In the atrium of the JBS Global Food Innovation Center, a group of Animal Sciences students eagerly await the results of a sausage competition, an annual event in which students are judged by their own custom sausage creations. Bob Delmore, interim director of undergraduate programs for the College of Agricultural Sciences, emerges with the results. After a brief pause, he proclaims, “and the winner of the judge’s award is … Elaine Calaba.” Cheers and hugs ensue.
Delmore speaks a bit of housekeeping to wind down the event, telling students that if they’re afraid to touch the lit buffet warmers keeping their sausages hot, there should be someone in the room that can help. He’s correct: That person is sausage champ Calaba, who served as a firefighter before coming to Colorado State University.
“I think if you’re going to switch careers, you have to be open to starting at the bottom again and putting yourself out there,” said Calaba, a first-generation student who is graduating this month.
“I think if you’re going to switch careers, you have to be open to starting at the bottom again and putting yourself out there.”
Calaba’s road to CSU began in her hometown of Lake Los Angeles, California, a town north of Los Angeles where scenes from the “Bonanza” TV series were often filmed in the 1960s. After high school she gravitated toward firefighting, enrolling in a wildland fire academy to learn the basics. She parlayed that into a seasonal, and then full-time, gig on an engine before being asked to join a hotshot crew battling California’s forest fires.
“It was a great combination of feeling useful and also having a great time knowing that you’re doing great work,” she recalls.
It was during her seasonal work on the engine that she picked up another interest: ranching. In the off-season, she helped out local ranchers, eventually raising – and butchering – her own steer and heifer. Her joy of working with animals stuck her interest brought her to CSU. One of the reasons CSU’s Animal Science program called to her was world famous Professor Temple Grandin.
“If she thinks it’s a good place to be, then it’s a good place to be,” said Calaba. “If she wants to be associated with the program, then it’s a good program for me.”
During her time at CSU, Calaba received the Y Cross Ranch Scholarship and was a member of the Animal Welfare Judging Team and Welfare Science Club. After graduation, she hopes to enter the industry as an auditor for animal welfare, particularly in meatpacking plants.
As for her award-winning sausage, the ingredient that pushed her past the competition gave a nod to her former profession: fiery-hot jalapeños.