UWF in the Community

Alumni couple put their passion for the outdoors to work

UWF alumna Debbie Mullins is co-founder, along with her daughter, Sarah Welton, of PackitGourmet.com, an online business that provides gourmet food for outdoor enthusiasts. The company is truly a family project.

“The entire family is involved,” Mullins said. “My husband, Jeff, Sarah’s husband, Sean, and my youngest daughter Loren all contribute to the success we have enjoyed.” Since launching in July 2008, PackitGourmet has received the Editor’s Choice Award in “Backpacker Magazine” in 2009 and five-star reviews in the 2010 Gear Guide.

Both Debbie and Jeff Mullins are 1991 UWF graduates and both also work at the University of Texas in Austin. Debbie administers a NASA-affiliated student design program that she developed in 2002 called the NASA TSGC Design Challenge Program which pairs undergraduates with mentors on NASA mission-relevant projects. Jeff is the supervisor of operations for UT’s own power plant which supports the entire UT campus.

Born in Pensacola, Debbie Mullins returned when her father retired from the Navy and attended Escambia High School.

“I returned to college to pursue a degree at UWF as an ‘older than average student,’ after I was married and had two children. Since both my husband and I both made the commitment to fulfill our degree aspirations by going back to college at the same time – it was truly a balancing act.

She continued, “It was important enough to me to return to college and the effort was well worth it. The experience provided me with skills in research, writing, formulation of ideas and avenues of expression that are important in every aspect of my life – including areas involving career.”

The Mullins’ two daughters “literally grew up on the UWF campus – hiking the trails, attending theater productions and swimming in that fabulous pool. I think their association with UWF through us contributed to their own academic success in later years,” she said.

It is the couple’s love of the outdoors that inspired their family business.

“Jeff and I were preparing for a 10-day wilderness canoe trip in Canada to celebrate our 30th anniversary. I was spending so much time trying to gather up the supplies that we needed that I commented that if there was an online store where I could just purchase everything at once I would certainly make use of it. The more we thought about it, the better the idea sounded.”

They discussed the idea with their eldest daughter, Sarah, who at the time was in the master’s of business administration program at Colorado University. The idea gained ground through Sarah’s coursework and soon the company went live and word spread among outdoors enthusiasts.

Debbie Mullins believes her UWF degree balanced with her varied life experiences helped to provide a solid launching pad for not only her career but the family business.

“We have always been close as a family, but this new ‘adventure’ has brought us even closer — so I guess it’s a very pleasant surprise that we – as parents and adult children – are able to work so well together in an all new creative way.”

For more information on PackitGourmet, visit packitgourmet.com.

By Susie Forrester, University Marketing Communications