• Volume 14    Number 1    Winter 2004


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Soybean contest continued from previous page

Over the last 10 years, students have developed a number of products including soy crayons, cereal, crackers, birthday candles, markers and fire starters. Some products have even been patented, such as the soy crayons and the soy-based gelatin.

And more often than not, graduates who participated in the contest felt that the competition gave them a leg up when interviewing for jobs after college.

Image. Student Soybean Utilization Contest winners.
Rylie Vance (third from left) is pursuing a doctorate in biomedical engineering at Purdue. He's shown with fellow students Melinda Durack (left), Amanda Stewart and Brian Costigan when they won the Student Soybean Utilization Contest with their soy-based markers.

“Employers are always interested in hearing more about the soybean competition, and it is a great conversation starter in an interview,” Mulvaney says. “It really set me apart from others who were applying for jobs and internships. I also think it taught me how to be independent, and it helped me grow on a professional level.”

Mulvaney, Howard’s partner, was majoring in food processing engineering during the first year they participated in the competition; however, she switched majors and finished school last year to receive her Doctorate of Pharmacy. She now is a staff pharmacist at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, where she processes all physician orders for pediatric medicines.

Mulvaney says her involvement in the competition has helped her get to where she is today.

“The ski wax project helped me get a position at Eli Lilly that summer, and then the following summer my internship at Lilly helped me get a pharmacy internship at Osco Drug,” Mulvaney says.

Before Mulvaney and Howard introduced their ski wax and gelatin, Amy (Khal) Randolph, BS ’96, took home first prize two years in a row with her soybean teams. Those teams developed soy-based fire starters, called “Fire Beans,” in 1995, and edible, flavored birthday candles made from hydrogenated soybean oil in 1996.

Randolph, a food process engineer alumnus, along with teammate and mechanical engineering alumnus Brian Beales, used sawdust and soybean oil to manufacture the fire starters. But they discovered that their initial calculations were off when they compressed the two ingredients together and all of the oil squeezed out of the sawdust. The two were back to square one and had to modify the process.

“I realized from this competition that you can’t set out to do an experiment and expect to follow it to a T,” Randolph says.

After graduation, Randolph applied that lesson to her career as a production engineer in charge of the chemical unit of a Union Carbide plant in West Virginia. One piece of equipment there broke down two times a year, and each time it took four days to clean and repair the machine, which contained a hazardous chemical. Randolph found a way to clean and repair the equipment in less than 12 hours.


1994 Crayons
1995 Fire starters
1996 Birthday candles
1997 No contest held
1998 Ski wax and cereal (tie)
1999 Gelatin
2000 Snack crackers
2001 Heating oil
2002 Soy markers
2003 No contest held

Image. Benny the Bean.
Lee Schweitzer helped
get the soybean contest
off the ground by
parading around campus
as Benny the Bean (left) in 1993.

In 2001, Randolph left Union Carbide and began work in the food industry as a maintenance manager at Frito Lay in Vancouver, Wash.

Participants in the soybean competition have taken various career paths after graduating from Purdue. Some have gone to work for big-name companies such as Procter & Gamble, Kraft Foods and Pepperidge Farms. Others have decided to enroll in graduate school or earn a professional degree. One such former winner (2002; soy-based markers) is Rylie Vance of Monroe, Wash., who double majored in agricultural and biological engineering and biochemistry and is now pursuing a doctorate in biomedical engineering. Vance appreciated the knowledge, skills and creativity he gained from the competition, but he also enjoyed learning how to work in a group.

“Most research I have participated in over my academic career was done individually, and working with a group was a welcome experience,” Vance says. “In a group, there is a greater potential for success or failure depending on the abilities of each member, and the more experience one has in these situations, the higher the probability that success will trump failure.”

Contact Tao at tao@purdue.edu