Summer 2020

Working Life

Woman in a white lab coat and hairnet works in a laboratory.
Maya Warren serves up a test batch of ice cream in a research lab in Babcock Hall in 2015, when she was a food science graduate student at CALS. Photo by Jeff Miller


“There are so many things we can do with a blank canvas like ice cream,” says Maya Warren.

And she would know. Warren is the senior director for research and development at Cold Stone Creamery, where she helps usher new flavors from laboratory to dipping cabinet. Before she joined the popular chain of ice cream parlors, Warren was known for her globe-trekking success on the CBS reality show “The Amazing Race.” Now she’s going international again. This time, she’s racing to share her ice cream enthusiasm and expertise with the world.

Like many kids, Warren grew up loving ice cream. While she was earning her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Carleton College in Minnesota, she recognized this passion as an opportunity to relate to others. For her, ice cream is the perfect medium because people of all ages and ethnicities love it.

“It’s so much more than just selling a scoop of ice cream,” Warren says. And this revelation led her to CALS for her graduate work in food science.

Warren’s first role at Cold Stone focused on flavor development. She experimented with new variations, such as honey corn bread and blackberry jam, and gauged public response. She still enjoys this work, but now she mainly focuses on establishing Cold Stone in both developed and developing countries. She helps locals access ice cream mix and teaches them how to make ice cream while accounting for regulations and obstacles that vary across international borders.

Whether she’s working with farmers or manufacturers, Warren recognizes that her global involvement on the local level makes meaningful work for people using something that brings them joy.

What frozen dessert trends do you foresee in the future?

I predict the frozen dessert world will continue to follow the milk sector in ever-growing nondairy trends. There is also a drive to become more allergy and calorie conscious and utilize plant-based ingredients. In addition to these dietary trends, snacking has grown in popularity, which I predict will play a role in potential new snack-size and on-the-go frozen dessert products.

I’ve been excited about the idea of international mashups for up-and-coming products in the ice cream industry. We want to take consumers on an international journey without them having to leave their homes. This new direction would combine ingredients and flavors from all over the world to deliver unique cultural experiences through ice cream. After all, ice cream is a universal language.

What did you learn through CALS that you find yourself applying on the job and in life?

My experiences in CALS allowed me to pursue my passion. I knew after completing my undergraduate degree that I could do anything I wanted to do, but my coursework at UW–Madison taught me how to do it. The most valuable skills that I gained from my time in CALS were the abilities to think critically, troubleshoot, think on my feet, and, most of all, be confident in myself. Because of all those, I have become a lead scientist in the food science industry.

CALS taught me about the importance of giving back as well. While at UW, I had the privilege of working with high school students and undergraduates and teaching them about the science of ice cream.

I am grateful for the vast network and support systems provided by the university that I am still able to take advantage of, even years after graduation. Most of all, my experience taught me to always be determined to be my best because, frankly, the sky isn’t even the limit.

Can you describe your experiences with overcoming adversity while working in food science?

If I can be an ice cream scientist, you, too, can do or be anything you want. Years before diving into food science, I recognized my inner desire to share, teach, and enjoy life, and I found that in ice cream. However, it was not an easy journey to get to where I am today, and I hope my story can inspire others. Through everything, no matter how people look at you, no matter what obstacles are thrown your way, never give up.

Being an African American woman in a high position of an international corporation, I am often greeted with shock when I meet people from both the U.S. and other countries. I am simply not the person people expect. But I recognize these instances as opportunities to break down that wall of expectations. By being seen as an equal, I feel that I can pave the way for women in science like so many before me, not just in the food science field. I didn’t work this hard to get my Ph.D., win The Amazing Race, and accomplish all that I have just for myself. I did it for everyone else that once was told they couldn’t.

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