Southern Adventist University Collaborates with McKee Foods

Its Chemistry Department is sharing equipment and resources with the local company.

Alexis Dewey, Southern Adventist University
Southern Adventist University Collaborates with McKee Foods
hemists from McKee Foods visit a lab in the Southern Adventist University Chemistry Department, where they can now use equipment for troubleshooting. [Photo: Elias Zabala]

In late September 2023, McKee Foods Corporation, based in Collegedale, Tennessee, United States, contacted Southern Adventist University (SAU)’s Chemistry Department about a potential collaboration. SAU’s chemistry lab has some equipment and instrumentation that McKee Foods does not have, according to Bruce Schilling, chemistry professor.

“We had them come over and tour the Chemistry Department, and some of us went over there and toured the analysis laboratories at McKee Foods,” Schilling said.

Jared Freeman, an analytical chemist at McKee Foods and SAU alumnus, said the equipment at SAU can help them troubleshoot and find issues. “The instrumentation that Southern has is incredibly helpful for troubleshooting, that’s the big thing,” he says. “We have an issue, we don’t know why, and we can take it over here.”

Brent Hamstra, professor and chair of the Chemistry Department, feels that the collaboration with McKee Foods is a great opportunity for students to see how chemistry works in the real world. Hamstra said that chemistry students sometimes have a hard time realizing that a chemistry degree is beneficial for a lot of jobs; going into medicine is not the only option. He believes that students hearing about chemists from McKee Foods using SAU’s instrumentation for real-life problems will help open their eyes to more options.

Jared Freeman (right), an analytical chemist for McKee Foods, speaks to students at Southern Adventist University’s Chemistry Department convocation in January, along with Chris Johnson, leader of the analytical chemistry lab at McKee Foods. [Photo: Elias Zabala]

For a number of years, McKee Foods has offered an internship to a chemistry major each year. Jared Freeman was the first chemistry major from SAU to intern at McKee Foods before he graduated in 2023, and Nathan Dickerhoff, senior chemistry major, is currently interning at McKee Foods. Hamstra said that the interns have had great opportunities to see how chemistry can be applied off-campus and used to solve problems outside of the classroom. This also gives students the awareness that there are jobs available after graduation, which is important to the students, he said.

McKee Foods has visited SAU’s chemistry lab several times to test and receive data, Freeman said. Since SAU has several professors with doctoral degrees, there is a lot of knowledge combined when McKee Foods chemists come to the SAU chemistry lab, he added.

SAU’s Chemistry Department and McKee Foods have talked about the potential for students to take a field trip to the McKee Foods labs next year to learn more about how chemists work in the field. Both SAU’s Chemistry Department and McKee Foods have expressed that they want to continue the collaboration in the future because it is a benefit to both sides. “We want to benefit the department because they have been a big benefit to us,” Freeman said.

Alexis Dewey, Southern Adventist University