Get to Know BIO Alum Derrick Townsend


CAS Alum Derrick Townsend, Biology 1996

Your name, major, and year of graduation:
Derrick Townsend, Biology 1996

What are you doing now?
I am currently a Quality Ingredient Manager for The Kellogg Company. I manage a portfolio of ingredients including vitamins, spices and seasonings, and sweeteners by assuring the materials we purchase are safe and meet the needs of our food developers and manufacturing facilities for use in our breakfast, frozen and snack foods. I get to visit supplier manufacturing locations to foster a cooperative working relationship between our suppliers and Kellogg’s. I get to work on complex projects with a cross section of experts from various fields including engineers, food scientists, marketing directors and regulatory experts. My role is extremely rewarding and a lot of fun – and how many people can say they work for Tony the Tiger?

How did your University of Michigan-Flint education prepare you for what you are doing now?
I am frequently recognized for having a critical mind and for being able to analyze processes. Often I am called upon to help improve a business process or evaluate a technical problem and provide solutions. UM-Flint provided me with the skills necessary to be successful in these tasks from a scientific perspective but also as someone who can get results in cross functional team environment.

Who made the biggest impact on your UM-Flint career and life?
I would have to credit two people who really had an influence on me. Dr. Kathy Lavoie (no longer at UM-Flint) and Ernie Szuch taught me how to be a critical thinker in the classroom, in the lab and in the field. I also learned a great deal from them after I graduated and was working as an adjunct in the Biology department. They taught me how to dig deeper into a question and not settle for the “easy answer.” I believe my critical thinking skills have allowed me to be successful in my professional career.

What is the value of UM-Flint professors developing curricula in which classroom learning & concepts are applied to real world situations?
UM-Flint is unique in this way. Many of my peers in graduate school and colleagues in my career did not have the same opportunities for interaction with professors outside the classroom that I was fortunate to have. Hands-on research experience as an undergraduate was definitely an advantage for me coming out of school. The benefit for students is to be able to explore your capabilities while still having a very close mentoring relationship with faculty. In addition, these opportunities might spark an interest in an area you might not otherwise get to explore.

Can you describe a firsthand example of an engaged learning experience at UM-Flint?
I was often fortunate enough to be able to travel with faculty to Mammoth Cave in central Kentucky and assist with research there. This experience taught me that research is hard – it doesn’t come easy. I learned that research is often slow and that it takes time to develop sound conclusions. It also gave me an appreciation for the behind the scenes work underway in many of our national parks in an effort to better understand their biology and ecology – all in an effort to help preserve these resources. Personally for me, it solidified a love of the outdoors and an appreciation for our natural world and its resources.

What does UM-Flint do better than any other university?
I think UM-Flint should take pride in the rigor of the academic programs offered. In my experience, the faculty at UM-Flint are there because they want to teach. They want students to get a good solid foundation in their respective disciplines and be successful after graduation. Because of this, they work hard at providing a top notch educational experience. This was explicitly evident to me in graduate school when I realized I had a much better foundation in biology and a more well-rounded education than many of my peers.

What advice would you give to an incoming UM-Flint freshman?
Become involved and engaged in the university culture. When you enter college you become part of a community. This is especially true at UM-Flint. Take advantage of this fact. Join a club – in my time at UM-Flint I was a member of the Biological Sciences Club, the Pre-Med Club, Amnesty International, and Student Government Council. Get to know the faculty – I developed some wonderful relationships with many of the faculty in the Biology department while I was a student. Often, this opens doors to opportunities for research or jobs in the departments. Get to know the staff in your department – the admins and support staff in the departments can be a great resource as you navigate through your education. Find a job on campus – I can’t even remember all the various jobs I had in different offices on campus – Computer Lab monitor, Advising assistant, Orientation, and Lab Assistant are just a few. This is a great way to meet people from other departments. Most of all – enjoy the experience. Trust me, once you’re done – you’ll miss the place!

How would you describe “the UM-Flint of the future”?
Considering that it has been almost 20 years since I was a student, I think what UM-Flint has become today is on the trajectory of what I would have imagined as “UM-Flint of the future” when I graduated. I am happy to see there is now a residence hall on campus – this was being talked about while I was there. I am also very impressed to see all of the graduate degrees now being offered. In my opinion, UM-Flint has taken great strides toward expanding their reach and increasing the breadth of their influence.

If I would describe “UM-Flint of the future” after today, I would expect increased investment in facilities and technology. Wouldn’t it be great to have a natural history or science museum on campus? What about an astronomy program with a high powered telescope facility! How about an enology/viticulture or brewing degree? How about an agronomy or food science program to educate scientists who can create solutions for the world’s agricultural, food and nutrition concerns?

I would absolutely expect UM-Flint to focus on meeting the needs of society by continuing to offer variety and rigor in the programs of study and by conducting meaningful research in order to better our world. Whatever UM-Flint becomes in the next years and decades, I am confident that it will be done with excellence and the result will be greatness and I look forward to what’s to come. GO BLUE!!!

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