WT Intern of the Year Honored for Developing Revolutionary Change in Beef Processing


CANYON, Texas — 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.

Internship Week activities included a pop-up informational booth on Oct. 31, a lunch-and-learn session on networking on Nov. 1, a lunch social offering information on international internships on Nov. 2, and several professional development workshops.

A total of 24 student interns, including Padilla, were considered for the award, including:

  • Yotam Balbul, a senior computer information systems major from Haifa, Israel, who interned at Addict Miami;
  • Koelle Brandenberger, a junior agricultural business and economics major from Claunch, New Mexico, who interned at AgTexas;
  • Sophia Britto, a senior digital communication and media major from Amarillo, who interned at the Don Harrington Discovery Center;
  • McKenna Cavalier, a senior nursing major from Canadian, who interned at Four Square Church;
  • Levi Condren, a senior mechanical engineering major from Fritch, who interned at Phillips 66 Borger Refinery;
  • Mason Condren, a senior mechanical engineering major from Fritch, who interned at Provenance Consulting;
  • Quinn Dunham, a senior agriculture media and communication major from Greensboro, North Carolina, who interned at the National Reined Cow Horse Association;
  • Eliana Flores, a graduate student in history from Denver City, who interned in WT’s Cornette Library;
  • Angela Gonzalez, a senior animal science major from Dalhart, who interned in WT President Walter V. Wendler’s office;
  • Gabriel Guerrero, a senior digital communication and media major from Hereford, who interned in WT’s Office of Student Engagement and Leadership;
  • Shelby Lain, a senior plant, soil and environmental science major from Jenks, Oklahoma, who interned at CSS Farms;
  • Hunter Lefevre, a junior computer information systems major from Lockney, who interned at Run Business Solutions;
  • Magali Medina, a senior engineering technology major from Dimmitt, who interned at the Texas Department of Transportation;
  • Jayci Mekelburg, a junior agribusiness major from Eckley, Colorado, who interned at Northeast Agri Service;
  • Jordan Nall, a senior agribusiness and economics major from Coleman, who interned at Phibro Animal Health Corp.;
  • William Norwood, a senior environmental science major from Austin, who interned at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service;
  • Logan Paetzold, a senior agribusiness and economics major from Hereford, who interned at AgriVision Equipment Group;
  • Spencer Parton, a senior computer science major from Amarillo, who interned at Broadcom’
  • Kendal Powell, a senior agricultural media and communication major from Bennett, Colorado, who interned at the “Texas” outdoor musical and Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum;
  • Jayden Rollins, a junior criminal justice major from Amarillo, who interned at Texas Parks and Wildlife Law Enforcement Division;
  • Lindsey Sawin, a junior agricultural media and communication major from Vernon, who interned at American Angus Association;
  • Hallie Vigil, a senior agribusiness major from Chimayo, New Mexico, who interned at American Implement; and
  • Danielle Williams, a senior agricultural media and communication major from Moscow Mills, Missouri, who interned in President Wendler’s office.

WT’s commitment to successful, resourceful students is a key component of the University’s long-range plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.

That plan is fueled by the historic, $125 million One West comprehensive fundraising campaign. To date, the five-year campaign — which publicly launched in September 2021 — has raised more than $110 million.


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