Emerging Leaders Network Award Recipients

The IFT Emerging Leaders Network (ELN) is a highly selective global leadership program established for new professionals in the science of food who are eager to expand their leadership skills. The program is designed to bridge the gap between the participant’s academic experience and their on–the–job training.

These award recipients are recognized for demonstrating high potential for success in leadership roles and a strong commitment to the profession. The recipients will be a part of the 2019 Emerging Leaders Network Program at IFT19.

IFT is thrilled to announce the 2019 Emerging Leaders Network Award Recipients!

Oluwafemi Adebo

Oluwafemi Ayodeji Adebo, PhD, University of Johannesburg

Oluwafemi Adebo is a lecturer at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Johannesburg before joining the faculty in late 2018. Adebo is passionate about the science of food, particularly related to the improvement of traditional processes to address hunger and malnutrition, and the search for solutions to the challenges of food insecurity. He actively collaborates with other researchers in this regard and also mentors younger students. Adebo is the recipient of various awards, has published in scientific journals, and has contributed to book chapters. He is a regular volunteer for activities that promote the food science and technology profession and currently is involved in teaching, research, and community engagement initiatives at the University of Johannesburg.

Jennifer Elegbede, PhD

Jennifer Elegbede, PhD

Jennifer Elegbede found food science as a high school student through her participation in the Research Apprentice Program at the University of Illinois. She received her BS from the University of Illinois, MS from Alabama A&M University, and PhD from Purdue University. Her research has primarily focused on functional foods and polyphenol interactions within model food systems while also determining the effects on bioaccessibility. During her career, she has had the opportunity to develop an assortment of products for both retail and foodservice and has co-led the commissioning of a new potato processing facility. At Kellogg, she has led work on early innovation projects for brands such as Kashi Go and the newly launched Hi! Happy Inside, developed course material for the Kellogg Academy, and managed successful external partnerships. Her passion for the field of food science is evident through her desire to share her skills and the profession with others through mentoring and volunteering. A few of her experiences include participating in the CRS Farmer-to-Farmer program, where she led product development and capacity-building training in Nairobi, Kenya; leading events to increase under-represented individuals’ participation in S.T.E.A.M; and mentoring local university students.

Jeffrey Swada, PhD

Jeffrey Swada, PhD, Michigan State University

Jeffrey Swada has had to overcome many challenges to become successful as a student and in his professional career. Throughout his journey, Swada, who is legally blind, was fortunate to have the guidance and support of faculty and advisors to help him reach his full potential. It is his goal as an instructor, advisor, and the director of food science at Michigan State University to continue helping students reach their full potential, just as others have helped him. As W. B. Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Swada strives not only to teach students but to provide them with the necessary skills and resources to learn and to ignite their passion for learning in the courses they take and as they continue to grow and pursue their chosen careers.

Katherine Wilkes

Katherine Wilkes, Walmart US

Kate Wilkes is a product developer at Walmart US in Bentonville, Ark. She is currently applying her background in carbohydrates to the work of the Private Brands Baking and Commodities team. Her food industry experience encompasses production quality, nutrition advocacy, ingredient technology, and foodservice. Wilkes received her MS in food science from the University of Arkansas in 2017 and her BS in food science from Purdue University in 2015.

Claire Zoellner, PhD

Claire Zoellner, PhD, iFoodDecisionSciences, Inc

Claire Zoellner is a food safety scientist at iFoodDecisionSciences, a provider of food safety and process control data management software and analytics. She manages research aimed at developing and delivering pragmatic, science-based tools for the food industry to leverage data in making food safety decisions. Her research integrates microbial contamination data with simulation and risk assessment models to yield actionable information for fresh produce supply chains and food manufacturers to manage food safety risks in production environments. Prior to her employment at iFoodDS, Zoellner received a BS in food science and human nutrition from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a PhD in food science and technology with minors in epidemiology and systems engineering from Cornell University. She also completed a postdoctoral research appointment under Renata Ivanek and Martin Wiedmann at Cornell. Zoellner is active in Phi Tau Sigma and a member of IFT and the International Association for Food Protection.

Past Emerging Leaders Network Recipients:


Emily Golan

Sarah Ardanuy Johnson, PhD, RDN

Poulson Joseph, PhD

Tawanda Muzhingi, PhD

Megan Torline


Akshay Kumar Anugu, PhD

Bicheng Wu, PhD

Diane M Schmitt, PhD

Jean Pankuku, PhD

Rosalee Hellberg, PhD

Please contact awards@ift.org