Natalie Tom

Natalie Tom (’17) wants you to leave your burgers in the fridge for as long as possible. That’s why she spent last summer researching the possibility of extending the shelf life of beef patties with the use of mushrooms.  She was able to dedicate her time and energy towards her research through the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (
) hosted by

SURF is OURCA’s most intensive and comprehensive funding opportunity. Every summer, it supports a group of undergraduate students who are pursuing individual research and creative activity under the guidance of faculty mentors who teach at Chapman University full-time.


Natalie Tom with faculty mentor, Dr. Lilian Were

As a fellow, Natalie was paid to work alongside her mentor, Dr. Lillian Were of the Food Science program for ten weeks this past summer. In addition to conducting her own research, Natalie gathered with fifteen other fellows from a variety of disciplines, ranging from Economics to Theater to Film to Biology, for professional development workshops and faculty research seminars every week.

As Natalie says, most experiment time are spent in “preparation.” To analyze whether or not mushrooms could extend the shelf life of beef patties, Natalie had to hand wash 20 pounds of mushrooms, blanch them, dry them over 24-48 hours, grind them, and then mix them with the beef. The process took two or three days per sample, before testing could even begin. While this could sound tedious, it’s the hands on aspect that attracted her to science after shadowing an accountant in high school and realized she didn’t want to spend her days behind a computer. Food science allows her to tap into her creativity, plus, as she said with a smile, “Food scientists usually get to eat what they make.”

Natalie plans to continue her experiments through this academic year and will jump into the Food Science graduate program as part of the 4+1 plan. She’s applying the skills she learned through SURF, after “becoming a stronger, more intellectual” researcher. She’s now “better at time management, and getting through barriers.” In thinking about graduate school and her future, she added, “Anything I do now won’t be as difficult after SURF. Eight-hours day won’t be anything.”  Ideally, she’d like to become a food scientist for Disney once she completes her degrees.

In addition to working hard in the lab, Natalie also serves as an

OURCA Ambassador
, bringing the numerous research and funding opportunities to other undergraduates on campus! She and the other ambassadors are happy to visit classes and talk to students during campus events.

If you’re a student and want to tap more into your own research or creative interests, head over
to OURCA’s site
to learn more about SURF and all of our funding opportunities!