Four local alumni convened at UVM’s Davis Center in November for a panel discussion on their path to careers in the Vermont artisan cheese industry. None of them started their undergraduate journey with the intention of becoming cheesemakers, but through coursework, internships and personal connections they made, each found their way to cheese. Or maybe, cheese found them.
“Don’t get too caught up in thinking ‘this is my degree and I have to do this.’ Your career finds you,” said Todd Pritchard, senior lecturer in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences and a graduate of UVM himself. Speaking to a crowd of undergraduate students in attendance, he said of the panelists, “Their passions found them, and that’s because they were open to it.”
In addition to being cheesemakers, panelists Jack Duncan ’17, Maddy Born ’15, Morgan Rainville ’12 and Kate Turcotte ’07 have another thing in common: their paths have all intersected at Shelburne Farms, a 1400-acre working farm and National Historic Landmark on the shores of Lake Champlain. Reflecting on their personal journeys after graduation, they offered advice to current UVM students.
- Be open to any kind of new experience. For Morgan Rainville, cheesemaker and food safety assistant at Shelburne Farms, it was an email from a UVM alumni listserv featuring a profile of fellow cheesemaker, and now co-worker, Maddy Born, that led her to cheesemaking. After starting her post-graduate career on a dietetics track, she realized she was craving more tangible, physical work. “It took me a while to really sit down and think, ‘What are the little parts of a job that I really enjoy and make me feel accomplished?’” said Rainville, “I never thought I would be a cheesemaker, but am so happy I am now.”
- Think about a career that gets you excited. Maddy Born, creamery manager at Shelburne Farms, encouraged students to think about aspects of a job that get them excited. For students who don’t want to be sitting behind a desk, a job in food production can offer opportunities to make and create. After an internship with Switchback Brewing Company while at UVM, Born realized her passion for food science. “I felt like I was in the perfect place at the perfect time to do what I really loved.”
- Form good relationships with your professors and stay in touch with them. Several panelists shared how their professors and advisors were instrumental in connecting them to internships and job opportunities while at UVM, and how those relationships continued after graduation. “We’re always reaching out to UVM professors to touch base on new regulations or to ask for advice on our new food safety plan,” said Rainville.
- You don’t have to wait until after college. Kate Turcotte, cheesemaker, farmer and owner of Orb Weaver Creamery, encouraged students to take advantage of internships and summer jobs. “That’s one of the great things about going to UVM. You have access to Burlington and, if you have a car, a lot of other companies,” she said. When she’s not making cheese, she works at Aqua ViTea Kombucha based in Middlebury, VT. “We’re always looking for people who are interested in science and microbiology, because those are the skill sets we need to expand and grow.”
- Stay in Vermont. Especially if you want to get into artisan food, said Jack Duncan. Now head cheesemaker at Shelburne Farms, Duncan began working with producers of acidified foods and carbonated beverages in Vermont after graduation. “The artisan products coming out of Vermont are world-class, and it’s one of the smallest states,” said Duncan. “It’s a very open community and welcoming to those who want to learn.” The other panelists agreed. “The food industry in Vermont is just exploding. It’s really exciting,” said Turcotte.
- Let your passion find you. Echoing the sentiments expressed by Todd Pritchard, Nutrition and Food Science Department Chair Amy Trubek encouraged students to think about how the richness of their education will allow them to take their careers in a lot of different directions, including some they might not anticipate when they start. “There are a lot of ways in which the training you get in this department offers the opportunity to work in a really vibrant sector in Vermont and beyond,” said Trubek.
- Learn excel. Practical advice echoed by several panelists, learning excel is worth it.