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Alumni and Friends

Alumni Valentines: Arnie and Kara Sair on Food, Chemistry and Careers

a woman and man wearing red shirts

In the spring of 1999, Kara Sair (nee Lochman) toured NC State campus and the Department of Food Bioprocessing and Nutrition Science (FBNS). The Durham-native was considering graduate school and spent the day meeting with professors and students to get a feel for the program. A group of graduate students joined her tour group for lunch and among them was a tall, sandal-wearing student named Arnie.

“My visit was focused on my career and if this was the right program, but after lunch Arnie handed me his Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) student association card. I had never seen a student with a card before,” Kara says. “Maybe there was a little chemistry, but that certainly wasn’t why I chose NC State.”

“Well, Kara’s decision was of course about choosing the best graduate program, but I’m pretty sure that lunch and the IFT card factored into her decision,” Arnie says. “A few months later she started the program and walked by my lab on what happened to be my birthday. I invited her to come out with a group of friends that were helping me celebrate.”

“That group, by the way, were all couples in the department. Arnie and I were the only single people there and naturally sat by each other and talked the whole time,” Kara says. “We went on our first official date about a week later.”

Some twenty years later, Arnie and Kara credit FBNS with not just their personal success in the food science industry, but with the spark that started a long marriage.

The real scoop

The Sairs were part of a close cohort in the FBNS graduate program who worked in labs and traveled to conferences together. As part of the Food Science Club, they worked together at the NC State Fair, where Kara managed the Dairy Bar (now Howling Cow) one fall. 

“It was a great management experience,” Kara says. “It was my job to make sure we had all the right equipment, all the flavors and to drive everything over to the fairgrounds. I managed all the student shifts, making sure they knew what they were supposed to scoop as much as they could into the cup so patrons were getting what they paid for. It was like learning to run a business, but to this day I remember the cold hand from scooping at the NC State Fair.”

They helped organize trips to Anheuser-Busch and other companies to learn about manufacturing. They learned to foster personal and professional relationships that they enjoy to this day.“

“Kara and I are not the only couple from that time to come out of not only having degrees, but having marriage certificates as well,” Arnie says. The cohort stayed close, participating in each other’s weddings, and working together in the industry during the years since they graduated.

Learn more about Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences graduate programs.

“We really got two great things out of FBNS: the friendships and the professional piece,” Kara agrees. “The recruitment out of the industry was exceptional. A lot of industry professionals visited with lecturers and there was the added benefit of having interviews, opportunities for internships and even jobs. Pretty much everybody we know that went through state took advantage of those opportunities, and that’s essentially how we ended up in our first jobs.” 

Twenty or so years later the Sairs enjoy successful careers in the food science industry and a successful marriage. Their graduate degrees from FBNS earned them both positions at General Mills and then Signature Brands following graduation. Currently, they live in St. Louis where Arnie is the head of global quality and food safety at Bunge and Kara is the director of growth strategy for Panera Bread.

“The department and Food Science Club partnered very closely together to create all of these opportunities for students: managing the dairy bar, the IFT student association, the undergrad and graduate research paper competitions, the Food Science Trivia Bowl, the product development conference,” Arnie says. “As a student, it’s important which lab you work in and what the academia looks like, but being able to be a part of all of these other extracurricular activities, is what undoubtedly sets those students up for even greater success when they get out into the marketplace.”

A program that fosters professional and personal opportunity is perhaps what sets FBNS apart from its competitors. For Arnie and Kara Sair, it prepared them for the lab, careers and a long partnership.

“Our experience in FBNS was an education beyond anything we’d had before” Kara says. “Beyond the knowledgeable professors, internships and extracurricular opportunities, it was fun. That was perhaps the most key component.”