Erinn Dady's work as a chef leads to a new start in entomology and outreach

Have you ever wondered how plants protect themselves from predators? This is a question Erinn Dady addresses in her research as a graduate student in the Department of Entomology.

Dady grew up in Champaign-Urbana. Prior to becoming a plant researcher she worked for several years in local restaurants, including as the head pastry chef at Hendrick House, a private certified housing complex on campus. It was during her work as a baker and chef that she developed an interest in science.

Esther Ngumbi and Erinn Dady in greenhouse
Esther Ngumbi, left, and Erinn Dady studied plant chemistry.
(Photo By Fred Zwicky.)

“There are a lot of chemical reactions that are constantly happening in the kitchen,” she said in a profile for the Carl E. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. “For example, when you make bread, you combine the wet and dry ingredients and transform them into an entirely new material. It made me realize how much science I did on a regular basis… I loved developing new recipes that could accommodate food allergies and I realized that it was a different way of pursuing science.”

Dady earned her General Education Development Diploma at 16, but eventually she decided to go back to school to earn an associate degree at Parkland Community College.

“I thought, that's it, I’m just going to finish my associate’s degree so that I said I did it,” Dady told the College of LAS for this story. When she was at Parkland, however, she learned about a National Science Foundation research experience for undergraduates operated in collaboration between Parkland and the University of Illinois called the Phenotypic Plasticity Research Experience for Community College Students.


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