Indiana University Kokomo

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KOKOMO, Ind. — Kaitlynd Lear has a "Whopper" of an excuse for missing a few days of class at Indiana University Kokomo this semester.

Kaitlynd LearKaitlynd LearThe fast-fingered freshman competed for a national title, not in a sporting event, but for her skills and agility creating Burger King's signature sandwich. She and 23 of her fellow employees nationwide earned a trip to Miami, for the first-ever Whopper Challenge.

"My math professor told me it was the best excuse he's ever heard," Lear said.

She assembled a perfect Whopper in a blazing-fast 17 seconds, to finish in 19th place in Miami. Not bad, considering 200,000 Burger King employees tried out in store level competition around the country.

Lear's personal best is 14 seconds. The national winner built his sandwich in 12 seconds, and received a $10,000 prize. Lear earned $550 for winning her district and qualifying for the national competition, and her franchise gave her $300.

"That really helps, since I go to school full time and work full time," she said. "I want to graduate with a degree and no debt. I'm not big on paying interest."

The trips gave her an opportunity to meet Burger King CEO Daniel S. Schwartz, who talked with her about her classes, and her majors in business management, finance, and economics.

"He said there are a lot of job opportunities in the corporate side of Burger King for people with experience and a degree," she said.

Lear, 19, appreciated the support given by her classmates and professors, who helped her catch up on missed classes.

"I was surprised at how willing everyone was to work with me and allow me to make up what I missed," she said.

While she's back at work at the Burger King just south of campus, her competition days are likely behind her — she earned a promotion to shift manager after returning from Miami, and managers are barred from competition. She expects she'll still make a Whopper from time to time, though, just to keep in practice.

"We get a lot of people who come in and want me to make their Whopper," she said.

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.