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Not Getting Bogged Down: My Ocean Spray Co-op
Christina Ferrara is a fifth-year Chemical Engineering student (‘16) completing my third co-op at Ocean Spray. During my free time I like to volunteer with several charities, paint, and test recipes for my blog.
Not Getting Bogged Down: My Ocean Spray Co-op
Whenever anyone asks me why I want to study chemical engineering my answer is always the same: I want to make the next Twizzler. I was serious about fusing my passion for food with my career and that lead to selecting chemical engineering. Throughout my undergrad I have taken steps to make this dream a reality, however looking back, the journey was not a straight, well-worn path. In fact, my first co-op had nothing to do with food, instead, I was at Covidien, a medical device company. Despite how much I enjoyed the opportunity to work on the creation of potentially life-saving instruments, I was curious to learn more about product development outside of the medical field. My next co-op was at Living Proof, a hair product company. I was still missing the ‘food’ component of my co-op, but this company helped me plant my roots in product development. After two productive co-op experiences, I looked ahead at my last co-op knowing I had all the right tools and the determination to try and break into the food industry.
The cards seemed to fall in my favor when I found out that Ocean Spray would be at the Chemical Engineer Co-op Fair. With my resume in one hand and firm handshake in the other, I made a beeline to the Ocean Spray Representative. I did my research before the fair, so I asked many questions about the position and the expectations of the company. Once I landed the interview and learned even more about the job, I decided this was the opportunity I had been waiting for in the food industry.
In June, I nervously drove down to Lakeville Massachusetts, unsure of what to expect. Something that immediately struck me was the classic New England scenery and the immense and gorgeous layout of the campus. There was a large pond, winding driveway, and of course, a cranberry bog. When I walked into the main entrance I was pleasantly surprised to find out I was not the only one on co-op, as a group of twenty interns were also gathered in the foyer waiting for instructions. I quickly realized that this co-op was going to be different, for all of the right reasons. The intern program kept everyone actively engaged by hosting weekly presentations to learn about every aspect of the company, not just the department which we were allocated. I jumped right into working on a process-engineering project. By week three of my co-op I was flying to Texas to work on a project in one of company’s plants. Throughout my co-op I would travel three more times across the country, from Pennsylvania to Las Vegas. Each trip allowed me to not only observe a different plant, but also gain an understanding about the mechanisms behind industrial scale processing.
After my experiences in product development at Living Proof, I knew I was attracted to the creative process that the job entails. When I approached my supervisor and asked if I could take part in some product development projects, I was elated when he agreed. My mentor took me under her wing and let me explore the product development field. Soon she began trusting me with more work and more extensive projects. In the end I was able to take ownership over a product and see it through to consumer testing. Spoiler alert: the product did well and will be available in your local grocery market in the future.
My time at Ocean Spray has been marked with many memorable moments. One includes our a yearly R&D meeting where we were put into teams and given a challenge and two days to solve it, then in the last hours of the project, they threw us an intense curveball we had to overcome. One of my all-time favorite highlights was the Harvest Festival where I was able to wade into a cranberry bog and meet the spokespeople in the commercials. I had been waiting to do this since accepting the position, and the feeling of being in a bog was all I hoped it could be. (Think like being in a pool full of gumballs).
Overall, my co-op at Ocean Spray was worth the wait because it revived my passion for consumer products in the food industry. I gained experience in many different areas of chemical engineering from benchtop to pilot plant to industrial scale production. I learned a lot about my strengths and how I can utilize those for my career in the future. I also learned how to shake off anxieties about taking risks and, as a result, I have become more assertive about my ambitions. My final words of advice from this co-op is if you have a passion or a dream, don’t quit on it, especially when it is difficult to achieve, it will be worth the work and the wait!