Senior Cassee Cain is combining a chemical engineering major with her cooking skills

‘If you took away the school and took away the grades, what makes you happy?’

Between juggling classes, exams, clubs and random things life throws at you in college, most of us are lucky if we can just manage to get a good night’s sleep. And then there are those who, in the middle of all the craziness, also manage to find their interests and true callings.

Senior Cassee Cain did just that – she found a passion that could win anyone’s heart (and their stomachs). Cassee is getting her degree in Chemical Engineering, but she loves all things food – making it, eating it, studying it and serving it.

I asked her to tell me more about her passion and share the advice she has for those of us still searching.

How has your journey been through pursuing Chemical Engineering at Georgia Tech?

Honestly, I picked Chemical Engineering because it seemed like that was the engineering that would give me the most options long-term, because I really had no clue what I wanted to do when I was a freshman.

I would say there are most days where I’m like, this is way too hard – if I picked a different path, it would be easier. But then I go into the real world and talk to engineers or people at my internships and I just feel incredibly prepared, and it’s something that I don’t think other schools do as well.

The problem-solving shows you that you know the theory, but just being able to stand your ground and back up your intelligence and ask the right questions, that’s what my employers value the most. Maybe Georgia Tech actually did a pretty OK job preparing me for this.

How did you find cooking was your passion?

Cassee also works at a food truck this semester

Cooking was never a big part of my family. The only time I ever really cooked growing up was when I was a really small kid, my parents had just recently separated and my mom was going back to school, so it was just me and my sister most days. Me as an 8-year-old took it upon myself to cook for my sister and we always wanted to have something for my mom when she got home. In those earlier years of course, everything that I cooked was like Hamburger Helper, Chef Boyardee, or Blue Box Craft.

At some point my first summer after freshman year, I was living on my own. The first thing that really struck me was, I have to figure out 21 meals a week. I just got really into menu-planning and figuring out how to be frugal with my money and grocery shopping. I’d have these massive spreadsheets, I just got really into it. It was so fun to me. That’s when I fell head over heels in love with food and the idea of cooking and having meals together.

What does food mean to you?

To me, cooking is so important because it’s something I get to create. And my favorite part is when I give food to people and they really like it – that is just the best feeling in the world. Everyone has a memory growing up of food – a cookout with their family or your first Thanksgiving turkey. Different cultures have holidays that center around food. When you bring people together, to me that’s so special no matter where they are.

Coming from a family that doesn’t really cook or eat together, how has your new talent brought about different traditions or ways that you all see food now?

Cassee used her talent to bring her family even closer together

It’s definitely brought my family together, because it was never a big deal to sit down and have dinner together. So now, when I go home and visit, I say to my mom who wants to cook for me, “Sit down, I got it, let me show you something you’ve never done before.” Now my parents let me be in charge of Thanksgiving! I think it’s helped my family in thinking of food as more of a tradition and bringing it into our culture.

How does cooking and ChemE work in terms of integrating both into your profession?

Working hard at her favorite company, General Mills!

One of the reasons I got really into food and thinking about Chemical Engineering in the food industry is in that summer when I was figuring things out on my own, I wanted to understand what I was really eating and what the ingredient labels were. And I started to realize that I knew a lot of the chemicals in my food and I was like, “a chef didn’t put that there!”

I realized maybe Chemical Engineering could be into this. So many of the principles that I’ve learned in Chemical Engineering, whether it’s thermodynamics, or mass transfer, that’s all stuff that happens in food.  It made me much more interested in Chemical Engineering, going back to class with a fresh perspective, but also made me a better cook, because I’m better able to predict what happens to my food.

What are your future plans looking like, with working full-time next year at General Mills and looking into culinary school?

What I love about General Mills is that every day, you’re reminded what food means to people. I get to combine my love for food and engineering and I don’t have to lose either one.

I don’t have a real desire to own a restaurant, or be executive chef or anything in my immediate career – I want to keep learning in a big company and keep my engineering skills. Culinary school – it’s just something I’m interested in. I’m lucky because a culinary degree will help me in my career. I want to learn more and devote time to improving my skills.

Advice for people to find their passion during college?

Cassee with her favorite chef, Hugh Acheson.

You just have to give it a try. People always ask me, “How did you get your job?” and I say, “I wanted it, I applied.” It’s just that easy, you have to take the first step. [Figure] out in your spare time – if you took away the school and took away the grades, what makes you happy? And figure out how to tie that in to what you’re trained in.

Rapid fire questions

Sweet or salty? Salty.

Hardest dish? I made fettucine alfredo from scratch.

Comfort food? Mashed potatoes.

Guilty pleasure? Chocolate-covered pretzels.

Favorite element? Sodium.

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