Professor helped invent Nutri-Grain Bar
Published: Thursday, November 5, 2009
Updated: Friday, June 15, 2012 23:06
When professor Jeff Culbertson was working at Kellogg's in 1986, his bosses asked him to develop a portable, healthy breakfast food. He, along with his coworkers, can be credited for inventing the Nutri-Grain Bar.
Since then, his achievements in academia and the food industry have taken him to universities across the country. Since coming to Ohio State in 2006, he has brought a needed boost to the Department of Food Science and Technology, where he has gained a reputation as a charismatic, attentive professor.
Culbertson received his bachelor's and master's degrees in food science from Oregon State University, and his doctorate in food science from Washington State University.
Culbertson took a year off between his master's and doctoral educations so he could travel the U.S. with his new wife, who he met while he was a teaching assistant at Oregon State and she was a master's student.
After finishing his degrees, Culbertson headed to the University of Wisconsin in 1985. Culbertson said he enjoyed his time there, but his wife, who was having difficulty finding jobs nearby, accepted a position at Michigan State University.
When he learned of his wife's new job, Culbertson contacted Kellogg's in nearby Battle Creek, Mich., and told them he would stop by every few weeks to discuss employment options. The company hired him on the spot during his first visit.
After starting his career at Kellogg's in 1986 designing research to determine the shelf life of products, Culbertson was promoted to product development. When asked to develop a breakfast food that would be perceived as healthy and portable, Culbertson and his coworkers created the Nutri-Grain Bar.
In his five years with Kellogg's, Culbertson oversaw the development of other products, such as Mrs. Smith's pies, Crispix cereal and varieties of Eggo Waffles.
As he was given more responsibility, at times working 100 hours a week, Culbertson said Kellogg's offered him "piles of money" as incentive to stay with the company.
"I guess they thought I was greedier than I am," he said. "When I could ensure that my sons could go to college wherever they wanted, I left."
Culbertson then returned to academia at Central Michigan University, where he taught food science classes for 12 years and won an excellence in teaching award in 1991.
Next, Culbertson and his wife moved on to the University of Idaho, where they helped "bolster" the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. During their time there, the program's enrollment shot from 20 to about 130 students, Culbertson said.
Then in 2006, Culbertson and his wife were recruited to OSU by Bobby Moser, dean of the College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Science.
"I needed a challenge," Culbertson said of his move to OSU. "Challenges are what make a career interesting, and [my wife and I] had pretty much solved all of the problems at Idaho and Washington State."
He even reports to his wife, Denise Smith, every day — at home and at work. Smith was made chair of the Department of Food Science and Technology at OSU during the time Culbertson was hired.
The program needed to be stimulated, Culbertson said, and added that although he and his wife are only in their fourth year with the department, enrollment has grown from 40 to 160 in the food science and food management programs.
"The problems [at OSU] weren't serious. They just needed somebody who knew how to do it," he said.
Food science classes remain a "hidden gem" on campus, Culbertson said, who teaches Food Science and Technology 201 (The History of Food) and Food Science and Technology 170 (Wine and Beer in Western Culture), both popular classes.
But the secret to his success as a professor is simple, he said.
"Treat your students well and let them know you're vested in their success, and they will beat down your door," he said.
Culbertson has moved many times for jobs, but said he thinks he will remain at OSU for some time. In addition to family ties at the university with his wife, one of his sons is a sophomore at OSU and his youngest is strongly considering attending.
He also said there are some challenges the department will have to face, such as the switch to semesters.
"I'll be here until it gets boring. It's going to be awhile, I can tell," he said.
In a career filled with opportunity and accolade, Culbertson insists that he has remained in academia because he loves teaching and interacting with his students.
"I have, in my opinion, about 700 children — now my colleagues — out there. They're all across the world and they keep in touch," Culbertson said of the students he has advised. "I just want to help them start on their potential."