Lab coats and business suits

Chanel David.

Chanel David, PMBA ’16, always wanted to be a scientist.

While other girls played with baby dolls, she gravitated toward microscopes and lab coats. Later, after visiting Hershey, Pennsylvania, and seeing how cocoa beans became delicious chocolate, David found her calling.

She would become a food scientist.

“Food connects people—it’s part of your heritage and your identity,” David says. “One of my goals in life is to visit each continent. When I travel, food often becomes a gathering point and a way to connect with people and learn about their culture.”

In 2003, David earned her bachelor’s in chemical engineering from the Ohio State University and joined Rich Products, the food company where she’d stay for nearly 18 years.

David was the first engineer in Rich’s research and development department. One day, she might have been developing a new topping flavor, while the next, she was studying fat crystallization and heat transfer rates to improve a product’s performance and shelf life.

“As an engineer, I approach problems and calculate risk differently than others,” David says. “Rich’s took a chance on me and, because of that, I was able to develop my own career and pioneer what engineering means in R&D at the company.”

For her next role, as senior process development engineer, David led teams in scaling up how products were manufactured, so that a single cheesecake, for example, could be mass produced without compromising its quality or delectable flavor. 

As her career progressed, David set her sights on becoming the head of R&D—and enrolled in the School of Management’s Professional MBA program to help her get there. “In the program, I learned how to lead teams and manage people, as well as how to showcase my ideas and influence senior management,” she says.

Chanel David with the StarKist mascot, Charlie the Tuna.

David with the StarKist mascot, Charlie the Tuna.

Her hard work paid off in March 2022 when she was named manager of research and development at StarKist Co., a company that provides trusted, healthy protein products—including tuna, salmon and chicken—in the United States. In her role, David leads a team of food scientists out of the company’s new headquarters in Reston, Virginia, to develop products and optimize the production process.

“It’s an exciting time to be on the StarKist team. It’s a company that is more than 100 years old, and product innovation is a priority and driving force,” David says. “As we build our new team in Reston, I appreciate the opportunity to work with and learn from so many new professionals who are coming together at StarKist.”

Throughout her career, David has championed diversity and inclusion in the workplace, striving to cultivate potential in others and bring together different perspectives to develop solutions. When she was at Rich’s, David co-founded the Kaleidoscope Affinity Group to empower associates of color. The effort, which was announced shortly after the murder of George Floyd, centered on three pillars: career and professional development, education and awareness, and community outreach.

“We launched with a virtual event that was open to everyone in the Rich’s organization around the globe—and we crashed the system,” David recalls. “The group has had a huge impact, and it’s still going strong.”

David now serves on the leadership board for Black Professionals in Food Safety and Quality, a resource group that provides space for Black professionals in the field to network, share best practices and discuss trends.

Outside the office, David shares her expertise as a mentor for the nonprofit Entrepreneurship for All and as a program committee member for the Ronald McDonald House. She’s also still working toward her goal to visit every continent—with just Australia and Antarctica to go.

Written by Matthew Biddle