would have connected with them, but I am glad I did because the experience has been incredible," said Alcalá about interning with the company that manufactures, markets and distributes a variety of spices, herbs and flavorings for retail, commercial and industrial markets.

Alcalá, a senior food science major and Schreyer Honors College student from Alexandria, Virginia, worked as McCormick's quality and regulatory intern at the company's Hunt Valley, Maryland, location. Over the summer, she completed two different projects for McCormick. The projects are assigned to give interns a better idea of the scope of things that go into running a company like McCormick and help them narrow their areas of interest.

Alcalá's first project entailed creating a prediction model for the company's vanilla extraction process. "There's been crop uncertainty with vanilla because of political and climate changes, so the prices have increased," she said. "Understanding the process is the best way to maintain a high-quality product." Her second project looked at the transportation of McCormick goods.

Alcalá also had the opportunity to tour McCormick facilities.

"It's helped me become familiar with the whole food industry rather than being boxed into one small part of it," she said.

Not only has the internship helped Alcalá learn about the food industry, it helped her become a more qualified future employee. McCormick stresses having a wide breadth of experience, as Alcalá explained, "The company has a number of different rotational programs and these programs allow employees to get a better sense of the company as a whole."

Alcalá's classes at Penn State have been beneficial during her time at McCormick. "The food science program at Penn State is amazing and attending a university with such a large alumni base is great, too," she said. "Even during my first few days at McCormick, I met alumni who welcomed me to the company and made me feel at home."

As part of her Schreyer Honors College curriculum, Alcalá is working on a thesis with John Hayes, associate professor of food science. The projected thesis will be an extension of a project completed by one of Hayes' other students, and Alcalá will study tongue sensitivity and how that affects people's ability to detect viscosity of different liquids.

"Maya's thesis is ambitious, but I'm very excited to see the results," said Hayes. "Her project has the potential to increase our understanding of touch perception in the mouth. Students like Maya who take advantage of the research labs at Penn State learn how practicing scientists advance knowledge, and in doing so, make real contributions to understanding the world."

For students interested in the food industry, Alcalá advises being willing to take chances.

"Get as much experience as you can," she said. "You can't know where you want to be in industry or what kind of company you want to work for until you work for one. Getting internship experience before you graduate helps you not only learn about future careers, but also helps you learn about yourself."

To learn more about internship and career services provided by the college, visit the Office for Undergraduate Education.

Last Updated October 10, 2018