“How a PepsiCo Internship Launched My Professional Career” was written by PepsiCo employee Kelly Hentges.
Looking for an internship
A good internship will give you an opportunity to learn about a company and the day-to-day experiences you can expect while working there. A great internship does all of that, but also gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your ability to execute projects, overcome challenges, and gain confidence in yourself as an engineer. During the summer of 2015, I was lucky enough to experience the latter, which led me to my rewarding career today as a Research and Development (R&D) engineer at PepsiCo.
As an undergrad, I always dreaded the career fair. It was daunting – making time between classes to race across the quad in my business suit while the temperature was in the upper 90s. To then wait in line with my classmates to speak with a recruiter, each of us hoping to dazzle them with a 30-second elevator pitch just to be asked to interview for an internship.
I still remember the immense pressure I felt trying to prove to myself that I was meant to be here and show that I could be a great engineer. But slowly, as I advanced in my education, things changed. By my senior year, I had three and a half years of school, one co-op, and one internship on my resume. I was confident I wanted to work in R&D in the consumer goods industry. I was passionate about making an impact and joining a company that delivered sustainable and nutritious food to consumers. And I wanted to stay at the forefront of innovation and operate with the highest of standards. After conveying all of this to the recruiters at PepsiCo, I was offered an internship where I found all this and more.
Life as an Intern
My internship was with the R&D Discovery and Applications Process Engineering team working to start up an innovative alternative pasteurization process for a brand-new Naked Juice product line. I was responsible for optimizing a variety of unit operations from end to end of the process in the pilot plant, a small-scale manufacturing area, that could then be rapidly scaled up to full speed and volume when the new products launched. I learned why my work and working quickly was important: speed to market is key in the food industry where it is hard to predict what is a passing trend and what is a new staple that consumers will grow to love. While completing my process optimization project, I worked with, and learned from, truly brilliant peers who are experts in their fields of food safety, quality, microbiology, analytical chemistry, and statistics.
The greatest challenge I had to overcome was that the process input was an agricultural product, which has natural variation, while consumers expect a consistent product. This challenge is overcome with statistics, which is why I always tell students to take more statistics! Additionally, I often found myself reaching for my thermodynamics and fluid mechanics books while working with this unique material. One lesson I had to learn was that as the engineer on the project, it was my job to understand that there is no perfect experiment or solution. But through the data we collected, and technical expertise and experience, we identified options and confidently moved forward with a recommendation. At the end of my internship, I presented my work, recommendations, and the business impact to the R&D senior leadership team. It was a great opportunity for me to show a large audience everything I knew and the value I brought to PepsiCo. By the end of the summer I knew I had found an organization where I could make an impact, and stay technically challenged, supporting the development of the next great innovation.
Launching my career
I happily accepted a full-time job offer with the R&D Discovery and Applications team in the Nutrition Division based in Chicago, Illinois. We were responsible for researching new technologies, developing new processes, and optimizing plant operations. I got to work on a variety of products and loved the exciting work travel! It was a blast to travel to Los Angeles, California, for the summer to work on Naked Juice, and then spend citrus season working on Tropicana Juice in Tampa, Florida. I made friends in the area and we would spend the weekends living like locals, hitting the beach and exploring. After years of specializing in liquids processing, I moved to Iowa to learn solids and bulk powder processing from the experts at Quaker Oats.
Today I still use the skills I learned in my internship. I collaborate with experts, execute time-sensitive projects and challenge myself technically. Every day I come to work at the largest oat mill in the world with an immense amount of pride knowing that I am carrying on the heritage of continued innovation to deliver nutritious, affordable, quality food for consumers.