From Tech to Tables
Stories and Photos by Marie Hefley
Rody Hawkins will never forget the day he and Terry Rolan were shaking hands with the executive vice president of sales and marketing for Oscar Mayer with more than 40 people watching.
It was the first day they launched their new product without knowing the nationwide sensation it would become.
The concept known as Lunchables was an instant hit and is described by Kraft Marketing as the most innovative new product developed by Kraft over the past 25 years.
Hawkins and Rolan,Texas Tech alumni, said they feel the Department of Animal and Food Sciences and its graduate programs gave them the knowledge and experience they needed to be successful.
“I like to be challenged and I found that at Tech,” Hawkins said. “It gave me the knowledge and drive to be successful in creating a new product.”
Hawkins, who obtained his Ph.D. in meat science and muscle physiology from Tech, was recruited by Gordon Davis, Ph.D., in 1982 to develop the meat science program and judging team. When he came to Tech they did not have a single trophy in their case and Tech’s dream was to have full trophy cases like Texas A&M.
“Tech gave me the freedom I needed to work and learn,” Hawkins said. “The knowledge of turning muscle into meat helped me easily adapt to product development.”
Although many give Hawkins credit for developing the Slim Jim, he was not the product inventor. He was assigned the task of increasing Slim Jims production and efficiency so he re-designed the product and in-turn it became the national force it is today.
“When I was assigned the project there was no money for advertising,” Hawkins said. “Improving efficiency freed up money for marketing and growth from $50 million to over $350 million in sales in a matter of 15 years. Slim Jim was an original sponsor of the X Games and an early sponsor of NASCAR and WWE.”
The Department of Animal and Food Sciences graduate program coordinator, Leslie Thompson, Ph.D., said alumni and current students in the Tech program are set apart by their tremendous work ethic.
“Our students are highly motivated, competitive and very intelligent,” Thompson said. “It’s a combination of efforts that makes them shine and we as faculty have the opportunity to learn from them too.”
Entrance into the program is highly competitive. Only 65 students are enrolled in the department. In 2009 alone, 120 students applied for the program, with applications increasing dramatically in the last year. An addition of faculty has helped increase the department’s growth potential because added faculty allow a greater number of students into the program.
Tech is also set apart by the strong curriculum required for each degree. Students have the opportunity to select from more than 30 graduate courses, with each plan of study designed by the student and their committee to accomplish the student’s specific career goals.
Students pursuing a doctorate or master’s of science degree develop a program of study and research project with appropriate selection of courses from numerous academic departments on campus. Master’s of agriculture students combine an internship with a research project for their program of study.
In addition to the highly motivated and successful students of the program, the faculty continues to be the backbone, pushing their students to be the best they can be.
“Our faculty develop close relationships with the students,” Thompson said. “They have high expectations and expect a lot out of their students, but I believe that’s part of the reason our students thrive after they leave here.”
Other Tech alumni from the animal and food sciences department are credited with the development of products known nationwide including TCBY and a new blueberry sausage breakfast product being produced by SYSCO.
Daniel Brackeen, developer of TCBY, obtained both his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Tech. When he was looking at universities, he loved the Tech campus, loved the people, and did not even consider another school.
When he came, he planned to study agriculture and earn a degree in agricultural education.