Modesto's Local Legend


Erica Kenney describes working as a sensory analyst at E.&J. Gallo Winery in Modesto as her “dream job.” Years from now, she wants more young women to be motivated to work in a scientific field as she has been.

“I feel excited to go to work every morning, and I want all women to feel just as empowered and passionate about their career choices,” said Kenney, who joined the winery’s food science team in January 2017.

Kenney appreciates the importance of being a positive role model for girls, which is why she says she was thrilled to be chosen as the first Local Legend at the GSHCC's new STEM Center + MakerSpace in Modesto.

“It's such an honor to be recognized by an organization that meant so much to me growing up,” said Kenney. “Science has always been a passion of mine and it's so great to see young girls getting opportunities I would have delighted in when I was younger. I love that Girl Scouts is taking the lead in encouraging girls and young women in STEM.”

Kenney, 26, is from San Jose, where she was a Girl Scout for nine years. She credits those experiences for instilling within her “the independence and self-confidence I have today.”

“Looking back, I had so many opportunities to ‘do it myself,’ to figure out the best or most creative method to sell cookies, tie a friendship bracelet, make a fire, cook dinner or put on a skit,” she said. “I was given a lot of freedom and opportunities to take initiative. … I'm very proud to have been a Girl Scout, and I'm lucky enough to have some good friends I've known since our first year as Girl Scout Daisies in kindergarten!”

Kenney said she always was fascinated by science and its relationship to food.

“When I was 8 years old, I made ‘concoctions’ in the back yard with ingredients from my dad’s garden,” she recalled. “When I was in high school, I would bake all the time, and I’d always tweak the recipe or add new ingredients to see if I could make it even better. I was so excited to realize there was a career path that let me play with my food and help develop products to make people happy.”

Kenney holds degrees in food science from the University of California, Davis as well as the University of Georgia. She wrote her Master’s thesis on people’s emotional connection with coffee and worked at small companies helping to develop innovative and novel flavors before being hired by E.&J. Gallo Winery.

“My emphasis is sensory science, which is the study of using human senses (sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing) to evaluate food products,” she explained.

At Gallo, she works with the “descriptive panel (professional wine tasters) to conduct consumer research to identify opportunities for new products and to make sure our existing products continue to taste great.”

“We are so proud to be able to recognize someone as talented as Erica Kenney as our first Local Legend in Modesto,” said Dr. Linda Farley, CEO of the Girl Scouts Heart of Central California. “She truly represents the ideals of Girl Scouts, and is a wonderful role model and inspiration to today’s girls, who continue to be underrepresented in many scientific fields.”

Hoping that Erica will be teaching a workshop on Food Science? It's coming soon! Keep your eyes on the activities page or GSHCC app to be the first to register.