It’s not very often that a student from a Scottish University gets the opportunity to spend a summer working abroad in one of the world’s most successful companies. Yet thanks to a relatively new Scottish initiative, The Saltire Foundation, I am one of 54 successful student applicants lucky enough to be doing just that: having the experience of a lifetime; enjoying 8 weeks of summer in the busy offices of one of the world’s most exciting and innovative multinational companies.
My name is Rory Herron; I’m 22 years old and hail from County Derry in Ireland. In September I’ll be returning to Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland to complete my degree in Multimedia Journalism. Until then, I, along with my fellow Scottish intern, Kitty, have taken up residence in St. Louis, Missouri, and am being thrown into the deep end of the inner workings of the world’s leading agricultural company – Monsanto. Here, I will be supporting staff and working on a range of projects within the company’s marketing & public affairs department, contributing to online content, research and communications.
So what is the Saltire Foundation? It is an independent charitable organization representing a new vision for Scotland, providing invaluable opportunities through experience, learning and business networking. Its internship programme (which I am on) offers Scotland’s students the chance to spend 8 weeks working at a top multinational company with the aim of encouraging candidates to develop their confidence, skills and capacity to succeed. Uniquely, each partaking company has a “GlobalScot” backing the ambitions of the Saltire Foundation. In this case, it is the CEO of Monsanto, Hugh Grant.
I arrived in St Louis on the afternoon of Friday 8th July and with the weekend free I decided to explore the area to get the feel for my new home. My perception of people here is perhaps best summed up by my first half hour after checking in at my hotel when I strolled outside to West Port plaza. Wearing my Glasgow Celtic FC football top (soccer jersey?), I sat down in Bradford’s Bar and immediately felt the other customers’ eyes as I ordered a Heineken and gazed at the screen attempting to differentiate between a strike and a ball in the ongoing Cardinals vs Diamondbacks baseball game. As the blatant outsider, it wasn’t long before I felt right at home as within a few minutes the bar-man winced at me as he gleefully turned the sound up on the Juke Box to celebrate his next song of choice; Shipping off to Boston by Irish-American punk band The Dropkick Murphys (think opening credits in the film The Departed). “Sláinte!” I said, as I raised my glass and laughed with the rest of the punters before I felt a pat on the back and a Glenlivet single malt was placed in front of me; let’s just say the rest is history…
My point is that since arriving here on Friday, every single ‘St. Louisian’ has made every effort to make me feel welcome. Unlike in certain cities in the UK, everyone here seems to have the time to stop and talk to you, even if you are a complete stranger; and not one conversation ends without the local tailing it off with “you have a nice day!..” It’s typical, I’ve been told, of the Mid-West.
Lesson 1: Wear Glasgow Celtic top whenever possible.
Lesson 2: Don’t drink Heineken, Bud is brewed in St. Louis and thus is half the price.
Lesson 3: A strike is when the batsman swings and misses; a ball is when he doesn’t swing.
While Saltire internees who specialize in finance and or business will be working in banks and insurance agencies across the globe, it is no surprise that the Saltire Foundation chased Monsanto for my CMC internship. When it comes to marketing and public affairs, I can’t imagine a better environment to learn in than a Fortune 500 company whose mission is often misinterpreted and whose global reputation is challenged on more or less a daily basis. As I look around the office on my third day, I see dozens of awards scattered across the cubicles of my new supervisors and co-workers and feel excited knowing that I have a lot to learn in my 8 weeks here.
I’ve only spent three days in the office so far, but already have received tours of the Creve Coeur and Chesterfield campuses. These tours have been invaluable eye-openers for me as they’ve given fascinating insight into how GM technology works within agriculture and to the benefits that it brings to farmers all over the world, regardless of their environment or climate. Last year, Monsanto reinvested $1.2bn (almost 10% of their total revenue) into research, showing their commitment to improving the quality of products that they sell. Most of this is spent on breeding and biotechnology, i.e. improving seeds via patented techniques such as their revolutionary, non-destructive chipping process. This allows them to test a seed’s genetics without destroying its viability and enables Monsanto breeders to more efficiently conduct research trials in the farm each year, helping them to get the best seeds to farmers faster. Only the best and most suitable seeds are sold, many of which allow crops to grow larger and faster. Absolutely amazing.
As I look on BBC news, the day in pictures shows impoverished Somali children wait for food to be distributed in Mogadishu, Kenya. Thousands of people have been displaced by the drought gripping the horn of Africa and I can’t help but wonder if has there ever been a time when it has been more important to consider all the options, when it comes to agriculture…
Lesson 4: The earth’s population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050
Lesson 5: Mankind will need to produce more food in the next 50 years than it has in the last 10,000 years combined.
Lesson 6: Global warming is causing more severe droughts in Kenya and other third world countries. Investment in science could prove to be crucial in feeding the world’s most needy citizens.