A Future in Meat
Isaac Riley knew he had found his home away from home the first time he stepped foot on the University of Idaho campus. A first generation student from the small ranching community of Oreana in central Idaho, Riley decided to attend U of I when he discovered the cooperative veterinary medicine program between U of I and Washington State University.
“I knew I didn’t want to leave the state with the scholarship opportunities I had from being an in-state student,” he said. “The animal science and agriculture program at U of I offered everything I wanted in a degree.”
The animal science and agriculture program at U of I offered everything I wanted in a degree.Isaac Riley
As a high school senior, Riley had the opportunity to visit different colleges around the state and region through a program called TRiO.
“On the college TRiO trip I had the opportunity to visit all of the college campuses in the state and a couple out of state. U of I was the fourth or fifth college we came to and as soon as we got off the bus I knew this was home and nobody was going to change my mind,” he said.
A senior in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Riley will graduate in December 2019 with a degree in animal and veterinary science: pre-vet option with an emphasis in meat science.
Discovering a Passion
As a freshman, Riley found he needed something more than classes in his schedule. His advisor, Gordon Murdoch, put Riley in contact with the late Ron Richard, then the Vandal Brand Meats manager, about available job opportunities.
Upon arrival at Vandal Brand Meats, Riley recalls one of his first conversations with Richard.
“I went up to the meat science lab and talked to Ron,” Riley said. “He asked me if I had any experience with meat. I replied and told him I had experience mainly with live animals. Ron laughed and said, ‘we don’t deal with many of them here.’”
During his first year at Vandal Brand Meats, Riley learned many of the operations. His experience included cleanup crew, learning how to sharpen a knife and identifying the various cuts of meat.
Shortly after starting his new role at Vandal Brand Meats, Riley began to discover his passion for the meat industry.
“Whenever I was stressed out with a lot of exams, I found myself thinking, I can’t wait to go to work,” he said. “There was always something new to learn about whether it was meat cuts or food safety. I loved how engaging it was, the lab intensiveness of the job, it was so fun for me. It wasn’t a grind, it was a stress relief.”
While at U of I, Riley also had the opportunity to study abroad in Spain for a semester through a government program called Erasmus+, a bilateral student exchange program. While abroad he was able to complete food science and animal science courses taught in Spanish, as well as learn about the meat industry in Spain.
Shaping his Future
After working four years at Vandal Brand Meats, Riley will head straight into a career in the meat industry after graduation. He spent summer 2019 as an intern in Portland, Oregon for Newport Meat Company, a subsidiary of Sysco Foods. During his internship he worked in sales and merchandising, helped to train corporate salesmen and gave tours of the plant.
Before returning to school, Riley was offered a full-time job as a meat merchandiser with the company.
“I’ve basically shaped my entire future because of being able to work at the meat science lab. Ron Richard had taken me to the Northwest Meat Processors conferences, seminars, the American Meat Science Institute convention, food safety workshops, meat regulation updates. With him I was always learning ways to make things better,” Riley said. “I was able to make so many connections in the meat industry and it opened up so many doors and opportunities.”
Article by Hannah Doumit, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Published in December 2019