Kiyonna Williams, a food and nutrition major, found a connection to the research that her mentor Reza Tahergorabi, Ph.D was doing with sweet potatoes.

Being an Undergraduate Research Scholar has already paid off for Kiyonna Williams, and she doesn’t even graduate until Saturday.

Williams, a food and nutritional science student with a concentration in food science, worked with Reza Tahergorabi, Ph.D to measure the physiochemical properties of surimi – minced fish that can be flavored and molded into different shapes – mixed with sweet potato starch.

She collected data on the product’s ash content, carbohydrate content, protein content, water-holding capacity, color, texture and more. The Atlanta native began the project last academic year and completed it this fall.

“Kiyonna has demonstrated herself to be a dedicated and capable student,” Tahergorabi said. “This is evident by her diligent attention to her classwork, research and overall studies, always showing a willingness to go the extra mile to learn. She is excited to expand her scientific knowledge and skills in food sciences.”

Williams credits her research experience at A&T with earning her a summer internship opportunity with Organic Valley, a cooperative of organic farmers and a food brand based in Wisconsin. She worked with the company in product development, using the same types of equipment and doing some of the same tasks she does in her lab at A&T.

“The Undergraduate Research Scholars Program has been a great stepping stone for me,” Williams said. “My supervisor at my internship told me that the reason I got the internship was because I had a background in research.”

She isn’t allowed to go into detail, but she can say that she helped Organic Valley formulate one new product and worked with cross-functional groups to generate ideas for another. Part of her work involved sensory evaluations to ensure that the products would be appealing.

Before her URSP experience started, such an experience would have been unthinkable, she said. “The program has been amazing. Before it, I didn’t know anything about lab work, and I really wasn’t into research.”

Reza Tahergorabi, Ph.D.

Being paired with Tahergorabi, an assistant research professor in food and nutritional sciences, was a good match. His specialty is product development, a field Williams now intends to work in for a few years before going back to school to earn a master’s degree in food technology.

“Dr. Tahergorabi has been a great supervisor. He’s very example-based and hands-on,” Williams said. “He took the time to help, especially at the beginning when I was still learning how to use the equipment.”