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2 Cups Flour and 3 Cups Chemistry: Sheena Hilton’s Recipe for Happiness

When she’s not on the third floor of the Gelb Science Center teaching properties of chemistry and mixing beakers of chemical compounds, Sheena Hilton, Instructor in Chemistry, is mixing flour, eggs and milk in the kitchen to create delectable desserts. It is with these dual interests that Hilton will take a leave of absence next year to pursue a Master of Science degree in food science and technology at Cornell University. Hilton already has a Bachelor of Science in chemistry and a Master of Arts in chemistry. For a faculty member to take a sabbatical, he or she must have been teaching at Andover for at least five years. Hilton has only been at Andover for three, so she is taking a leave of absence. Hilton plans to pursue a two-year-long graduate program; taking a sabbatical would require her to come back to Andover after only one year. A leave of absence is more flexible and will allow Hilton to apply for an extension so that she can complete the two-year program. “I’m obviously very interested in chemistry, but I also do a lot of baking. I bake for all the girls’ birthdays in my dorm. I keep track of numbers, and I’ve made them over 1200 cupcakes this year. But food really interests me, so I wanted to combine my interests in chemistry and food and study food science,” said Hilton. Some of the classes Hilton will be taking at Cornell include Food Chemistry, Wine and Food Fermentations and Agriculture in Developing Nations. “An example of something that one might do in the lab is you might be analyzing a sample of milk for particular proteins that might show a cow has a certain issue. Dairy chemistry is one of the main areas for Food Chemistry at Cornell, so there’s a high probability that I’ll be doing research in that area. If I choose to take a biology class, then I might be working on genetically engineered foods,” said Hilton. Hilton, who currently teaches sections of Chemistry 580 and Chemistry 300, looks forward to exploring how her new degree will affect her teaching. “In 300, I’ll be able to incorporate different types of examples into my daily lecture instead of just using the examples that are frequently given in the textbook. So I can take a principal of, let’s say, acid-base chemistry and use an example of food science to illustrate that topic. And then with 580, after the AP, the syllabus sort of goes away, and it’s the teacher’s choice about what to do, so I’d like to do a mini unit on food science,” said Hilton. While she does love to cook, Hilton’s studies at Cornell will focus on the science behind food rather than time in the kitchen. “It’s all very science-oriented and not culinary at all, which is a little sad because I love the culinary side. One day I might want to go to pastry school, but if I went to pastry school, I would want to learn the science behind what I’m doing. Pastry school would incorporate the science and all the practical stuff together. But this part of the journey is just the science part,” she said. Aside from chemistry and cooking, Hilton has many more interests and hobbies, including aerial arts. She hopes to continue pursuing her other interests at Cornell, but also to engage in other new activities. “I am going back to a school environment. It’s like what you [students] do here! There are lots of opportunities to join different groups and clubs. I like things related to fitness, so maybe I’ll join a step team,” said Hilton.