Morgan joined Hudsonville Creamery and Ice Cream as the product development scientist in October 2016. In other words: she's the woman behind the flavors and creamy texture of the iconic West Michigan treat.
"How do you get a cool job like that?" you ask.
Could you share a bit about your education and background? What inspired you to become an engineer?
I grew up on a ranch, so sometimes you never had the tools you really needed so you just had to make it up as you went along. I think that's a lot of what engineering really is—you have to figure out which tools you have available and then how to fix the problem. It's a lot of problem-solving.
I got my bachelor's in chemical engineering from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, which was so much fun. After that, I was a startup engineer. I worked in polycrystalline silicon—all the microelectronics in cellphones and in solar panels. I worked at a plant where they made the raw materials for that.
They laid everyone off, so I decided it was time for me to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life—and that was food. Growing up in a rural area, you really had to rely on what you had at hand. I just thought that was something we would always need as humans. We would always need to feed ourselves. I wanted to do something that would help people for a long time.
I went back to grad school at University of Wisconsin in Madison and decided to get a master's in food science. That was really cool, because I worked with a professor who was also a chemical engineer who was able to teach me how to incorporate that with my food science education.
My first job after grad school was as a process engineer for a cornstarch manufacturer. Once I decided I wanted to use my food science degree a little bit more, I realized that in my time as a graduate student, I had a dairy technology course that taught me a lot about how ice cream was made and I kind of just fell in love with the really cool way ice cream comes together—it's this really awesome matrix of water, sugar and air and how they all whip together to make this amazing, delicious treat. So, I focused my search on ice cream companies and found Hudsonville.
As a female in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) what challenges do you face?
There were always some challenges—especially when I was a little bit younger—with not being taken too seriously. My method to deal with that is just to know more. Know more than somebody else. So they understand and respect that you have the knowledge to help fix the problem. And then also being understanding and open to others' opinions. Don't overshadow somebody. It makes it easier when you show your vulnerabilities. They're more likely to take you seriously.
What does a product development scientist do?
It's kind of a really fun job. You never know what's going to happen. I could be going to the Grand Hotel and making them an exclusive flavor, or I could be on the floor fixing a problem with a heat exchanger.
What's the science behind ice cream?
It's really milk/water, sugar and air. Those are the bases. That's basically what makes up ice cream. They can't all be separated. They have to all be intermixed into a matrix.
It starts out with fresh milk and cream. We get our milk and cream from local dairies. That's very important—to have very good starting raw material. Milk fat, or butterfat, is one of the most important parts of ice cream because, in order to be called legal ice cream, you have to have at least 10 percent milk fat. That comes from that fresh milk and cream. You can't really replicate that with other things.
We also have a really great sugar supply, so it's nice and smooth. Sugar makes it sweet, but it also depresses the freezing point of water so it's not rock-hard.
Air is one of the most forgotten ingredients in ice cream. You're turning it and whipping it and you're adding the air. That's what makes it all fluffy and delicious and not just rock-solid frozen milk and sugar.
What do you love about your job?
I really just like working with the people here. You never know what's going to happen, and everyone is always focused on the goal of getting it done right and safely. We all want to make delicious ice cream for our customers. That's our goal: to make people happy with our ice cream.
What's the secret to good ice cream?
We've been making it since 1926, so we do have a tried and true formula. Ice cream really does come back to that formula—which is important for a product developer to understand why you have to add certain things in certain ratios.
Our secret lies in a really great formula and a lot of really good technology, so we can make it properly, efficiently and put it into containers and freeze it really quickly to lock in all that good flavor.
Heard you brought back the original 1940s creamery blend vanilla ice cream. Why?
We came out with a new packaging—a new, refreshed look that shows on the outside how premium our ice cream is on the inside. In changing the outside, we wanted to show people we are staying true to our heritage and goodness. We wanted to bring back that delicious classic flavor. Balance out the new with the old.
What's your favorite flavor?
Belgian Cookie Butter. I'm a huge fan of cookie butter. I guess it's a good thing for my job that I have a sweet tooth.
Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for West Michigan Woman.