A Day in the Life of Agricultural Engineer Katelyn Lichte

Meet Katelyn Lichte, an Agricultural Engineer for Corteva Agriscience. Find out how she got there, the types of projects she’s working on, and how you can #BeThatEngineer.
SWE Leadership Summit Update
A Day in the Life of Agricultural Engineer Katelyn Lichte
Katelyn Lichte

I grew up in a small town in central Minnesota.  At my school, the opportunity to explore STEM, specifically engineering, wasn’t really available.  Despite this, I always had a strong interest in STEM fields.  I used to spend hours watching the Discovery Channel, and being enthralled by all the amazing experiments people around the world were doing.

In my junior year of high school, my chemistry teacher approached me and told me about a camp focused on exploring engineering and physical science careers at the University of Minnesota.  He told me that he thought it would be a great opportunity for me and that he’d happily write me a letter of recommendation.  I took him up on that offer, and the camp solidified my passion for engineering.  Shortly after the camp, I applied for admission to the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities in engineering.  My interest in Agricultural Engineering, however, wouldn’t come until later in my college experience.

I attended the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and graduated in 2017 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.  During college, I was heavily involved with our collegiate Society of Women Engineers section.  I held a couple different leadership positions but my most notable position was Team Tech Director during my junior and senior years.  In this position, I had the privilege of leading a team of engineering students with the goal of solving a real industry problem that was given to us by a company sponsor.  Over the two years, I ran a project with Ecolab to “Increase the Efficiency of Industrial Laundry Machines” and a project with 3M to “Develop a Rapid Heat Transfer Chamber”.  This position also gave me the opportunity to present at SWE conferences on our team’s projects!

Outside of SWE, I also gained technical experience through two internships and a co-op.  My first internship was at Buhler Inc. as a Mechanical Engineering intern.  I supported capital projects and worked heavily with the shop floor to develop CAD drawings of parts that could be used to fabricate machines.

My second internship was with the University of Minnesota – Medical Devices Center.  This unique opportunity allowed me to work with a group of three other engineering students to go through the entire design process: problem statement to brainstorming to prototyping to testing.  I also gained a lot of hands on experience with machining, 3D printing and electronics.

My co-op* allowed me to spend the summer and fall semester of my senior year (for a total of 8 months) working for Cargill in Charlotte, North Carolina as a Production Management Engineer.  The experience working for 8 months in a manufacturing environment and living across the country was second to none.  I learned how to be confident when faced with problems, and how to think on my feet when projects didn’t go as planned.

(*Co-op: Co-operative education is a structured method of combining classroom-based education with practical work experience.  A co-op experience provides academic credit for structured job experience.)

The co-op with Cargill was really what solidified my interest in Agricultural Engineering.  I loved the prospect of making a difference in the world by literally helping to feed the world.

During my co-op with Cargill, I interviewed with DuPont Pioneer (now called Corteva Agriscience, Agricultural Division of DowDuPont) for a position in their Emerging Leaders Program.  I was offered the job and quickly accepted.  I was thrilled to have the prospect to work for a company that aligned with my values and allowed me to continue trying to improve the world.

In my role as a Plant Operations Specialist in the Emerging Leaders Program for Corteva, I work in a corn and soybean seed facility.  We contract growers to provide us with a quality crop of seed, bring the seed into the plant, and then condition the seed to remove seed that does not meet strict quality specifications.  Every day, I work side by side with our maintenance personnel and operators.  I’m the only engineer at my site, so I get to have my hands on every process.  When a piece of equipment breaks down, I’m there to help troubleshoot to not only fix the machine but to keep it from happening again.  I spend time on the floor with the operators to intimately understand their jobs, and complete continuous improvement projects to make their jobs easier and safer. Part of my job is also working with our maintenance supervisor to manage large capital projects and contractors that are working at our facility.  Through the leadership development portion of my job, I’ve also been able to get exposed to different areas of the business including agronomy, sales, and supply chain. My job brings a unique challenge that requires both technical and personal skills.

I love the vast amount of variety I’m faced with.  My industry is heavily seasonal, as it depends on the farming season, so we have times when our equipment isn’t running at all but we’re running around trying to prepare for the next busy season.  Then you have our packaging season where we’re running 24/7 and trying to get our product out the doors to farmers.  I also love seeing the direct impact of my job on the livelihood of farmers across the country.  There’s nothing more fulfilling than speaking to farmers who depend on our products to feed their families and people across the world.

As both a female engineer and a first-generation college graduate, I’ve been faced with self-doubt at a variety of moments in my life. The doubt, combined with some verbal comments from classmates/coworkers, almost made me stop pursuing engineering. However, in moments of doubt, I always reminded myself that engineering was my passion and I was going to do everything in my power to graduate and become an engineer.

Now, I enjoy encouraging other females to pursue their passions.  I volunteer at various schools in the area, and perform STEM experiments with them.  I’m also the Kindergarten through 12thgrade (K-12) Outreach Chair for the East Central Iowa SWE Professional section, and I’m on the Outreach and Membership Committees at the Society level of SWE.  I’ve also taken on a new outreach challenge as a FIRST Robotics coach.  STEM Outreach has become one of the top priorities in my life.  I’ve learned from personal experiences that all it takes is one role model, one person to make a difference and inspire the next generation.

If you have a passion for helping others, engineering is a field where you’ll see firsthand the impact your work can have. You will likely go through some hardships, whether in college or on the job, but keep pushing.  Those hardships are worth it in the end.  Also specifically for Agricultural Engineering, don’t worry if you don’t come from a farming background.  (I didn’t.)  Agriculture is for everyone and an outside perspective is extremely valuable!