Every purchase of a Fightin’ Hokies beer helps a Hokie taste success. That’s because a portion of the proceeds from each sale of the popular beer, created by Hardywood Park Craft Brewery under license with Virginia Tech, goes to fund scholarships, study abroad, and research opportunities for Virginia Tech students.
This year, three undergraduate students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Food Science and Technology received Fightin’ Hokies Lager Scholarships toward tuition, room, and board. They are pursuing degrees in food science and technology with the food and beverage fermentation option, one of only seven four-year degrees in the nation recognized by the Master Brewers Association of the Americas.
Scholarship recipient Sofia Palacios, a sophomore from Falls Church, Virginia, is the first member of her family to attend college.
“This scholarship will help me greatly in being able to afford to attend college and lessen the burden on my family,” Palacios said. “The Department of Food Science and Technology has introduced me to numerous careers in food and beverages and opened many doors for me in pursuing fermentation. I ultimately hope to have my own bar or bakery where I can make alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages and bake bread, all while experimenting with different flavors.”
Sam Steele, a sophomore from Maryville, Tennessee, said he was “honored and humbled” by the scholarship.
“The knowledge that support for my educational pursuit goes beyond my family and encompasses faculty, alumni, and even just casual consumers of a really good beer is inspirational,” he said. “I have had the opportunity to see the practical application of academic excellence both through my class work at Virginia Tech and by visiting the West Creek location of Hardywood. I hope to honor the privilege provided by this unique cooperation between the academic and business community.”
The scholarship was also awarded to Shannon Hacker, a junior from Alexandria, Virginia.
“This scholarship is a huge help because I am an independent student with the responsibility of all my financial needs,” Hacker said. “Fermentation has been a great interest of mine ever since a family member worked at a winery. I would go after school and help in the vineyard picking grapes. It was an amazing experience and ignited a passion in me. I hope to work with a brewery or winery, whether it’s working behind the scenes in labs or on site. It’s a truly unique and wonderful atmosphere around this industry and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
Made by Hokies for Hokies, Fightin’ Hokies Lager hit the market in 2021 and emerged as Virginia’s best-selling new craft beer during its first year. It followed up that success by earning a silver medal in the Munich-style helles category at the 2022 Australian Beer Awards – the largest annual beer competition of its kind. Virginia Tech and Hardywood are working to expand the beer’s distribution nationally and to unveil more specialty beers in the future.
Virginia Tech’s partnership with Hardywood, along with its more recent collaboration with Homestead Creamery, brings innovative food science research to market and also shares the proceeds with students in the form of scholarships, experiential learning, and research opportunities.
“One hundred percent of everything we are bringing back to our department goes toward our students,” said Herbert Bruce, master brewer and assistant professor of practice for undergraduate education, who serves on the Fightin’ Hokies Lager Scholarship committee. Bruce is also co-creator of Fightin’ Hokes Lager with colleagues Brian Wiersema, manager of Virginia Tech’s food processing pilot plant, and Sean O’Keefe, professor of food science and technology.
“Through our industry collaborations like Fightin’ Hokies Lager and Hokie Tracks, we’ve found another way of serving students by sharing some of the proceeds of our research and innovation,” Bruce said.
The Department of Food Science and Technology is recognized as one of the top food science programs in the country. Students enjoy a near-100 percent job placement rate and average starting salaries of $77,000. Notable alumni include the current president of Kansas State University, the director of the Panamanian Food Agency, and the former U.S. Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety.
Bruce said the demand for food scientists is at an all-time high, making it more important than ever to help students succeed in the field.
“We look at these scholarships as part of Virginia Tech’s legacy of Ut Prosim, That I May Serve,” he said, referring to the university’s motto. “It’s a way to give back to our students that ultimately makes their lives easier and more successful, so they have the chance to give back down the road.”
Max Esterhuizen for Virginia Tech