For Whitney Bembenick, involvement in FFA was the catalyst for her career. As research and development manager for Endangered Species Chocolate in Indianapolis, Bembenick credits the organization with helping her realize her ultimate passion – food science.
“All the time I spent in FFA really helped me learn about all aspects of agriculture and the food supply chain,” Bembenick says. “It also flagged my application when I was applying for college. Because of my activities, I had agriculture programs from different schools contacting me. This led to lots of great scholarship opportunities.”
Bembenick was a member of the Edgewood FFA Chapter in Butler County, Ohio, and also participated in 4-H. Through the organizations, she raised and showed pigs every summer, and even earned the title of Butler County Pork Industry Queen in 2003.
A Budding Interest
Her love and knowledge of agriculture led her to Purdue University, where she started her journey in food science.
“I was really intrigued by their program,” Bembenick says. “There are many avenues of food science, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at first, but by graduation, I was confident I wanted to go into research and development.” She adds that when learning about the field, someone told her that people are always going to need to eat, so no matter what aspect you choose, you’re providing food for people. “That really resonated with me,” she says.
Though she was sure that research and development was the path for her, through internships and job opportunities, Bembenick explored other paths of food science as well. She worked with major companies including Frito-Lay, and had the chance to study more about the science of chocolate and confectionaries at another job. After falling in love with the sweet product, she began working at Endangered Species Chocolate, where’s she’s been for about two years.
“I began the R&D Department at Endangered Species,” Bembenick says.
A major undertaking and accomplishment, Bembenick brought the company’s latest product, crème-filled dark chocolate bars, to life.
“They always had the idea for them, but I was responsible for materializing how we would actually do it to create a shelf-stable product. I brought it to life from a formula and application standpoint,” she says.
The bars are the first natural, dairy-free, crème-filled chocolate bars of their kind, and come in flavors such as Almond Butter Crème Filled, Sea Salt and Lime Crème Filled, Blueberry Vanilla Crème Filled and more.
Made with all-natural ingredients, Bembenick says her background in agriculture and understanding sustainability helped her with the product development of the chocolate bars. This knowledge stemmed from FFA. But her time with FFA was about more than just agriculture.
“FFA teaches amazing disciplines for any career path you want to go into,” she says. “I was very involved in public speaking, which helped me in my college classes as well as future job interviews. It builds professionalism and gives you a solid foundation for your future.”
Bembenick does her best to stay connected with her chapter, and FFA in general, by keeping in touch with her high school advisor. She’s also had the opportunity to judge several National FFA Food Science competitions in Indianapolis.
And whether current FFA members are pursuing careers in that field or not, her advice for them is the same.
“I would say to always remember to diversify yourself,” she says. “It will make you more appealing to schools and future employers, and just help you have a well-rounded life overall. FFA is a great organization to help you achieve that. You never know what skills you’ll need later in life that you can learn through FFA, so don’t be afraid of the unknown.”
– Rachel Bertone