Senior Food Scientist Ryan Walker Strives to Make Impact
June 15, 2022
Ryan Walker considers himself lucky to have traveled the path that led to his new role as Senior Food Scientist at the North Carolina Food Innovation Lab (NCFIL). He describes his career progression as nontraditional, leaving college after his junior year to join the US Marine Corps. He credits his experience with the Marines as “the spark that ignited the fire for learning and drive to be part of something bigger.”
Fire for Learning
After serving as a journalist and media relations specialist in the Marines, Walker completed his BS degree at Michigan State University (MSU) and began working with Nestlé’s Operations Management Trainee Program. He later returned to MSU to earn his Master’s degree in Human Nutrition. As a graduate student, he taught food product development, food microbiology, and meat processing.
He stayed at MSU to earn his Ph.D. in Human Nutrition with a doctoral specialization in international development with a focus on agricultural development and international food laws and regulations.
“I’ve been lucky to be in tune with emerging trends in the market. My research at MSU was cutting edge. I was one of the first students to conduct next-generation gut microbiome research in my department,” Walker says.
Recently, he completed Kansas State University’s Public Health Core Concepts graduate certificate.
His research interests over the course of his career have been motivated by a desire to gain a greater understanding of how to utilize and promote functional foods to enhance humans’ overall quality of life.
A Part of Something Bigger
As part of his service with the Marines, Walker joined a humanitarian mission in Indonesia in late 2004 for Tsunami Relief. Based out of Thailand, he was responsible for escorting journalists into Aceh in Sumatra from the USS Abraham Lincoln.
During his first year as a Master’s student, through a Critical Language Scholarship, Walker traveled back to Indonesia to study the national language. He was recognized with his first award in 2011 and a second in 2013. At the end of 2021, he earned a Critical Language Scholarship Refresh.
“Indonesia is a fascinating country. There are so many similarities to the US when one gains an understanding of the social structure and its history. I have a personal interest because of my experience there supporting a humanitarian mission, but I’m also interested in its history and its current stage of economic development, specifically agricultural development,” Walker says.
Impacting Agriculture with NCFIL
“I’m excited to be here. The North Carolina agriculture and food story is something that interested me 10 years ago, and I feel lucky that I am able to work here and support the state and businesses of North Carolina. It’s exciting to be part of a big picture, helping add value to the ag industry and attract strong businesses to the state,” he says.
Walker is currently involved in novel protein products that deliver “exciting, next-generation plant-proteins.” One is a protein that contributes to the sensory aspects of foods, making plant-based foods taste more like animal-based products, one area the industry is actively trying to enhance.
“My role at NCFIL will expand as I grow,” Walker says. “There is potential for the above projects to be longer-term depending on funding for the companies, both of which are up and coming.”
Walker believes NCFIL is unique with its ability to help both startups and established companies trying to develop product lines. “We have all the tools we need to be creative problem solvers. We are at the tip of the spear with new products and have resources to help our team and partners succeed.”
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