Seeking gainful employment
Tuesday, September 20, 2022
Each fall, students dress for success and practice their elevator pitches on the way to meet employers that line the halls of Gallagher-Iba Arena. The OSU Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources Career Fair aims to connect recruiters with top-tier talent and provide students the opportunity to find summer internships as well as full-time employment.
While some students see summer break as a time for rest and relaxation, many Ferguson College of Agriculture students choose to spend their summers getting hands-on experience through internships with organizations they connected with at the annual career fair.
Three of these students – Erin Slagell, Racelyn Gemmell and Anthony Baumbach – stayed busy this past summer gaining technical knowledge and invaluable professional skills within their respective industries.
A taste of the food industry
While some will spend their internships honed in on one area of a company, others gain broad experiences while exploring all sides of operations.
For Erin Slagell, a junior majoring in food science, her “other duties as assigned” at empirical foods, inc. included everything from operating a forklift to helping reverse engineer a taco seasoning recipe.
“Before my first food science class, I had never found a subject where I was that excited to learn more,” Slagell said. “I was interested in everything the field had to offer, but I wasn’t really sure how to start narrowing down what I enjoyed the most.”
When she accepted her position as an operations intern with empirical, Slagell was interested in how food processing plants “keep the lights on,” she said, and ensure product consistency. After she found her footing in the operations side of the plant, Slagell expressed an interest in research and development to her supervisor.
“One of my main takeaways from my time with empirical is the ability to speak up and advocate for myself in professional settings,” Slagell said. “If you’re interested in something, all you have to do is ask – that’s how I got to work in the R&D Test Kitchen.”
According to Slagell, all experience is good experience – especially as an intern.
“While I don’t necessarily see myself pursuing a career in operations, I couldn’t be more thankful for the perspective I gained as an operations intern,” Slagell said. “Having that background knowledge is invaluable for working in a research and development setting.”
She added that she initially connected with her employer thanks to the Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources Career Fair.
“As a Career Liaison for the Ferguson College of Agriculture, I gave a tour to the empirical recruiters the day before career fair and spent the whole day with them learning about their company and products,” Slagell said. “I connected with them again at career fair the next day and got an internship offer shortly after my interview.”
Even though Slagell was aware of empirical, meeting with recruiters face-to-face is what helped encourage her to apply.
“I really liked that empirical is a smaller, family-owned company,” Slagell said. “After interacting with the recruiters, I could tell the company’s values aligned with my own.
“That’s something you can only get when you meet people from the company,” she added. “Just checking out their website just doesn’t do it justice.”
Getting her hands dirty
Racelyn Gemmell’s passion for soil science and conservation was ignited on a class field trip during her time at her junior college.
“I was actually an agricultural communications major at the time,” Gemmell said. “But I talked to the owner while we were there and got a part-time job working on the farm.
“I ended up loving it – I actually changed my major to plant and soil sciences by the end of the week,” she said.
Gemmell, a plant and soil sciences senior, transferred to the Ferguson College of Agriculture in fall 2020 and was required to attend the virtual career fair as a class assignment. She met with a few organizations, but the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service stood out to her.
“I wasn’t raised in crop production, so I felt a little out of place talking to some of the more crop-heavy organizations,” Gemmell said. “NRCS was a perfect fit for me because it connects the farmers and ranchers I’m used to with crop science and conservation.”
Over the last two summers, Gemmell has worked with the USDA-NRCS as a soil conservationist trainee intern. Gemmell said the variety of day-to-day duties was her favorite part of the job.
“We were in the field almost every day,” Gemmell said. “I got to meet with landowners, listen to the problems they were experiencing and offer them sound advice to maximize their operation’s efficiency.”
When she wasn’t in the field, she was back in the office running tests and performing health assessments.
In addition to rounding out the technical knowledge she gained in class, Gemmell developed core professional skills during her time with NRCS.
“I learned a lot about communicating with landowners,” Gemmell said. “They have to make a lot of tough decisions – especially during a time of drought.”
She added that learning how to make those difficult suggestions in a way that is factual and empathetic is something that cannot be learned in a classroom.
“Internships bridge the gap between what you learn in class and the skills you’ll need when you enter the workforce,” Gemmell added.
“I’m so thankful for my experience as an intern because it’s solidified my desire to work in soil conservation,” Gemmell said. “I’m equally grateful for the career fair – had I not spoke with NRCS two years ago, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Excelling in corporate life
Gone are the days of interns fetching coffee and fixing paper jams. Today, interns are directly involved in day-to-day operations and serve as a fresh set of eyes on issues companies are facing.
“I did a ton of Excel sheets,” Baumbach said. “The cool part was that a lot of them actually got used to help quote customers.
“It felt nice being able to contribute to Koch in a meaningful way, even as an intern,” he added.
Baumbach had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects – including product transportation cost comparisons, implementing new software to streamline billing processes and proposing inventory analysis solutions for a fertilizer storage barn. However, he said he was the most satisfied with his growth as a professional during his internship experience.
“There are a lot of skillsets we get trained on in the classroom,” Baumbach said. “But you can only get good at things like talking with higher ups, communicating through email and presenting information-heavy projects when you do them day in and day out.”
Additionally, he said he got a better feel for what will be expected of him when he enters the industry after graduation.
“I thought I was good with Excel,” Baumbach said. “But I found out pretty quickly that I didn’t know the program as well as I thought I did.
“I’m really thankful I was able to get over that learning curve in an internship environment rather than at my first full-time job.”
Baumbach said he attributes his internship to the connection he made with Koch at the previous year’s Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources Career Fair.
“Prior to visiting with them at career fair, I hadn’t ever heard of the company,” Baumbach said. “But seeing the diversity within the company really encouraged me to apply – I figured if I don’t fit in one part of the company, there would be a lot more to choose from.”
In Baumbach’s opinion, making the effort to add an internship to your college experience is one of the best things you can do for yourself professionally.
“It’s the only way you can get real job experience before you graduate,” Baumbach said.
Story By: Hunter Gibson