A scholarship for black students interested in the food industry returns for another year – Natural Self Esteem

A scholarship to support black people pursuing careers in the food industry is currently accepting applications.

A Seat at the Table, a Ben’s Original scholarship fund, is open to black high school and college students and adults interested in certification in the food industry.

In 2021, manufacturer Mars Foods launched the grant with Ben’s Original (formerly Uncle Ben’s Rice Products) in partnership with the National Urban League and the United Negro College Fund. The annual, need-based scholarship covers up to $25,000 in educational expenses toward the completion of a food science or culinary arts certificate, or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. In addition to tuition fees, grantees participate in the National Urban League’s Project Ready, the organization’s collegiate and life skills program.

In April, Bens’ Original opened the scholarship for a second year, marking the second of a five-year, $2 million commitment, according to a company press release.

The grant application, available on the National Urban League website, is open until June 30th. The awards will be presented in the fall.

“We are excited to offer the second-year scholarship as we continue to work towards our overarching goal of creating opportunities that offer everyone a seat at the table,” said Denis Yarotskiy, president of Mars Food North America, in a press release. “This year we hope to award at least 20 students with scholarships to help them pursue their dream of working in the food industry.”

“Last year’s grantees are truly remarkable candidates and students,” said Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, in the same press release. “We encourage everyone who qualifies for the US SEAT AT THE TABLE™ Fund Scholarship as we, together with BEN’S ORIGINAL™, want to positively impact the journey of black employment in the food industry.”

Last year, Alton Chambers IV, a food science major at Alabama A&M University, was one of the first recipients of the Seat at the Table scholarship.

Chambers graduated from Alabama A&M University in May and will continue with his Masters in Food Sciences with a focus on product development and sensory evaluation in the fall.

Chambers recently began a summer internship at Kellogg’s, where he works with the product teams at MorningStar Farms and Incogmeato.

While he has a number of career aspirations in the food industry, including his PhD and working in research and development for various companies, one of Chambers’ passions is working on food insecurity and health inequalities.

“In the future, I would love to start a business that would tailor specific products to alleviate some of the symptoms of desserts in communities where specific ingredients or specific nutrients are difficult to find (and) make affordable products for those areas,” Chambers said in an interview with AL.com. “And having done that, my bigger goal is to be some kind of adjunct professor and to teach so that the knowledge I’ve accumulated throughout my life doesn’t just stop with me. It goes forward.”

Chambers, who was a Gates Millennium Scholar, considered a range of schools and majors when applying to colleges, including political science, psychology, and environmental engineering.

“A little later, while looking for college, I came across a food science major,” said Chambers, who is originally from Mississippi. “And in my search, I found Alabama A&M, which had a program that was almost 50 years old. I spoke to a few alumni and it seemed like a perfect fit. That’s how I ended up at Alabama A&M University.”

Chambers realized he had a “real knack” for food science, and he says the curriculum at Alabama A&M was tailored to the needs of the students. Over the years he has worked on a number of projects including the food science development team that helped create Alma Mater, Alabama A&M’s collaborative beer with Straight to Ale Brewing in Huntsville.

Food science, says Chambers, gave him an opportunity to combine two passions.

“I’ve always had a love for food. I love to cook and bake,” Chambers said. “My mother can contradict you about the number of times I left her kitchen really dirty when I was a kid. And it kept me in a lot of science programs over the summer, so environmental engineering, chemical engineering, space programs, like everything. She did not believe in idle hands.”

Moving on, Chambers spotted Alton Brown. Aside from sharing the same name as the television host, chef, and author, Brown was one of Chambers’ first introductions to the concept of food science.

“His show Good Eats is basically science. And I didn’t know that then. But as I matriculated through high school, I found that was really fascinating.”

He soon learned about the college major while researching majors with his sister, who ran a business focused on helping students find scholarships.

“I thought that was too good to be true,” Chambers said. “Definitely a kind of match made in heaven. That sparked my interest in food science.”

In addition to working in this field, Chambers hopes to inspire other people to consider majoring.

“There aren’t many African Americans or people of color in food science,” Chambers said. “It’s also a great field.”

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