Meet Pamela Vaillancourt. She’s a WSU grad, food scientist, quality assurance expert, industry advocate, college bowl judge, student mentor, loyal Coug and, now, a recipient of the CAHNRS Women’s Leadership Award for Community Leadership and Public Service.
“She has been a leader in our professional community at the regional and national level for over 30 years,” said WSU food science professor Barbara Rasco in her nomination letter. While currently serving as vice president for business development and sales at Tate & Lyle, one of the largest providers of food and beverage products in the world, Vaillancourt (M.S. Food Science, ’73) fondly remembers her time at WSU.
“I worked at Finch’s grocery store,” she said, “and then at the Best Western Pantry as a pastry chef as part of putting myself through college. I belonged to the Food Science Club, and I did a brief stint at Ferdinand’s Creamery as part of a study requirement in dairy science. These experiences definitely nourished my interest in the food industry. Then, with some help from my WSU professors, I was able to secure a summer internship with the Safeway dairies, which really fueled my desire to work in some aspect of food science.”
Vaillancourt is active in many professional organizations, but in 1993 she was selected to participate in the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) pilot program conducted by the New England Fishery Development Program, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and the FDA, in cooperation with the National Restaurant Association. This inaugural food safety program led to the development of the current HACCP criteria for food safety that is now used by food service establishments across the country, and that has also been adopted internationally.
However, one of Vaillancourt’s most rewarding relationships has been with the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), particularly their student association. “Pam has spent countless hours organizing, moderating, and speaking at conferences and seminars at universities across the Pacific Northwest, including WSU,” one ITF member said. Vaillancourt has also proved to be an accomplished fundraiser as well, and her efforts have resulted in making several student scholarships possible.
Vaillancourt served as the western regional judge for the IFT Student Association’s College Bowl Competition from 2000 – 2007 and continues to serve as one of three judges for the Association’s National Bowl. In 2009, Vaillancourt was bestowed ITF’s highest honor by being named an ITF Fellow in recognition for her “active leadership among food industry principals, her significant contributions to industry quality assurance and product development fields, her active involvement in the food science community, and her passion to foster student opportunities through ITF.”
Vaillancourt is always meeting food science students through the ITF and relishes her role as mentor and friend to students seeking career guidance. “I tell them to call me. If they want help, I’m there. I have one of those Type A personalities,” Vaillancourt admitted, “which makes it hard to not just push on through. [As a student,] I took too many classes, really over did it, and it set me back,” she said. “Learning to pace myself, and learning to listen to advice was very difficult for me, but they were important things to learn.”
Even though Vaillancourt knows that hard work is a key ingredient in anyone’s recipe for success, she suggests that students throw in some other important ingredients — like fun, friendship and, of course, good food. She also advises students to savor the time they spend at college so they don’t miss the unique flavor of their experience. “We only have so much time,” she said.
For Vaillancourt, being a Coug means “being prideful, and rightfully so. My classmates and I got a wonderful education, so we have great jobs and we’re working in our chosen fields. And I met my future husband in a local restaurant here,” she said with a smile, before adding one last thing: “The Misfits Steakhouse was the place to go.”
By Kathryn Ryan