Profile: Stephanie Skotidas
There is a common biology experiment that involves extracting DNA from an onion. Why an onion? Given the low starch content of the vegetable, the DNA can be seen more clearly when isolated. Plus, anyone can do it in his or her own kitchen with a few household chemicals.
Stephanie Skotidas’ high school class had been learning about DNA, but as soon as she discovered the link between science and food, after spooling the onion DNA, she was “hooked.”
“It was amazing to see how the things we were learning in class could be applied in the real world and to have that tangible evidence of what we had only been learning the theoretical side of,” says the Research Lab Technician with Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre.
From there, she started her education in chemistry, biology and analytical instrumentation. After receiving a diploma in Food and Drug Technology from Durham College, she continued her studies to obtain a bachelor’s degree in Life Sciences from McMaster University.
“It was amazing to see how the things we were learning in class could be applied in the real world and to have that tangible evidence of what we had only been learning the theoretical side of.”
She was drawn to product development, working for Sensient Flavors Canada as a R&D Food Technologist for almost seven years. She also spent time as an Assistant Winemaker with Andrew Peller Ltd.
A highlight while at Sensient was creating the “Tubes” branded yoghurt and then seeing it on the shelves in the grocery store. It was the first of many items she developed that made their way into people’s homes.
“The first time I saw something I made on the shelf, I did a little dance in the grocery store and a lady who saw me said ‘Oh that must be really good!’ and I said ‘It is… you should buy it!’”
It also gave her family more of an appreciation for what her job entailed, she says. “And it was a tangible measure of what I did all day and how it affected real people.”
Together with the applied research projects she’s called upon to help with, Stephanie focuses on the technical services offered through the CFWI Innovation Centre, such as microbiology and chemical analytical lab testing, shelf-life testing, food and beverage quality and product development.
Today, she has come full circle since high school and has returned to what hooked her in the first place: putting theoretical learning into real-world practice. In her role at the college, Stephanie is responsible for maintaining all the state-of-the-art equipment within the Research & Innovation labs. She also works collaboratively with students, faculty and industry partners.
She is also now proficient at hops and beer analysis, something she rather enjoys. This past summer, she helped with a major R&I project for the Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB), which saw her do the bulk of testing on some 1,000 cans of beer.
Even so, the most exciting endeavour is just ahead – the imminent opening of the College’s Marotta Family Innovation Complex, where an entire floor will directly support applied research and world-class training specifically for the wine, beer, spirits and non-alcoholic beverage sectors in Niagara.
“I can’t wait to get my hands on all the new and innovative equipment we will be getting and sharing that knowledge with our students and industry partners.”
And, thanks to provincial and federal grants, the R&I team is currently purchasing additional leading-edge equipment to handle even more research. Through the Beverage Innovation Excellence research program, the new technology will equip three distinct research labs, and extend Stephanie’s responsibilities further.
“I’m so excited for all the new things that are coming,” she says. “In particular I can’t wait to get my hands on all the new and innovative equipment we will be getting and sharing that knowledge with our students and industry partners. It will be such an asset to have that space to work in.”
Stephanie lives in Smithville with her husband, four children (ages 2, 6, 8 and 10), a dog, a cat, 11 chickens, some bunnies and a fish pond. In her spare time, she has returned to running after a short hiatus and is a volunteer with Girl Guides of Canada.
The family also grows their own vegetables … including onions.