STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: Kourtney and Jose Gardner
BY MARLEE MOORE, JUNIOR/AGRICULTURAL COMMUNICATIONS
Kourtney Keck, a petite blonde from Montgomery, and Jose Gardner, a former Marine from Danville, were hired at the Lambert-Powell Meats Lab within days of each other in March 2012.
“My first thought about Jose was ‘Oh great. This is a pretty physical job. They just hired little, tiny me. And then there’s this guy. I’m going to get fired,’” says Kourtney.
Jose was raised in a small agricultural community and began his time at Auburn as a biomedical sciences student. He then attempted majoring in history, international business and agriscience education before transferring to the animal sciences department. He tried out the animal sciences pre-veterinary and production tracks before he struck gold with the muscle foods track.
“I sometimes ask myself why I didn’t start in agriculture at Auburn,” Jose says. “But the adventure is half the fun, right?”
Kourtney came to Auburn as an animal sciences pre-vet major, but halfway through her first semester, she knew pre-veterinary medicine was not for her. Then, Dr. Christy Bratcher, Auburn’s only meat scientist, talked to Kourtney’s animal science orientation class about meat science.
“For some reason, her speech that day really hit me and stuck with me. I had never thought about there being a science behind the way our food is made, and I just thought it was the coolest thing,” she says.
Kourtney and Jose are proof that every detail doesn’t have to be figured out when you get to the Plains. But it can help to get involved in the college and seek out internships for direction.
Kourtney landed her 2014 internship with JBS Pilgrim’s Pride’s quality assurance department through a university-wide career fair.
That same summer, Jose worked as the ground beef and boxed beef sales intern at JBS USA’s corporate headquarters in Greeley, Colorado, and was exposed to different aspects of the industry while assisting departments in computer system integration.
JBS is the largest animal protein producer in the world.
While at Auburn, Kourtney and Jose were heavily involved with Collegiate Cattlemen and Cattlewomen, with Kourtney serving as the secretary, catering director and vice president.
She was also a member and the historian of Sigma Alpha, a professional agriculture sorority.
Jose was involved with the Auburn University Student Recruiters, the Auburn Club Ultimate Team, Block & Bridle, the Auburn Wesley Foundation and Campus Recreation.
“If you ask those around me, they’d tell you I spread myself too thin, but I’d like to think I took full advantage of the college experience,” he says.
In case you think this is just a story about finding the right major, here’s the best part, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Although it took several weeks for Jose to remember Kourtney’s name after they started working together at the Meats Lab, their friendship grew until they started dating during their 2013 summer internships with Pilgrim’s Pride in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Jose proposed to Kourtney in 2014 after dinner at Acre, a farm to fork restaurant in Auburn. To document the night, several friends posed as reporters from The Auburn Plainsman, interviewed the couple and snapped a picture. After dinner, they walked downtown near the Auburn Seal, and Jose, a Student Recruiter, began telling Kourtney the myths of the Seal, one of which is that if a student steps on the Seal, he will not graduate on time.
Jose, who earlier in his college career jumped over the Seal, told Kourtney that was why he didn’t graduate on time, but thankfully still meet his true love on campus.
He got on one knee, popped the question and of course, Kourtney said yes.
The couple got married August 17, 2014 in Prattville and currently attends graduate school at Utah State University, where Kourtney is studying food science and performing research on the flavor chemistry and flavor profile of ground beef. Jose’s master’s program is in nutrition and food sciences with an emphasis in meat science; his research centers on fetal programming and meat quality.
Kourtney always said she would never attend school in a cold climate, much less one in which it snows. And then Jose proposed.
“That definitely changed things. Jose and I both want to put our marriage before career or school, so we just weren’t willing to spend the first years of our marriage apart,” she says.
After graduate school, Kourtney and Jose want to work in the muscle foods industry with a company similar to JBS.