How can we get our youth more involved with STEM/manufacturing careers?


This summer, we welcomed Ethan, a student from Winona Senior High School, to join us for an internship through the REACH Initiative. This pilot project, led by the Winona Area Chamber of Commerce Business Education Network and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, is intended to bridge the gap between classroom curriculum and local employers. In April of 2017, Miller Ingenuity became a founding Legacy Partner of the REACH program.

It is so important to our company to provide resources and educational opportunities to our community’s youth that will allow them to have hands-on experience with STEM careers. Igniting passion in manufacturing will help bring in new innovation and skilled workers for generations to come.

Our Marketing and Communications Specialist, Christine Nestor, interviewed Ethan on his last day of the internship to get his views on the program, careers in STEM and manufacturing, his time at Miller Ingenuity, and his future plans after graduation. Please enjoy this transcript, as well as an audio recording, of the interview.

Listen to the audio here.


Christine: Ethan thank you so much for talking with me today about careers in STEM, your time at Miller Ingenuity and your experience with the REACH program. Can you tell me a little about yourself – what school you go to, what grade you’re in, your personal interests…it doesn’t have to be anything specially about manufacturing.

Ethan: Well I am a student going into my senior year at Winona Senior High School and I am the first batch of REACH students. As in personal interest, this has always really been up my alley. I have interest in mechanical [things]. When I was a kid I used to take apart my toys when they were broken which usually ended in a big mess.

C: Ah – you are supposed to, you’re a kid, right?

E: Yeah – ha. I always loved figuring out how things tick.

C: That makes sense.

E: After seeing how things were made, this [the REACH Initiative] is right up my alley.

C: Right…yeah…Are you apart of any other organizations or clubs at school, or is [REACH] your main focus?

E: This is my main focus along with schooling. It is a pretty busy thing.

C: For those that don’t know what we are talking about, the REACH Initiative is a student focused project through the Winona Area Chamber of Commerce as well as the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and its intended to help bridge the gap between classroom curriculum and local employers and it’s all centered around careers in STEM like science, technology, engineering, and math. And Ethan is in the first group of students at Winona High School who is a part of this program. So that means that you started it when you were a sophomore…when you applied?

E: Uh yes, the application process was basically a three-part thing. They chose a bunch of students, gave us application handouts, and then of the kids that applied they choose 30 of us.

C: Was there anyone at home or at school that kind of pushed you or motivated you to apply for the program or was it more your personal interest that drove you to apply?

E: It was mostly my drive for it, but a lot of people were like “that sounds like a great idea.”

C: Yeah, so there were a lot of students who were really jazzed about the program.

E. Yeah…

C: That’s awesome.

E. One thing I found impressive is they specifically geared it toward students who weren’t excelling in math, science… and more toward the students who were excelling into the metals and wood working classes.

C: The hands on [classes].

E. Yeah

C: That’s great.

C: What grade are you going into now?

E: I’m in 11th going into 12th.

C: Excellent. So, you’ve gone through a few of the other steps with the program. So, after you applied and were accepted, what came next for you?

E: Well like I said I’m the first batch, so it was a rough road for everyone involved while we figured out the kinks. If I remember correctly this was the beginning of last year. I believe we started off with workplace skills like ‘how to get the job’ and ‘how to send your resume.’

C: So, all of the soft skills needed for the workplace.

E: Yes.

C: Was that something that you had knowledge prior to that? Obviously, you know about resumes and interviews and stuff like that, but have you ever experienced writing your own resume or practicing for interviews and anything like that.

E: Well I had actually taken a business class before that, so I had learned a bit more in-depth but not how in-depth they were. They had brought in people to interview us for mock interviews on a whim notice and I remember one assignment they gave us was write a 200-word assignment on the career you want to get into. So, it was a lot of figuring out, if you did not know what you wanted, figuring out in that class.

C: Oh, that’s great. I think that is such a great program and activity for you guys to have done. I know when I was in school, I didn’t have any classes that prepared you for life. You pretty much went from high school classes like social studies, English and all that. And then they were like OK apply for college. So, you applied for college. THEN, it was very focused on the four-year degree program. So, I didn’t really understand that there were other options out there for me. And I’m sure that was the case for a lot of students as well and maybe still is. So, I think something like this program is very helpful in that regards. There are all these jobs out there – the hands-on, engineering, manufacturing [jobs] that are lacking in employees to work there.

C: So, you went through the soft skills training, which is great, and then I think there is the immersion experiences where you get to visit different places. Where did you get to go?

E: I believe the first immersion wasn’t at a company. It was at St. Mary’s at a ropes course to help build team building and that was on the first day of school. I think my first immersion to a company was…I believe Winona Sign and Design. The first couple immersions were basically hit or miss figuring out what the kids like. And after that they started figured out what each student liked. And they sent us out on immersions toward those interests which I greatly appreciated.

C: And when you were there on location, did you get to be hands-on when you were visiting?

E: It depends on the company. Some companies have a lot more sensitive materials they are working with or dangerous environments. But they try to keep it as hands on and as interactive as they can.

C: What was the next step after the immersion program.

E: The immersion program was basically throughout the whole year. It was one every month except December and January. While we were doing immersions, we started to get into the hands-on stuff. More blue-print reading, my favorite which was CADD computer design and this year we will be starting machining and woodworking.

C: Does that all take place in your high school or do you go somewhere else for that?

E: Yes, it all takes place in the high school. We’ve been lucky enough to have several companies like Fastenal that give donations like machines and companies like miller to do immersions or even have an internship like the one I am finishing today.

C: So, this is your last day today?

E: Yes.

C: So, what brought you to Miller. Did you select the company you wanted to intern with? I know there is a wide selection of places you could go to so what brought you to Miller specifically?

E: It is actually quite a funny story. I originally signed up for a Thern interview. Ron poked his head out the door and he looked at me and I looked at him and he said, “come here” and I had nothing prepared for this interview. I walked in as bland as you can be for an interview and it turned out like this – I got the job.

C: That’s great. Sometimes it’s better to not be very strictly prepared when you are more comfortable, and you are going off your own thoughts and feelings. It comes across more authentic. I’m sure Ron recognized your passion for what you’re so interested in – which is the engineering side – is that what I’m hearing?

E: Yes

C: So, you came to miller – when did you start?

E: I started about 4 weeks ago.

C: So, take me through a day-to-day for you at Miller. What were you typically working on?

E: Well I arrived at 7:30 a.m. each day and for the first week they had a schedule for me for where I would be going and that was injection molding and I was worried that I was going to be treated like a student and taken easy on and not get the full environment that I was looking for. That did not happen. I ended up very sore after the first week. They did not hold back. It was definitely an enlightening experience and one that I will never forget. It was a lot of fun making that hard work fun.

C: So, who did you get to work with during your days at Miller.

E: Oh, there are so many people. After about 3 or 4 days in a department, I would be swapped into the next department so that I got a good grip on every department here. The staff was just amazing and welcoming and took the time with teaching me the basics and then when they saw I had it down, treated me like a regular worker. They were not afraid to point out mistakes. It felt like I had a normal job and I was just working. It didn’t feel like I was on an internship for reach which was what I was looking for.

C: That’s great. I’m glad you had the experience and you got to touch many different things while you were here with us. That is something I know that everyone in the factory tends to do They normally kind of hop around and work in the different areas, so I’m glad you got to do that too.

C: Have you heard of Miller before you started the internship?

E: I knew a little bit about it mostly from the immersions. Sadly, Miller was one of the two companies I did not get to go on the immersion tour.

C: I was wondering if you had. I know we’ve had many different immersion programs, so I didn’t know if you were a part of those or not.

E: No this was one of the very few companies I did not visit which made the first day that much more interesting.

C: Oh, I’m sure. It’s all brand new to you.

C: So, we went through your day at Miller and the program itself and I know you are speaking very highly of the program and of your time at Miller which I am so happy to hear. What are some things that you are going to take with you, whether it’s something you’ve learned with engineering itself or any of the different areas you’ve worked on in the factory or whether it’s something personal… what is something you are going to take away from this internship?

E: Well one of the main things I am going to take away is like I was saying before – the workers environment. I love that at Miller a lot of the main decisions are decided by the people on the floor and that just amazes me. I didn’t expect that. Another thing is that everyone really felt like family. I don’t think I heard any arguing throughout the entire time here. They joked around with me and that made me feel welcome. So mainly just how to treat people is how I can sum it up.

C: I’m glad you’ve had that experience because I know our CEO Steve Blue – that is one of his main goals/missions for the company is to instill those values into all of the employees. I’m sure he will be very happy to hear that that is one of your biggest takeaways from this internship.

C: So, what’s next for you? You are ending your internship today and you are starting your senior year. What are your plans? Are you going to attend a specific school or are you going to take another internship when you graduate?

E: I’ve been throwing around a few ideas. One was taking another internship at the end of this year. Another was taking my GEDS at the tech college. Another was to go straight to the school I want to go to which is MCAD in the cities which is a great private college for design and I want to be either a graphic designer or a CADD worker. And then I plan on getting a minor in programming which should give me a wide variety in job opportunities with the ever-evolving technology industry that is now arriving in our day and age. Technology is becoming more and more prevalent.

C: It definitely is. Do you think you’ll take that type of programming skills more toward the manufacturing sector or do you think you’ll take it in a different direction?

E: I sure hope I do a bit of both. I don’t know where to go with the programming. The program is more of a side thing that I hope to do. I don’t know if I’m really going to pursue it.

C: It never hurts to have many different skills. Because you never know what job you land at and those skills may be needed.

C: We’ll I am out of questions for today. Is there anything you wanted to add, anything we didn’t cover?

E: I just want to thank Miller Ingenuity for the great opportunity and the great hospitality around the workplace and the opportunity and I hope that they continue to work with REACH because I know many many kids who would love to have the opportunity that I had these last few weeks.

C: Well that’s great to hear. We loved having you and I know Jesse will say the same thing. And I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today!

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