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The Tangerine

The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

Utica faculty tours Sovena aimed potential partnership

Members of the group that tour Sovena sitting around a table. Photo courtesy of Dr. Alyssa Thomas.

Several Utica University staff members toured the Sovena olive oil facility in August, in hopes of establishing a potential internship partnership with the company based in Rome. 

Dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Sharon Wise, who was one of the faculty members on the tour, said the company gave them an overview of operations and they were able to connect with Utica University alumni who work at Sovena. 

 “They sat down and talked about what they do, how big they are, what they produce,” Wise said. “They gave us an olive oil tasting demonstration, too, along with a full tour of the factory.”

According to Wise, the tour ended with the group entering the laboratory, where they saw the process of quality control headed by three scientists all of whom are Utica University graduates. 

Alyssa Thomas, another attendee and co-chair of the Chemistry Department, said the presentation was comforting to her as a former professor of the scientists. 

“Students can be nervous in the power dynamic of professor and student,” Thomas said. “So it was really great to hear them talk about their day-to-day operations, show us the lab, talk about the instruments. They were the ones taking ownership of their field and showing us how things worked.” 

According to Thomas, the former students were primed for success within their positions at Sovena due to their knowledge of the equipment. 

“We are really heavy in terms of instrumentation here. So our students have familiarity with software, putting together samples and what it takes to do so,” Thomas said. “ It makes them adaptable, as even if they may not have used a specific instrument before, they have the problem-solving skills to work with it.”

Isabella Lewis, a quality laboratory technician at Sovena, is one of the alumni. She said the tour served as a way to show off her success to her professors post-graduation. 

“The tour with [Utica University] employees was a nice opportunity to show past professors and other school personnel what we alumni are doing out in an industry job,” Lewis said. “It’s not something that I’ve experienced often so far in my time here, but I would love to continue to be able to do that.”

Lewis said her education at Utica was vital to her being in the position she’s in now not just due to getting a degree but because of the experience she gained from her classes. 

“My professors provided me with knowledge about safe laboratory practices, and overall, how to work in a laboratory environment,” Lewis said. “Of course, there are a handful of things that I had to learn on the job rather than at school, but my chemistry professors gave me the tools necessary to be able to easily pick up that information once I got here.”

Aleha Malorzo, another Utica University alumni and quality analyst at Sovena, recalled her time doing lab work in college. 

“A lot of our techniques that we do daily are techniques we learned in organic chemistry lab,” Malorzo said. “For example, if we’re looking for our cholesterol levels in a specific oil, we have a specific technique that will help us take out the cholesterol level in oil. We then use gas chromatography to determine what the cholesterol is.” 

Kelsea Bates, the third alumni and quality control scientist, said working for Sovena has been a learning experience. 

“I have been able to learn so much about oils as well as further my chemistry and instrumental learning while working here,” Bates said. “The company and all the people we work with are also great and make the experience fun.”

Bates, along with the other Utica graduates, recently presented to a Utica University chemistry senior seminar class and analytical laboratory class, aimed at heightening students’ interest in the sciences. 

“We wanted to make connections with the UU students and be able to answer any questions they might have about what it is like to get an industry job after graduation,” Bates said. 

As for the potential partnership building between Utica and Sovena, Kaliea Murray, director of the Center of Career Readiness, said faculty discussed how Utica could build a “proper” internship pipeline with Sovena. 

“We would work with their human resources department,” Murray said. “We’d get the word out [to Utica University students] about job opportunities, whether it’s to shadow for a day or a full-blown internship.”

Alexis Racioppa, career coach for students majoring in arts, sciences, and education, said Sovena proposed sending samples to Utica University as one way the company could interact with students.  

“That way, students could perform some of the hands-on testing for them, and gain practice in their field that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Racioppa said. 

Regardless of the form the partnership takes, Sovena wants to have a healthy and collaborative relationship with Utica University students, according to Malorzo.

“I think one thing I’m personally looking to build is a great and comfortable relationship with chemistry students, as well as an ongoing relationship with the faculty,” Malorzo said. “I think being able to have ongoing communication with each other is super important, especially because we are all chemists and it is nice to keep in touch about new regulations and research!”

As the partnership continues to develop Lewis wants to make sure that students now in the position she was not too long ago know that success is possible. 

“I was nervous about having to work in the ‘real world’ after school,” Lewis said. “Just know that you will end up where you have to be, and you will be successful in whatever you do as long as you work hard to get there.”

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Kayden Lamphere
Kayden Lamphere, Special Assignment Reporter

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