Neurobiology to Food & Ag: Industry Immersion Cultivates New Passion

Intense collaboration developing solutions for top executives

If you look at my resume, you’ll see bourbon, neurobiology and marching band all on the same page. Most of the time, it’s even hard for me to come up with an intelligent sound bite to encompass who I really am without it sounding completely random.

My life is “jazzed up” as it is—I’m involved in student leadership, I love to cook in my spare time, and I’ve already changed my mind twice about my future career. Meanwhile, I’ve had multiple existential crises in my first quarter here at UC Davis. But I’ve found my path, thanks to my work in the Food and Agriculture Industry Immersion course.

Discovering, and then following, your passion is not always easy. A career switch or a gutsy collegiate choice can raise questions and second-guessing yourself. For those lucky few, it can work out seamlessly without blinking an eye. For many, it’s difficult to make that decision, knowing you’re funneling your career into a single path.

But believe me, the more I’ve asked these questions, the more I know that most everyone goes through the same type of thing—you’re not alone.

Which brings me to the UC Davis MBA program’s Industry Immersions in food and agriculture, biotechnology, technology finance and sustainable energy.

David Warter
E&J Gallo Director of Spirit Making David Warter MBA 04 assigned students a real-world issue his industry faced.

These courses, which draw on UC Davis’ world-class research strengths, explore the ins and outs of these key industries taught by seasoned executives who bring real business challenges to class.

Industry Deep Dive

Being immersed in the food and ag business has helped me in several ways.

After studying neurobiology as an undergrad, I had not exposed myself to any career options outside of medicine or research. I felt like those were the only paths I could take, so I felt stuck after college.

“Through my MBA and this immersion, I’ve been able to experience areas in which my science and business skillset can be bring value to many different companies. It has given me a chance to experience the industry before I decide to move into it.”

Pan and his MBA teammates helped craft a marketing plan for a new product from Once Upon a Farm.

The opportunity to meet and learn from top professionals in this industry was very important for those of us in the class who lacked direct knowledge of food and agriculture.

Problem Solving for CEOs

UC Davis’ global research prominence in food and agriculture has fostered connections with leading companies across the industry spectrum, including Mattson, H.M. CLAUSE, E.J. Gallo and Coca Cola. Those are connections other schools simply can’t offer.

And, I have been able to directly apply the concepts I have learned in class and collaborate to solve problems posed by the industry executives.

"The coolest part was meeting Justin Shimek, the CEO of Mattson, a food innovation company, where we were able to discuss future food trends and participate in a rapid ideation session to generate concepts for modern, personalized eating platforms."

Every Friday, we are treated to presentations from executive guest speakers who describe a current issue in their company. We break into teams to come up with a creative solution to that real-world issue. This quarter, I was able to apply marketing and organizational strategy concepts from my MBA classes to help our group craft a marketing plan for a new packaged product from Once Upon a Farm. The organic baby food company’s CEO John Foraker, who previously led Annie’s organic foods, presented the live case study.

Once Upon a Farm CEO and Co-Founder John Foraker presented to the Food and Ag Industry Immersion class.

Each class is a proving ground for effective, cross-disciplinary collaboration. After executives like Foraker present the challenge, our five-member team has one hour to put together an idea and a presentation for the executive to critique. Time flies. It can get stressful when you must execute as a group.

Three weeks into the course, my favorite presentation is when we found innovative ways to think about the consumption of Coca Cola.

"We met the CTO of Coca Cola, who challenged us to find sustainable and innovative solutions for their use of plastic. We only had an hour to break it down and deliver a recommendation. In the end, she was able to provide direct feedback and ask questions about our solutions."

Food and AG Future?

Sessions like these have helped me develop a much more realistic sense of the food and ag industry, much more so than relying on my own research.


For someone like me, who doesn’t have a single passion, the immersion experience has given me an outlet to consider different careers. Above all, it has been fun.

Our team is positive and upbeat, and we’ve come up with great ideas. It’s given me a lot more confidence in terms of applying my education and skills in the real world.

I have a feeling the food and agriculture industry is exactly the right place for a “bourbon, neurobiology, marching band” professional.