#NDSUintern Advice

Conner Hatfield
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Graduation Date: May 2019
Company: American Crystal Sugar Company
Position: Co-Op Engineer
Location: Moorhead, MN


Why did you choose to work for American Crystal Sugar Company?

I chose employment with American Crystal because of many reasons. Most important to me was the scope of work that I would have the opportunity of completing while working here. I was intrigued at the idea of working independently on engineering projects, but with direct access to one-on-one mentoring from my supervisor. Also, I was attracted to the idea of being the sole engineering intern for the entire Moorhead Factory. This would give me exposure to countless facets of process, production, and maintenance of a highly technical atmosphere. Lastly, American Crystal is very employee focused, and I had no doubt that I would not enjoy working here.

How did you find your internship?

I found this internship by attending the fall NDSU Engineering & Tech expo. I visited their booth along with many others that day, and chose to apply to this position as soon as possible.

How many internships did you apply to before you were hired?

Over the course of my Freshman and Sophomore years, along with this past fall semester, I have applied to over 20 engineering internships and Co-ops.

Did you register for credits through the Career Center’s Internship Program? If so, why was it beneficial for you to register?

I am registered for 3 internship credits through NDSU for the 2017 spring semester. These equate to full-time student status, and this was a very important factor in considering this internship. I wanted to stay a full-time student so that I may continue to utilize all of the useful resources NDSU has to offer. Also, if I had not registered for these credits, then my financial aid would have gone away.

Do you have any advice for students who haven’t had an internship yet or are in the process of applying to internships?

Never give up. It may seem cliché and overused, but it is 100% true. It is extremely rare for a student to receive an internship opportunity on their first few tries. Life is not going to be easy, and this is a good preparation for that. I have personally never heard of a poor internship experience while in college. Put in the work and give every opportunity your best shot, because you never know when the job of a lifetime is going to fall into your lap.

What is an average day like for you on the job?

American Crystal Sugar is one of the largest sugar producers in America, and they do this through processing sugar beets. Due to the unique harvest schedules, my job has two main stages; January-May, and May-August.

The first stage mainly consists of project planning, communication, and process engineering. An average day would consist of research, planning meetings with co-workers, project documentation, and budget & capital report creations in the morning; engineering studies, drawing approvals, and meetings with contractors in the afternoon.

In the second stage later in the summer, I will be supervising construction on the various projects that I planned in the previous season. I need to maintain communication between management and mechanical contractors, while approving engineering decisions as the Capital Project Manager.

What is the most challenging part of your job? How do you overcome these obstacles?

By far, the most challenging part of my job is learning the in’s and out’s of this specific company. It’s often said in the engineering field that 10% of your job is learned in the classroom, and 90% is learned in the field. While this may be a bit of an overstatement, the message holds firm. When I first started working here, I was told that I would learn more in 3 months here than what I would learn in a whole year back at school. So far I feel that this is true, and it shows in the struggles I’ve had to grasp the mountains of information required of someone new to this position.

I have overcome this obstacle by using the resources I have at hand. There are many people here that have decades of experience and a wealth of information. I’ve learned to be humble and always ask for help when you can no longer move forward by yourself.

How has your internship shaped your ideas for your career? Has it changed your career path?

I absolutely love all of the challenges that this position has posed. I’m an eager learner for new and interesting information, and this internship has provided me with an opportunity to get experience in a slightly different form of engineering. I am a mechanical engineer by study, but this job has shown me the interests of process and project engineering; something I never thought I would be involved in. I believe that by exposing myself to things I’m not used to and stepping outside my comfort zone, I am better prepared to narrow down my intended field of study.

Would you recommend having an internship?

I would whole-heartedly recommend engineering students–or any student for that matter–to pursue an internship or Co-op. You get the opportunity to gain valuable work experience before you graduate, and see what exactly you may be doing as a potential lifelong career. I believe that it also never hurts even to take some time off from school to get a break, make money, and learn outside of the classroom.

Did your internship help you get a job after graduation? If so, how?

I have not graduated yet, but it is favorable that American Crystal will offer me employment while in school, and they offer engineer-in-training positions to recent graduates. Undoubtedly, my participation in their Co-op program will assist me to get these positions if I choose to pursue them.

For more information on the Career Center’s Internship Program and the benefits of registering for credits, see https://career.ndsu.edu/internship-program/.

By Emma Stupke
Emma Stupke Graduate Assistant