By Elena L., Spring Intern and Student Ambassador
When I switched my major to technical systems management in the fall of 2015, I never imagined that I would be working for a company in that field in the very near future. After receiving an offer from Monsanto for a six-month production engineering co-op for the spring of 2016, I thought to myself, “Agriculture? I know nothing about agriculture. How am I going to survive?” Yet, as December approached, I found myself finalizing plans for my move to St. Louis to work with the company that has earned a place in the world as a leader in the modern ag industry.
Getting hands-on experience
If I had to describe my first two weeks at Monsanto, I would equate it to the first time that I rode a bicycle without training wheels—except I was never given training wheels and the bicycle actually turned out to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. I was assigned the task of troubleshooting and fixing an older four-row planter so that it would be functional for the 2016 planting season. Having never come in contact with a planter before my co-op, I had no idea where to even begin, and I was especially terrified of breaking such an expensive and important piece of equipment. With help from other members of the planter production team, I was able to begin performing hands-on troubleshooting to determine what I would need to fix. After a few weeks of troubleshooting, fixing, and testing the planter, it was finally in working condition and able to contribute to the research pipeline this planting season.
As March brought in warmer weather, I enjoyed soaking up some sun while working in the field on a Missouri farm site, collecting field data. After spending a few hours in the soil collecting data to determine the effectiveness of software updates, I consolidated all the data and it was passed on for statistical analysis.
Making a lasting impact
Outside of collecting and consolidating data, I spent time leafing through four inch-thick binders that contained drawings of planter models from 2015 and 2016. I was responsible for devising a plan to upgrade older planter models (2013, 2014, 2015) so that they matched the 2016 production design. After determining the design upgrades that were deemed necessary for the operation of the planter, I was tasked with creating a cost estimate for each upgrade, which included labor and equipment expenses. I then presented the itemized estimate, along with a projected timeline, so that a capital project could be created.
At the end of the three months that I spent working on the upgrade project, my time and effort could be summed up in a specific dollar amount—$4 million. When I first started my co-op, I never thought that I could make a seven-figure impact on the company, but I did. Although I may have begun my co-op experience knowing very little, consistently being challenged by the responsibilities of the role allowed me to gain a great deal of knowledge that I will build upon as I finish my degree at the University of Illinois and enter the work force. The six months that I spent with Monsanto flew by; I’m glad that I was given the opportunity to have such an invaluable experience.