Uh Oh -- SpaghettiOs Celebrates 30 Years

BABY Boomers' favorite food is all grown up.

''SpaghettiOs,'' the pasta rings swimming in Franco-American's famous orange tomato sauce, are turning 30, and a big celebration is planned for Columbus, Ohio, this month.

When SpaghettiOs debuted in 1965, they became a hit with kids -- who liked their shape -- and parents, who found them convenient and less messy than regular spaghetti. ''It's the greatest invention since the napkin!'' a mother in the earliest TV commercial declared.

''We sold two to three times more product than we ever envisioned,'' explains Donald Goerke, who, then a marketing manager for Campbell Soup Company, Franco-American's parent company, led the team that introduced SpaghettiOs. (Campbell vetoed cowboy, spaceman, and star shapes before choosing the ''O.'')

Today, SpaghettiOs are still the best-selling kids' canned pasta. Last year, almost 100 million cans were consumed in the United States. The special ingredients have not changed, except that sodium content has been reduced, says Vince Mechiorre, Franco-American Pasta's marketing manager.

Hardly a Boomer exists who doesn't remember the SpaghettiOs jingle: ''It's the neat, new spaghetti you can eat with a spoon ... Uh Oh, SpaghettiOs!'' And the logo -- a face with noodle eyes that became ''TheO'' -- is recognizable to many of America's children and adults.

Shortly after SpaghettiOs debuted, Franco-American added meatballs and franks to the dish. TeddyOs -- SpaghettiOs and teddy bear-shaped pasta -- arrived in the 1980s, followed by Where's WaldOs, and Garfield the cat PizzaOs and Ravioli. Gargoyles and Shnookums & Meat, based on Walt Disney characters, were introduced this year. ''Licensing provides a way to bring the newest, hottest properties to the canned pasta category,'' Mr. Melchiorre says. Nonetheless, original SpaghettiOs appear most often on kitchen tables.

Shelby Siems, Boston

Are Female Role Models Needed In the Sciences?

SOME universities have put considerable stock in ''role models'' as a means of encouraging young women to become scientists, mathematicians, and engineers -- professions that few females take up.

A recent Princeton University report calls for increasing the number of female faculty in science and engineering, asserting that the school's ''ability to attract and retain women students'' would be ''profoundly affected.'' Both Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and Yale University in New Haven, Conn., have programs to hire more women faculty in the sciences or mathematics, hoping to attract more female students.

But a new study by two economists finds no evidence that an increase in the share of females in a faculty leads to an increase in its share of female undergraduate majors. Hence, they conclude, university administrations that seek to boost female enrollments in particular departments by hiring more female faculty may find such efforts of no avail.

Brandice Canes of Stanford University, in Stanford, Calif., and Harvey Rosen of Princeton University, in Princeton, N.J. tracked the numbers of female faculty and students across departments between 1974 and 1988 in three academic institutions. These were Princeton, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and Whittier College in Whittier, Calif.

In a National Bureau of Economic Research paper, the professors do find that female faculty and female undergraduates tend to end up in the same departments. At Princeton, for instance, the proportion of female faculty in the chemistry department is tiny compared to that in romance languages and literature. The same pattern is true of female students. However, this correlation tells nothing about whether undergraduates' choices of majors are influenced by the gender composition of the faculty. The authors thus look at variations in the proportion of female faculty over time in various departments to see if this has brought any change in the proportion of female students.

Looking at the data in several ways, they find no statistically significant correlation in any of the three schools.

David R. Francis, Boston

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