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Young alumni

Gemma Scown

24 July 2023

BE(Hons) Chemical and Processing Engineering 2019

Senior Technologist at Fonterra


Although there is progress, men still significantly outnumber women in engineering – can you tell us about your experience from that perspective, and what inspired you to study engineering?

I went to an all-girls high school so I was fortunate to be taught from a young age that women can achieve anything, and no career is off-limits. I loved problem-solving and did well in subjects like physics, biology, and maths so a degree in Engineering was a clear path for me. Once I started my degree, I must admit I was surprised by how much men outnumbered women in the lecture hall and in the Engineering faculty. Still, I met plenty of women across the Engineering disciplines – many I am still friends with today.

I am so happy to see the number of women in Engineering increasing, and we are seeing that reflected in the number of female graduate engineers joining Fonterra!

You’ve been working with Fonterra since you finished your studies - what does a Senior Technologist actually do with their day?

I started in the Co-op through the Fonterra Technical Graduate Programme, which is a yearlong deep dive into all things Fonterra. Over the year we work towards our Masters in Dairy Science and Technology which is offered through Massey University in Palmerston North and exclusive to Fonterra.

While on the programme, I discovered I enjoy working closely with our products, which is how I ended up working in the Product Technical team. My team focuses on Fonterra’s Protein and Specialty portfolio, but there are similar teams that manage our other product offerings such as cream, milk powder, and cheese.

A large part of my job is working on Commercialisation and New Product Development projects. I take ideas that have been tested at a pilot scale at our Research and Development Centre and test them at a large scale in one of our commercial factories. It is really rewarding to see my work being implemented, and then see the benefit to the customer which flows into the financial benefit for the Co-op.

Outside of those projects, I work on improvement projects within our factories. I aim to optimise the product and process to extract as much value out of the New Zealand milk as possible. We are always trying to improve, and I find it very rewarding working for a Co-op that is committed to being a leader in sustainability.

This pandemic has taught us that we need to be agile and flexible, but do you have any career goals in mind for the next 5 or so years?

I have always struggled with this question! There are so many opportunities within Fonterra, but given I am early in my career I’ve decided to build a strong product knowledge base that I can draw on for the rest of my career. The various lockdowns have taught me that I enjoy working with people, so perhaps a role where I get to engage with Fonterra’s key markets and customers would excite me. I want to work overseas for a few years, but I think I will wait a bit longer for the pandemic to pass.

Any words of encouragement to current high school students looking to move away from home to study at UC?

When I was approaching the end of high school, my parents insisted I move away from home and I am so glad they did. My friends from UC are now my closest friends - I think there is something about being in a new city, away from home creates a bond between your peers like no other. I would recommend moving away from home, especially to UC to anyone that asked!

Do you have any favourite spots you would recommend for a new grad moving to Hamilton?

Through the Fonterra Technical Graduate Programme, I had the opportunity to live in a few places including Auckland, Cambridge, Whakatane, and Palmerston North. Now I really enjoy living in Hamilton as it has a growing number of restaurants and bars. During the summer the Hamilton Gardens hosts over 25 food trucks in an event called Gourmet in the Gardens. You can bring your own picnic blanket and listen to local musicians in the sun.

I love that Hamilton is very central; for me, I am only a short drive away from family and have beautiful beaches such as Raglan, Coromandel and the Bay of Plenty at my fingertips.

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