Spring 2013

Working Life

Rhona S. Applebaum PhD’81 Food Science • Rhona Applebaum is vice president and chief scientific and regulatory officer at The Coca-Cola Company, where she leads global scientific and regulatory affairs. “We’re responsible for driving evidence-based research and education programs and advancing regulatory science strategies to fuel innovation and marketing of our products,” she says. Her group’s other responsibilities include helping communicate the company’s positions on scientific and regulatory matters and promoting dialogue and understanding of Coca-Cola’s products and ingredients.

What fuels her passion? “Making a difference and giving back,” she says. “I am totally committed to the importance of mentoring and coaching young people in their careers. And I’d be less than truthful if I didn’t say I guide them into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines at every chance.”

And when Applebaum offers advice on graduate study? “For those wanting advanced degrees in food science or another STEM specialty, UW is at the top of my list,” she says. “Wouldn’t the world be grand if more folks were Badgers?”

Dan Berg BS’94 Food Science, MS’03 Food Chemistry • Dan Berg is a senior client manager at Covance Laboratories, where he assists clients in using Covance’s testing services for nutritional and food safety purposes. “The work I do challenges me to be an expert at understanding foods, their chemistry, the methods and the regulatory framework that guides how testing should be used to ensure a safe and high-quality food supply,” he says.

His education at CALS gave him the foundation to understand the chemistry and processing of foods and the techniques to tackle complex problems and come up with solutions, Berg notes: “As I have progressed in my career, the importance of my education has become more evident with each position I’ve held.”

Ann Berres-Olivotti BS’80 Bacteriology, Food Science • Ann Berres-Olivotti is a senior manager on the technical service team at Foremost Farms USA, where she primarily works in pharmaceutical lactose operations in the areas of quality assurance, process improvement and product functionality. “My favorite parts of the job are process improvements and educating end users regarding product capabilities,” she says. “Designing a practical process for a new product is one of the more exciting aspects of the job.”

Donald H. Burr PhD’83 Bacteriology • Keeping the public safe from emergencies or outbreaks involving biological, chemical or radiological contamination of food is all in a day’s work for Donald Burr, who is a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service assigned to the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Burr helped design the FDA’s Food Emergency Response Network (FERN), which coordinates the response of food-testing laboratories at the local, state and federal levels following an emergency or outbreak. FERN was formed following the highly publicized anthrax attacks of 2001, and since then Burr has remained involved in the agency’s food defense and counter-terrorism activities. “It’s been gratifying to see the effectiveness of this program when there have been threats to our food supply,” Burr says.

While earning his doctorate at CALS, Burr worked at the UW–Madison Food Research Institute, where he helped develop animal models for infant botulism. After graduating he decided to pursue careers in both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Public Health Service. “That allowed me to continue in the field of public health microbiology while at the same time serving my country,” he says.

Margaret Dohnalek PhD’88 Food Science • Margaret Dohnalek is the global head of technology scouting in corporate research and development
for PepsiCo. Simply put, her job—which the company created about two years ago—is to search the world for “the best of the best” in technology advancements and innovations that could benefit PepsiCo’s current and potential products and portfolio.

“Scouting is a complex function that requires the team to keep up on major technology advancements and innovation trends that are relevant to our business,” Dohnalek notes. “Leading technology scouting is a tremendous career opportunity because of the diversity of scientific challenges my team and I engage with on a daily basis—from advancing innovations in food and agro science to managing strategic partnerships with leading global innovators.”

Kurt Fenster MS’96 Food Science, PhD’02 Food Science, Bacteriology • As a manager in bioprocess development with Dupont Nutrition and Health, Kurt Fenster examines the effects of various strains of bacteria—lactic acid bacteria, bifidobacteria and propionibacteria—in manufacturing cultures for such products as probiotic dietary supplements, dairy cultures and silage inoculants.

“Scientifically, it is exciting to unlock the secrets of these strains,” says Fenster. “We’re creating superior products for our business units to bring to market—and, ultimately, our customers get the benefit.”

James Pestka Post-doctoral research ’82, Environmental Toxicology • Jim Pestka received his Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from Cornell University and conducted post-doctoral research at UW–Madison’s Food Research Institute, working with “giants in the field whom I have tried to emulate as role models,” he says. For the past 30 years he has been a professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University. His current research could one day be applied to address obesity. His team focuses on how molecular mechanisms activated by foodborne toxins, in addition to activating a classic immune response, also can initiate anorectic and vomiting responses that prevent further intake and expel the offending food.

“What’s exciting is that these latter effects are extremely rapid and mediated by gut satiety hormones which normally signal our brain that it’s time to stop eating,” he says. “Interestingly, by feeding low levels of these toxins, we can reverse obesity in experimental mice. By understanding the underlying mechanisms, it might be possible one day to tease apart the satiety-inducing effects from illness effects, thereby leading to novel pharmacotherapies applicable to the obesity epidemic.”

Kim Premo BS’77 Food Science • “Chocolate peanut, red velvet, refreshing lemon fig. When it comes to ice cream flavors, Kim Premo has not only tasted a lot of them, he’s made them,” wrote the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a recent story about Premo, who serves as vice president of research and development at Denali Ingredients in New Berlin. There he oversees product development for such things as stabilizers affecting ice cream texture and shelf life as well as flavorings and “inclusions”—all the goodies that can be added to an ice cream base, such as nuts, chocolate chips and cookie dough.

Premo, who grew up on a dairy farm, admits his work is pretty fun. “In ice cream people always want new ideas and the industry always rotates new flavors into the line-up. It’s much more rewarding to work on something new than to keep retooling existing items,” he says. “The other great thing is that when you tell somebody you make flavorings for ice cream, their eyes light up. It makes you feel good that people enjoy what you are doing.”

Virginia N. “Jenny” Scott MS’75 Bacteriology • The Food Safety Modernization Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in January 2011 called for all kinds of new food safety regulations and guidelines—and Jenny Scott, as a senior advisor in the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, serves as the technical point person for questions and consultation needs related to preventing hazards in food. In her position she develops and implements policies, regulations and guidelines related to food safety and provides technical expertise in a variety of food safety areas. She also leads the U.S. delegation at the Codex Alimentarius Committee on Food Hygiene. Codex is an international body whose food standards are recognized by the World Trade Organization in the resolution of trade disputes.

About In the Field

These alumni represent the depth and breadth of alumni accomplishments. Selections are made by Grow staff and are intended to reflect a sample of alumni stories. It is not a ranking or a comprehensive list. To read more about CALS alumni, go to

Know a CALS grad whose work should be highlighted in Grow? E-mail us at:

Next issue: Alumni from Landscape Architecture

This article was posted in Food Science, In the Field, Spring 2013, Working Life and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .