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Ketchup And Mustard: Penn State’s Relationship With The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile

Penn State and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile have a relationship that’s approaching its third decade.

The Wienermobile first hit the streets in 1936 and it has been manned by a team of Hotdoggers since 1988. There has been a Penn Stater at the wheel of the Wienermobile every year since the program’s inception.

Illana Ruben, who graduated from Penn State last spring with a degree in public relations, is the current Nittany Lion Hotdogger. She’s putting her degree to good use, driving her own PR firm of sorts all over the country — the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

“I was freaking out I’d graduate without a job and it was weighing down on me my whole senior year,” Ruben said. In February of her second semester as a senior, the two Hotdoggers came to her PR class to talk to them and recruit and she remembered thinking, “Is this a real job?”

Ruben said she had a great professor at the time, Marcia DiStaso, who mentored her during her time at Penn State. She went up to her after class and asked her the same thing, “Is this a real job? What would you think if I applied for it?” And she sang the job’s praises and told her she’d be amazing at it, which sealed the deal in her mind to apply.

“I remember distinctly telling my parents when I knew what I wanted to do after graduation,” Ruben said. “The other end was just ‘uh… what is that?’ After they did their own research they realized it was an awesome opportunity and told me I had to apply.”

She was selected as one of 12 out of 1500 applicants, meaning less than one percent are selected for the job every year. “To be in that group that cut the mustard, as we say, is really special and I couldn’t imagine my first year out of school any other way,” she said.

“I have a PR degree, what else could I do that makes people smile everyday?” Ruben laughed.

While the job is rewarding, it’s not without its responsibilities.

“For a lot of people, we are the face of the company,” Ruben explained. “The only interaction people are having with Oscar Mayer is with us, and there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that. To think that’s your first job out of school is amazing.”

Oscar Meyer Wienermobile
The view from inside the Wienermobile. It features six ketchup and mustard colored chairs, a full sound system, and a flat screen TV.

“There’s no two days that are alike on this job, which keeps it fun,” Ruben said. She explained visiting a grocery store is most common. They set up the Wienermobile in front of the store and do a number of activities and give people a tour inside. They also do events like parades, fairs, and festivals on a regular basis.

Ruben said the car is a lot of fun to drive, but it wasn’t easy at first. All Hotdoggers go through two weeks of training, called “Hot Dog High,” with the Madison Police Department to learn how to drive the Wienermobile. They have to pass a closed course and an open road test before they get the keys.

“It’s the only vehicle if you’re getting honked at it’s a good thing,” she said.

Now Ruben is on campus recruiting the next generation of Hotdoggers, just like the two Penn Staters in the program the year before her did. They’ll be on campus all this week with the Wienermobile talking to communication classes about the opportunity before their recruiting session next Tuesday. Oscar Mayer recruits at Penn State every year, because the supervisors recognize it as a top communications program where they get great applicants.

In order to be successful at this job you have to be friendly and able to talk to anyone. “This job is really big on personality,” Ruben stressed. “You have to be able to talk to everyone from corporate vice presidents in Kraft-Heinz to the mother and son you’d find at your local grocery store.”

“Would you relish the opportunity to drive the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile vehicle for an entire year?” That’s what Ruben and her teammate Jason will ask students at their upcoming recruiting session on February 16 from 6 – 7 p.m. in 119 Thomas. Students who want to be considered for the job must attend the session and bring a resume.

“I’m hoping we’ll have at least one Penn Stater next year,” Ruben said. “We’ve got to keep the tradition going.”

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