WT's Renee Padilla honored as the university’s Intern of the Year

A West Texas A&M University student who pioneered a small innovation that could have a multimillion-dollar impact in the beef processing industry will be honored as the university’s Intern of the Year.

Renee Padilla, a junior animal science major from Hereford, will be honored at 3 p.m. Nov. 3 in the lobby of WT’s Happy State Bank Academic and Research Building on the Canyon campus.

Padilla worked from May through August as an intern at the Cargill Protein facility in Friona, where he was asked to find a better way to cut hanger steaks during the processing of cattle for food.

“Due to his previous experience in beef processing, (Padilla) was challenged to find a solution to a problem more complicated than the traditional intern, who would not likely have a few years of experience on their resume,” wrote Dr. Ty Lawrence, WT’s Caviness Davis Distinguished Chair in Meat Science, in a nomination letter.

The hanging tender, its technical term, is “a very delicate piece that’s just held on by a tissue,” Padilla said.

It’s easily nicked during processing, which decreases its value on the market, so Padilla worked with Cargill team members to devise a modified cutting style to better preserve the meat’s integrity.

Ultimately, that process was not chosen because of other additional costs it could incur, said Casey Conrad, Friona Beef Plant general manager. But Padilla also devised a second tactic that was adopted, in which workers were retrained on how to place animals on the evisceration table. Because of the hanging tender’s delicate placement in the body, this new tactic showed similar results.

“Renee truly earned this award because of his creative thinking,” Conrad said. “His initial idea wasn’t adopted, but that kind of innovation is exactly what we’re looking for.”

Each tactic resulted in nearly a doubling of yields, and Conrad said the result could be millions in additional revenue for Cargill.

Padilla presented his strategies to corporate leadership in August in Wichita, Kansas, and earned an intern scholarship for his innovative efforts, wrote Michael Hewitt, Cargill’s lead recruiter. Padilla also was offered a supervisory position at the Friona plant.

Padilla was born in California but moved to Mexico at age 8 when his parents returned to their native country. The family moved to Hart in 2014 when his father was hired at the North Fork Feedyard.

Padilla, 27, has worked in the meat industry since his teen years and helped support his younger sister, Claudia, to earn a degree in agribusiness at WT. Then, at age 24, he was able to enroll himself in the Paul Engler College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences.

“We came from nothing, but honesty and hard work brought us far,” Padilla said. “It’s a privilege to be named Intern of the Year. I felt like an underdog since I’m not a traditional student, but I’m honored and humbled to be recognized.”

As Intern of the Year, Padilla will receive a $1,000 scholarship provided by Phillips 66 and will be submitted for the national Cooperative Education & Internship Association Academic Intern of the Year award.

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