What was thought to be a research trip focused on goats in the Bahamas took a turn and left a lasting impact on Mindy Brashears, Ph.D., for the rest of her professional career. She remembers it like it was yesterday. The day was hot and humid, and she was engrossed in her research when she received a text message out of the blue from then U.S. Congressman Mike Conaway. The message, although unexpected, would leave Brashears humbled and honored.
Rep. Conaway’s message inquired about her interest in being nominated as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Undersecretary for Food Safety.
She agreed without hesitation.
Before coming to Texas Tech University, Brashears dreamed of one day attending medical school. However, a scholarship from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo shifted her focus to animal science. At the beginning of her first semester at Texas Tech, she was enrolled in a freshman-level seminar course and was inspired by the atmosphere and content. After listening to a former food science professor, she knew what just she wanted to do.
Raised in Wheeler, Texas, Brashears grew up on a family farm, alongside her younger brother, Seth. By the age of 13, Brashears was in charge of driving the tractor, hauling hay and taking care of countless animals, which she says equipped her with a work ethic and the knowledge needed to be successful.
“Little did I know those skills are what prepared me for the rest of my career,” Brashears said.
Brashears graduated from Texas Tech with her bachelor’s degree in food technology in 1992. She continued her education at Oklahoma State University where she received her master’s and Ph.D. degrees in food microbiology. In 1997, Brashears became a faculty member at the University of Nebraska as an assistant professor in extension and food safety specialist. At Nebraska, Brashears was able to further her research dealing with the applied food safety needs of the ever-growing industry, while continuing to make her impact on the industry as a whole.
Mark Miller, Ph.D., professor in meat science, food processing, and preservation at Texas Tech, saw Brashears present during a research session. Miller was intrigued by the research she was conducting and knew it was the perfect opportunity to recruit a bright, innovative mind to Texas Tech.
“There is no one more intuitive, hard-working and humble to perform greatly in this role than Dr. Brashears,” Miller said. “I look to her with the upmost respect and know that she will continue to advance the food technology department at Tech.”
Five years later, Brashears returned to Lubbock. In May 2001, she started as an assistant professor within the Department of Animal and Food Sciences where she taught food safety courses. She later took charge of conducting worldwide research with various colleagues and graduate students, organized countless workshops, worked with students, and was involved in several professional organizations.
Time in D.C.
Brashears was appointed as USDA’s Deputy Undersecretary for Food Safety on January 1, 2019. This role is one of the federal agency’s highest-ranking positions, leading the office of food safety and overseeing the Food Safety and Inspection Service.
In this role, Brashears was in charge of ensuring meat, poultry and processed egg products were always wholesome, safe and accurately labeled. Nearly 15 months later, she was confirmed in the Senate as Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety.
“To be finally confirmed and fully voted by the Senate definitely has to be one of my greatest accomplishments,” she said.
In D.C., Brashears’ responsibilities shifted from faculty life as she began into her new role as the agency head.
“On a normal day, I would have 10 to 15 meetings a day,” Brashears said. “Between May and December 2020, I visited roughly 75 facilities.”
Brashears’ career experiences had a tremendous emphasis on her communication and relationship building skill set.
“After two years, I am sad to leave,” Brashears said. “Being the only female in the agency, our interaction was always positive, and there was lots of camaraderie and respect for each other.”
Brashears loved her time in Washington D.C. and was honored to be surrounded by an influential group of mentors and colleagues.
“Secretary Perdue was a wonderful boss, man and leader,” Brashears said. “I was extremely honored to have him as a mentor and friend.”
Returning to Campus
Brashears is excited to bring the experiences she gained in Washington, D.C., back to her career at Texas Tech and incorporate those skills into her everyday roles as a faculty member.
From teaching students, to leading several research projects, she will now be able to add a new dimension to the work she is currently doing.
Brashears is currently travels back and forth between Washington, D.C. and the South Plains as her youngest daughter nears high school graduation.
She misses the impact she was able to make on her students at Texas Tech and is eager to watch them succeed upon graduation.
“I love the academic freedom I have here at Texas Tech and the interaction with students is a role that is very important to me,” Brashears said. “I cannot wait to be back on campus.”