STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: Mary Jo Toohey
BY CALEB HICKS, JUNIOR/AG COMMUNICATIONS
For as long as she can remember, Mary Jo Toohey knew she wanted to play with her food when she got to college. (Seriously, you can do that here.)
The Chicago native just wasn’t quite sure where she was going to major in food science. She found her niche here, on the Plains.
“My mom is a marketing and product development consultant for McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, so I’ve always grown up around food science and the food industry,” Mary Jo, 20, says. “I always was good at science and really liked food, so this was the perfect major for me.”
Although searching for a reputable food science program and a college home for the next four years came with many choices, the driven teen knew Auburn and the College of Agriculture was the place for her.
“During my senior year of high school, I applied to more than 20 schools that had the food science program and visited a majority of them,” Mary Jo says. “I fell in love with Auburn. One reason being it was 60 degrees here when I visited and minus 30 back home, and it just seemed like a great family environment, which is what I had during high school.”
Last summer, Mary Jo interned at Clyde’s Donuts in Addison, Illinois, and, even though she was only a rising junior, she helped develop a longer shelf life for their apple fritter from two to five days.
The project was a success. The fritter is now sold to such big-name food companies as Sara Lee and Kroger.
Mary Jo says it was a relief to have created a reputable product after many trial-and-error experiments.
“It felt really great after we accomplished our goal,” she says. “We did a ton of trials, but once you see the final results, and knowing your work made a difference, it’s really cool to know that other people are eating a product that you helped create.”
If having the apple fritter you helped develop sold to nationally recognized food companies isn’t enough, which it isn’t, you can visit Paris to take a seven-week pastry making course at Le Cordon Bleu.
“This summer, I’ll be getting my basic pastry certificate,” Mary Jo says. “I don’t know any French, but I know the experience there will be so helpful to me and my career.”
Apart from tackling a pastry certificate, Mary Jo is an Ag Ambassador, an Ag Peer Mentor and newly elected president of the Food Science club.
Mary Jo knows the valuable role her major plays in the agriculture industry, because folks with her degree keep our food systems running as safely as possible.
“Everyone loves food, and everyone needs it to survive,” Mary Jo says. “It’s our job to know how food works—how bread toasts or sugar crystalizes—so I look at a food product and understand it on a molecular level. It just brings me so much joy to know that what I’m doing can help our industry and make it better.”