Skonberg Specializes in Seafood

Dr. Denise Skonberg, this month’s recipient of the Alumni Association’s Faculty Excellence Award, has a particular interest in the processing of seafood, improving its quality and minimizing waste. Skonberg, an associate professor of food science, joined the UMaine faculty in 1997.  She shares her thoughts on teaching, research, student success, and enjoying life in Maine.  

In layperson’s terms, what are your academic interests?   
I am interested in food processing technologies and approaches that improve the sustainability of the seafood sector. My specific interests are in reducing waste, generating value-added by-products, and developing high quality foods from our valuable (and finite) aquatic food resources.

Why did you choose to pursue those interests? 
All of our food resources, whether wild or farmed-raised, are too valuable to waste. It’s important to get back to a zero-waste mindset, but consumers and the food industry need help getting there. I enjoy conducting applied research to help address these issues and collaborating with stakeholders to find solutions that can work in the real world. 

What is your most memorable event or experience as a member of the UMaine faculty?
I advise food science student teams in national competitions, and one of my most memorable experiences was when our team won the Institute of Food Technologists Product Development competition. It’s a very intense experience in which students develop a new food product idea from concept through marketing and production. Our teams have won other national and regional competitions since then, but that was the first time we beat teams from huge programs (e.g., Cornell, Penn State, UC Davis) and it was a real “aha” moment for all of us. 

Of all the courses you’ve taught at UMaine, which one do you enjoy the most? Why?
That’s a hard one. I enjoy all my courses, particularly when my students are really engaged. However, Food Chemistry is probably my favorite topic, since it encourages senior students to apply their knowledge of food science and fundamental chemistry to address food quality challenges. 

 What is your favorite place on campus to spend time?
Actually, it’s my office in Hitchner Hall; my little home away from home.  I also enjoy the ski trails in the University Forest, although I don’t spend nearly enough time there. 

Aside from your faculty role, what are your interests or favorite things to do? 
My favorite pastime is exploring Maine’s lakes and rivers by canoe with my husband and our dog. I also love rock climbing, growing vegetables, and reading science fiction.

What advice for students do you have to help them succeed?Although doing well in coursework is an important priority, I also encourage students to take advantage of the many extracurricular opportunities available at UMaine.  Sometimes it’s the skills and networks developed through these activities that facilitate success, in ways that can often surprise you. Stay in touch with your department after graduation.  Faculty can be a valuable resource for future employment leads, and we love to hear how our former students are doing!