Miner munchies

Alumna Catherine Swift, pictured in front of the Frito-Lay display at the Spring Career Fair, is just one of a handful of Miners who work in the company’s Topeka, Kansas, plant.

Alumna Catherine Swift, pictured in front of the Frito-Lay display at the S&T Spring Career Fair, is one of a handful of Miners who work in the company’s Topeka, Kansas, plant. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Frito-Lay’s Topeka, Kansas, plant operates 24 hours a day, so while most of us are sleeping, Catherine Swift is monitoring 10 production lines and 59 automated packaging tubes that take raw ingredients and turn them into bagged snack foods, ready for supermarket shelves.

“As a core plant, we produce major products like Doritos, Lays, Sunchips, Tostitos and Fritos,” says Swift, who earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering at Missouri S&T in 2010. Each year the Topeka plant produces over 175 million pounds of snacks.

Swift, who has been with Frito-Lay for almost five years, started out as an undergraduate intern. Now she is a manager on the plant’s third shift.

Swift helps closely monitor the plant’s production process for moisture and oil levels, and each shift compares its batches to a reference product for appearance, flavor and texture. Swift ensures that the snacks that leave the Topeka plant are the same quality as the ones made in other locations.

“We ship directly to stores, so our warehouse operation is very similar to large delivery companies,” Swift explains. “For our process, shuttle robots run through our aisles finding products and getting them ready for shipping to stores throughout the country.”

When Swift isn’t working, she coaches a local high school girls’ soccer team, making use of skills she honed as a Lady Miner goalkeeper for four years at Missouri S&T. She also frequently makes trips back to Rolla.

“Since graduating, I haven’t missed a career fair yet,” says Swift. “I return every spring and fall to recruit other Miners.”

No matter where she goes, Swift says she is always asked about her favorite snack. “I used to like the nacho cheese Doritos best, but something about working third shift has me really starting to like Funyuns.”

Several other Missouri S&T alumni work in the Topeka plant with Swift, including:

  • Chris Emesih, who earned a bachelor of science degree in engineering management in 2014
  • Kori Louvall, who earned a bachelor of science degree in engineering management in 2013
  • Everett Moore, who earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering in 1986
  • Ryan Schmidt, who earned a bachelor of science degree in engineering management in 2013
  • Aimee Snell, who earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering in 2013
  • Brooke Ryan, who earned a bachelor of science degree in architectural engineering in 2011
  • Amiel Weerasinghe, who earned a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering in 2010 and an MBA in 2012.

By Peter Ehrhard

Adapted from the Spring 2015 issue of Missouri S&T Magazine

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