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Staff Spotlight: Connecting Food Safety and Microbiology

Mary Mendoza in her lab

There’s a lot of critical research at NC State that goes on without fanfare and it’s done by hard-working, dedicated staff members. One of those staff members supports microbiology research that helps keep food safe.

Mary Mendoza is a Research Specialist in Hosni Hassan’s lab. She gave us some insights into the lab’s work and her own path to NC State.

What is your role at NC State?

I am a Research Specialist. Our lab is a microbiology lab in the poultry science department.

As the lab manager, I oversee the daily activities of the lab and the people in it. This includes at various time undergraduate students, graduate students and post-docs. Although my job is specific to my lab, I also help out within the department.

I have served roles on the safety committee as well as the social committee and help out at events put on by PDPS such as Farm Animal Days and the NC State Fair poultry booth.

Tell us about your work.

Our lab’s current focus is Salmonella in poultry.

We are interested in ways to enhance the natural microbiome through prebiotics and probiotics to prevent Salmonella colonization as well as the use of a live attenuated vaccine.

Our work is done in vitro in the lab as well as in vivo with the use of layer pullets.

What’s the most important thing for people to know about the work you do?

Research is such an important part of our society. It is because of research that society has evolved to where we are today.

Food safety research is especially critical. We need to trust that what we are going to eat is not also going to make us sick! Food safety research allows us to do that.

The specific research of our lab focuses on ways to keep Salmonella out of the live bird, thereby keeping it out of our poultry food sources such as eggs and meat.

How did you get into your current position?

I graduated from University of Maryland, College Park in 2005 with a B.S. in Biology.

I went on to do research in a lab at the National Institute of Health in the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) for 3 years as a post-baccalaureate. Upon completion of the 3-year program, I applied for my position with Dr. Hosni Hassan who was in Microbiology at NC State at the time (Fall 2008).

In the summer of 2013, our lab moved to the Prestage Department of Poultry Science.

Are you doing anything new in the last year? Is there anything you do now that you never would have seen yourself doing when you started your job?

In 2012, Dr. Hassan was awarded a 5-year USDA grant (with a 1-year extension) that focused on Salmonella in poultry. In the last year, we have been finishing up the research and analyzing samples and data.

The fun part of any research position is you never know what you will be doing in the future. Studies change or take a different direction, new protocols come out, new discoveries are made. Many things can affect what we do in the future, often times things we never imagined!

When I first joined Dr. Hassan’s lab, I never imagined we would end up doing research with poultry, but that is where the research took us.

People often think of faculty and students when they think of universities. What should people know about staff positions in universities?

Staff are generally the people who are the glue that hold everyone together.

As a staff member, I am the connection between the faculty and the students that work in the lab. I can take care of things in the lab for my PI that frees up his time to work on other stuff. I am the person that is always in lab for when students have questions or need assistance.

Any Interesting or unusual hobbies outside work?

My family and I enjoy horseback riding, soccer and many outdoor activities.

Final thoughts?

I really like my position. I like that I am sort of the middle ground in that people depend on me, but that I also depend on others like my boss.

Dr Hassan has been a great person to work for and I feel lucky to have been chosen for the position 10 years ago.