Students in SFA’s School of Human Sciences are getting out of the classroom and into the kitchen with the Lumberjack Express mobile food lab.

The only one of its kind in the state, the learning laboratory began serving in February and immerses students enrolled in a mobile food management course in an experience designed to give them a closer look at the food truck industry.

During the semester, students prepare meals every Tuesday and Thursday based on different themes, such as Texas barbecue, Asian, Mediterranean and European, and serve from the Lumberjack Express located on the SFA campus.

Four faculty members were instrumental in bringing the truck to campus: Dr. Chay Runnels, hospitality administration program coordinator and associate professor; Dr. Donna Fickes, clinical instructor; Todd Barrios, chef instructor; and Justin Pelham, clinical instructor.

“Students learn how to plan, prepare, serve and operate in a new environment that is not your typical brick-and-mortar setting,” Barrios said. “They critically think about how to execute and guarantee fast, quality service and get to experience the joy from their customers because everything happens right there with only a window dividing them.”

Under Barrios’ direction, hospitality majors prepare the cuisine while service is provided by students enrolled in a customer relations course taught by Runnels. Not only do students develop their ability to work quickly and efficiently, but they also hone their customer service skills, Runnels said. As the courses develop, students also will be taught the business side of the food truck industry, from concept, planning, regulations and licenses to product and profitability.

“The students loved the opportunity to prepare unique street food menus,” Barrios said. “They gained experience by having to figure out production and service plans based on each menu’s requirements. And, of course, they loved eating!”

With the experiential learning the lab offers, students put what they learn in the classroom to use, preparing them for an evolving job landscape.

“We have to create learning opportunities that transcend into realistic job opportunities within our industry,” Barrios said. “As the industry changes, so should how we prepare its future employees and leaders.”