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Blue corn waffles a winner in FSHN Food Challenge contest

URBANA, Ill. – Sammie Golemba is getting a head start on her college experience. As an incoming freshman in food science and human nutrition (FSHN) at the University of Illinois, she participated in this year’s FSHN Food Challenge and won a $500 scholarship for her efforts.

“I decided to make egg-free and gluten-free blue corn waffles for the challenge. I have had dietary issues regarding gluten and dairy, and I wanted to make sure to create something that would be ‘dietary friendly’ to eat,” she says.

“I really enjoyed the food challenge. I think it was a very clever way to get the FSHN students involved and invested in their major before college even started. Also, any opportunity to make food is always a fun opportunity,” she adds.

FSHN launched the food challenge in 2020 as a way to engage incoming students before they arrive on campus, says FSHN Department Head Nicki Engeseth. Learn more about FSHN undergraduate studies here.

“We send all accepted students within the U.S. a box with three kinds of flour­­ – white long grain fancy rice, Illinois blue corn, and soft red winter wheat – milled at the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory pilot processing plant on the U of I campus,” she explains.

The students must prepare food using at least one kind of flour. They then submit a photo of the food, a recipe, and a description of how they’ve met the challenge criteria. A panel of judges evaluate the entries, and the winners receive a $500 or $1,000 scholarship toward their studies.

“We created different challenges for each of our four concentrations,” Engeseth explains. “For dietetics it is tasty food with low calories, low fat, low sodium, or no added sugar. For hospitality management, the student must take a perfectly styled photo and describe how they styled the food. For human nutrition, the criteria is ‘eating healthy on a budget’. And for food science, they must create a product that can be shelf stable for two weeks.”

Golemba, an incoming student in the human nutrition concentration, and she was enthusiastic about her topic.

“The idea of ‘eating healthy on a budget’ is a really important concept for me as an incoming freshman, and participating in this challenge really showed me it is possible to do. I did think the ingredients we had to choose from were a little tough to work with, but being challenged is a good thing,” she says.

“I am beyond excited to start studying human nutrition in FSHN. I have had many issues regarding my stomach and dietary restrictions, and I always wondered ‘why does food react with me the way it does and not the same way with another person?’ Really delving deeper into the chemistry and biology of the human body and understanding the impacts of food is what I am most excited to learn about. I want to understand what food will make my body and my mind feel the healthiest and happiest,” Golemba states.

While she has not settled on a career goal, she knows she’ll want to help people with nutrition and dietary choices.

“I have thought about being a dietician, or possibly teaching nutrition to students. I would also like to help change school lunches to be healthier, yet still enjoyable. I’m not sure what I want to do yet, but I know I’m very excited to learn about it all.”

Golemba says while she’s thankful for winning a scholarship, her decision to accept admission was already firm.

“I knew right away when I was accepted into this college that I wanted to attend it. This challenge, however, definitely made me excited to see what FSHN has to offer once I am officially a freshman,” she says “The advisors I have talked to already have been so welcoming and kind. I truly cannot wait to start learning about my major.”

Engeseth says the contest helps the department connect with students and get them excited about coming to U of I.

“We plan to run the contest again next year, so admitted students should watch out for their box in the spring,” she adds.

The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition is in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at the University of Illinois.

The FSHN Food Challenge and other students-focused projects like this are funded through donations to the College of ACES. To learn more, or to contribute, please contact the College of ACES Office of Advancement.