Research at a Glance

Expanding graduate education, job opportunities for students

Vanessa Whitmore grew up on a farm near Shelby, Nebraska. She became interested in food science in high school and earned an undergraduate degree in the field in 2020, then spent a year in a temporary teaching position at UNL.

“I loved talking about science with people,” said Whitmore, who then worked for Smithfield Foods in Crete, Nebraska. She decided to pursue a master’s degree, and when Cargill approached the university looking to fund a student through the National GEM Consortium, Whitmore was selected, beginning her fellowship in May 2023.

Nebraska rejoined the National GEM Consortium last fall, having previously been involved several decades ago. GEM offers master’s and doctoral students access to most of the top engineering and science firms and universities in the nation. The program particularly focuses on students underrepresented in graduate education.

Vanessa Whitmore

Whitmore is the first GEM applicant and fellow in Nebraska’s renewed membership, said Alisha Hanshaw, assistant dean of graduate enrollment in the Office of Graduate Studies. The program can cover students’ tuition and expenses, ideally through funding from industry partners, but if not, the university partially supports selected students.

“We’re trying to get more creative with funding. Often, people see the price tag before they see other options and think graduate school is not for them,” Hanshaw said.

Hanshaw would like to have five participants next year and, eventually, 20 a year. She also wants to identify GEM alumni at UNL and build a community “to establish an additional layer of support for the students while they’re here.”

The program is in building mode, said Joy Eakin, entrepreneurship program manager for NUtech Ventures and the university’s primary contact with industry partners.

“Once we determine the industry partners that are most interested in combining efforts with us to prepare graduate students for future employment, we can start working backward to start recruiting those specific students,” Eakin said.

Many students go on to work full time in the sponsoring companies.

“This is a great partnership between the university and industry to help educate future engineers and scientists,” said Brad Roth, executive director of NUtech Ventures and associate vice chancellor for technology development.

As for Whitmore, she hopes to build on her fellowship for a career in legal or regulatory compliance in the food industry.

+ Additional content for Expanding graduate education, job opportunities for students

News release: University joins GEM Consortium