Feb. 29, 2012
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Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award 2012



"Be a happy person first."

Lucy Yu
“If we can improve food quality, we can get better health benefits and possibly eliminate certain health problems like heart disease, cancer and diabetes,” says Liangli (Lucy) Yu, a food scientist and acting chair of the University of Maryland’s Department of Nutrition and Food Science. (photo provided)

Last in a series highlighting this year’s 10 recipients of the Purdue University College of Agriculture’s Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award. The honorees will receive their awards March 2 during a 3:30 p.m. convocation in the Purdue Memorial Union North Ballroom.

Liangli (Lucy) Yu, PhD ’99, has been professor and acting chair of the Department of Nutrition & Food Science at the University of Maryland since 2009. Yu has published three books, 109 research articles and 13 book chapters, and holds one U.S. and one European patent.

A fellow in the American Chemical Society–Agricultural and Food Chemistry Division, Yu has received the Young Scientist Award from that organization as well as from the American Oil Chemists’ Society.

• Which Purdue faculty member had the most profound impact on your professional career? My major adviser, Bruce Watkins, gave me a research assistantship and guided me through my dissertation research. James BeMiller, who taught our carbohydrate graduate course, provided me with a basic foundation to take on challenges in carbohydrate research. Rakesh Singh, who I served as a teaching assistant for the food processing undergraduate course, gave me the confidence to believe I could teach in English, which led me to believe that I could get a faculty position in the United States. Suzanne Nielsen, who was the director for graduate program at the time, continues to be a role model for me. She always looked at putting the needs of the students ahead of her own. She would listen, understand and provide guidance for the students. These four professors are my lifetime mentors and are still contacted for questions and support.
• What part of your visit back to campus in March are you most looking forward to? I’m really looking forward to visiting the food science department and having the opportunity to communicate with both the faculty and the students.
• Why did you select Purdue as the place to continue your education? My ex-husband and I had moved to West Lafayette from Iowa State, where I had worked for three months. Prior to that, I had worked at China Pharmaceutical University for 10 years, so I was not a traditional graduate student. I was very anxious to get my degree and get started on my career before I was too old. I was in such a hurry back then to go through the program. It took me a while to realize I needed to slow down, make friends and enjoy my life. I have friends for life that I met while I was at Purdue.
• Where was your favorite place on campus to study? The library in Lilly Hall.
• Were you a good student when you were at Purdue? I believe so. I learned a lot at Purdue, but I did not care too much about grades as a nontraditional graduate student. I was very fortunate to be able to work in the graduate program at Purdue. It prepared me very well for my career.
• What was the most difficult course you took at Purdue? Because of the language barrier, I struggled a little bit with a biochemistry course. It was the first course I took at Purdue. I could read the book and the notes, but when it came to the tests, I had a little trouble fully understanding just what the instructor was asking, so I had to ask a lot of questions. But on the whole, I did not feel any course was too difficult. I enjoyed all the courses I took at Purdue, especially the short food science graduate Level 1 credit courses.

• What do you miss most about your college days at Purdue? Walking from the Hawkins Graduate House, where we lived, to my office, then back home again at the end of the day. The 25-minute walk gave me the time in the morning to think about what I had to do that day. It was a time I used to become better organized. On the way home, I would use the time to think about what had happened during the day and get a head start on tomorrow’s work. I think the walks helped me become more efficient with my time. Plus, it was also good exercise for me.
• What is the best advice you got while you were at Purdue? Bruce Watkins told me to find a good balance between my research and my personal life. He convinced me that my life was as important as my research. I think sometimes I lost sight of that. It was an important lesson for me to learn. My son, George, was in kindergarten when I started at Purdue, so it was very important to make sure he got all the attention he needed when he was growing up.
• What is the best advice you have ever given? Be a happy person first. I now have 10 graduate students at the University of Maryland, and I stress this to them all the time. They must enjoy what they are doing in order to be truly successful.

Read about other 2012 Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award winners. 

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