August brings the year’s last warm days, the Iowa State Fair, and the start of school for many. For our summer interns, August means the winding down of their work experiences and heading back to the college classroom in the fall.
Every year, Key employs several students to work for the cooperative as part of a paid internship program. These interns are employed for a period of time in which they gain valuable work experience, exercise practical application of classroom knowledge, and get a realistic view of their chosen field.
An internship experience with Key is unique. Interns work collaboratively with members of the Key team across all four divisions (Feed, Energy, Grain, Agronomy) rather than staying in their respective department. Students aren’t expected to go on coffee runs or simply sweep the shop. The work they do during their time at the coop translates to the work that professionals do within those areas every day. Having an internship experience is an asset to today’s young adults; Key internships teach students life lessons, customer service, and how to work independently, as well as together, to benefit all aspects of the cooperative.
This year, Key’s internship program included nineteen students. These interns gained experience in Sales Agronomy, Agronomy Operations, Safety, Communications and Human Resources, Energy, and IT. Please read the reflections from six of these interns below.
Tiffanie Koch – Safety Intern
Tiffanie Koch from Hawkeye, Iowa, stepped into Key’s new role of Safety Intern and it fit her well. Tiffanie choose to intern with Key after speaking with Human Resources at her college career fair. Tiffanie has been Safety Director Ryan Janssen’s, willing and capable student. She says that working with Ryan has been a wonderful experience. “He’s taught me new things about safety and been very encouraging along the way,” Tiffanie said. A major part of Tiffanie’s internship has been assisting Ryan in developing new safety training tools and updating information in the database system. One of her projects included creating power points for the safety training of new and current employees.
Tiffanie’s favorite part of her internship was the opportunity to get to know the employees and other interns and experience more than just safety. “I have gained a little experience in each Key department, whether that was in Communications, Human Resources, Agronomy, or Propane,” Tiffanie reflected.
As a junior at Iowa State University this fall, Tiffanie is working towards her Agriculture Communications degree with an emphasis in Public Relations and Agriculture Business. After graduation, her goal is to work as Human Resources or as a Communications Director for an agricultural company. “One thing that I really appreciate about working for Key Cooperative is the friendly customers and employees. Everyone is willing to help me learn something new each day. I look forward to potential future opportunities within the company!” Tiffanie worked at the S-14 location from March until August.
Mark VandeHaar – Sales Agronomist Intern
Mark VandeHaar of Pella, Iowa, rocked his Sales Agronomist Internship this summer! Having previously done a job shadow at Key, Mark wanted the full cooperative experience and the choice to intern was an easy one. As the only intern at the New Sharon location, Mark was able to spend lots of time working with the agronomist there, Jason DeBruin. “Jason spent many hours driving around with me, showing me different weeds, diseases and oddities found in the field; it really helped increase my crop knowledge and broaden my skill set,” Mark said. As a Sales Agronomist Intern, Mark took on a variety of tasks such as delivering seed, sorting chemicals, and taking care of customers’ fields.
Mark’s Key experience has been a valuable one because he’s continued to learn about agriculture outside the classroom. “I greatly appreciate the time that each member of the coop has put into helping me learn as an intern. My knowledge of how a coop functions has grown because they’ve answered my questions and helped me solve problems,” Mark explained. He had the opportunity to gain experience in the field and it was a game changer for him. “Being able to actually see the diseases, look at the weeds, and watch the crops grow has given me a new perspective on how much farming has changed to improve the way crops are raised and how much it can still improve,” Mark said. “I also learned to put the thoughts, ideas, and desires of the customer first.”
Mark is currently a sophomore at Iowa State University, majoring in Agricultural Studies and minoring in Agronomy. His career plans include entering either equipment sales or seed/chemical sales in the future. Mark appreciates that Key equips him not only for a potential job within the coop, but for any other job. He respects that his internship went beyond learning the skills needed for weed identification to the skills needed for interacting with and serving customers. “I would highly recommend the program to anyone in the agricultural industry.” Mark interned at the New Sharon location from May to August.
Austin Schleich – Sales Agronomist Intern
Le Grand got a good one in Austin Schleich as a Sales Agronomist Intern! After learning about Key at the Iowa State Career Fair, Austin’s interest was piqued and he knew that an internship at Key would be the perfect fit for him. A crucial part of an agronomy internship is to have a good working relationship with one’s supervisor and Austin had one with Agronomist, Dave Bell. Austin greatly benefited from their daily agronomic discussions and the experiences Dave provided him with. “Dave has really done a good job of showing me the duties done by a Sales Agronomist for Key Cooperative,” Austin said.
Retail agronomy experience isn’t taught in the classroom, so Austin grateful to have learned all about it this summer. “It’s been nice to get ‘boots on the ground’ experience by directly correlating agronomy and customer interaction,” Austin said. He’s expanded his agronomic skill set during his internship and it will boost his career in the long run. “My internship has given me a great start to an agronomic career and allowed me to develop professionally,” Austin reflected. His favorite aspect of his Key internship was the diversity of his experience. “No matter what I am doing, whether it be scouting, helping around the elevator, or talking with customers, I learn or do something new every day,” he explained.
Austin plans to obtain his bachelor’s degree in Agronomy and Seed Science at Iowa State University. He hopes to work as a Field or Sales Agronomist after graduation. Austin has good things to say about working with Key, “I really appreciate how much Key Cooperative cares about their interns and makes sure they have a positive experience. From the weekly intern meetings, to the Key Cooperative Intern Day at an Iowa Cubs Baseball game, it was an involved program that promoted professional development.” Austin interned in Le Grand from April to August and is from Fairview, Illinois.
Cameron Mews – Agronomy Operations Intern
Agronomy Operations Intern, Cameron Mews has claimed the title, ‘jack of all trades,” for himself! Cameron worked at the Grinnell Agronomy Center this summer and truly embraced the diversity of his job. He was looking for an internship that would break the mold of an average intern experience and he found one. During his time at Grinnell, Cameron worked with many of the employees. Justin Mc Ilrath, Marcus Hoksbergen, and Dan Dunsbergen taught him the functionality of equipment, how to mix chemicals, and how to manage the chemical and fertilizer buildings. Rick Weigel shared his knowledge of grain origination, grain marketing strategies, and good salesman tips to the intern as well. Cameron completed various projects over the summer and soon realized one skill was necessary for them all. “The most important skill you need is to be able to think for yourself,” he said.
Cameron learned lots from working beside those who have years of operations experience. He admires how much credibility and confidence they have because they’ve earned their customers’ trust. Cameron discovered that same trust is valuable in the workplace too. “I’ve learned to hold myself accountable and how to be a great coworker. Other employees rely on me to do a good job, even when no one is looking. They put their trust in me and I put my trust in them.” Cameron credits his hands-on internship experience for accelerating his learning and appreciates all the wisdom that’s been passed on to him during his short time at the coop. “It’s something you can’t buy,” Cameron explained.
Cameron currently attends Iowa State University, majoring in Agricultural Studies wand minoring in Agronomy. He will enter the workplace after he graduates this December. His hopes are to eventually return to the family farm and operate with his family. Cameron found his summer with Key to be very rewarding, “I enjoy how easy it is to find management and how they can put you in a place to be successful.” Cameron interned at the Grinnell Agronomy Center from May to August and is from Williamsburg, Iowa.
Brant Wilkins – Sales Agronomist Intern
Brant Wilkins did great work as the Newton location’s Sales Agronomist Intern this summer! A high school job shadow with Newton location manager, Ryan Schumacher, was a major factor in Brant’s choice to intern at Key. “I got to see what Key was all about and how great of a place it was,” he said. Coming from a non-farming family, Brant didn’t have as much experience and knowledge as other interns. Under the guidance of agronomist Matt Dop, Brant soon caught up. “Matt was always patient with me, answered all my questions, and took the time to explain things,” Brant said. During his Sales Agronomist internship Brant did a lot of crop scouting. Early in the year, he was identifying weeds and recording stand counts. Later in the season, he scouted for diseases and insects. He, along with other agronomy interns, conducted a series of soil tests for nematodes with Bayer. They also set and checked traps for corn rootworm beetles.
Key’s hands-on approach to learning was a big take-away for Brant. “Not everything goes by the book and what you see in school. It was great to see different situations and I feel more prepared for my future job because I’ve seen what agronomy is all about,” he explained. Brant’s favorite aspect of his internship was the opportunity to interact with growers. “It’s great to be able to answer their questions and help them with their operation,” he said.
Returning to Northwest Missouri State University this fall, Brant will be entering his sophomore year. He is majoring in Agronomy and minoring in Precision Agriculture. His career plans are to secure a job in the agronomy field. Grant appreciates that Key takes good care of their interns and their producers, “I appreciate the cooperative model because it values the growers.” Brant interned at the Newton location from April through July and is from Pleasantville, Iowa.
Ellie Horn – Communications and Human Resources Intern
This year, Key created a new Communications and Human Resources (HR) intern role and Ellie Horn from Newton, Iowa, was glad to step in. She worked closely with Sara Clausen and Amy Van Weelden in Communications, as well as Bryan Bandstra, Eunice Scholten, and Valaree Muhlenberg in HR. “Sara and Amy share the same great approach to their work; they focus on how they can serve. They do a wonderful job of communicating with employees and members, and presenting Key to the public,” she explained.
In communications, Ellie wrote articles for the newsletter, was responsible for social media content, and gained experience in event coordination. She also learned some graphic design basics and photography. With human resources, Ellie filed paperwork and was responsible for job postings. “The opportunity to work with various different projects made this internship the perfect introduction to communications and HR!” Ellie said.
Heading to Northwest Missouri State University in the fall, Ellie will be a junior. She is working to obtain a degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in Agricultural Communications. After graduation, she hopes to secure an Ag communications position. Ellie is thankful for the opportunity to intern this summer, saying, “With Key, I respect that the customer is always put first and that the employee group works as a team.” Ellie interned at the S-14 location from March to May and at the Sully location until August.