Lauren WallaceNot everyone can say that their first job post-college graduation is especially sweet, but Lauren Wallace, OSU chemical engineering grad ’18, can claim that particular distinction, on multiple levels.

“I get to tell people I’m an ice cream engineer, which is the coolest thing ever!” she said.

Lauren currently works as a Factory Development Management Program production trainee at Nestlé in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and in her two-year rotation program with Nestlé, has the opportunity to enjoy both the technical, detail-oriented aspects of engineering and the interpersonal dimension of bringing people together toward a common goal – in other words, leadership.

From a young age, Lauren always knew that she wanted to connect with other people and solve problems that were important to them.

“For most of my life, wherever the teacher sat me, I’d always find a way to talk to the person I was next to,” she said. “I wanted to work with people in a way that would bring a lot of different groups together to reach a common goal.”

Lauren has brought that spirit of collaboration and leadership to all her professional experiences, first as a chemical engineering student at Oregon State University, to her internships with E.&J. Gallo Winery and Nestlé, and now her current role at Nestlé.

Lauren enrolled at OSU as a chemical engineering major in 2013, and quickly became involved in many areas on campus, including peer mentoring, serving as a TA, working as a College of Engineering student ambassador, conducting research on situated cognition in engineering education, and as one of the first members of the College of Engineering Leadership Academy.

When the Leadership Academy first began in 2014, Lauren was entering what many call the “sophomore slump.” She felt discouraged by challenging classes and unsure of which direction she should take in engineering. That was when, through the Leadership Academy, she was introduced to Sue Galatz, former Business Director at NikeID and OSU chemical engineering alum, who became her mentor. To this day, Lauren and Sue have maintained their mentoring relationship.

“She’s amazing,” Lauren said. “I never thought I would have a mentor who was so supportive and also critical, and she can understand what I’m talking about.”

Knowing that she wanted an internship, Sue encouraged Lauren to attend the OSU Career Fair, where she was able to connect with E.&J. Gallo Winery, the largest exporter of California wines in the world. She completed a six-month internship with Gallo in Fresno, California, and was able apply much of what she learned in the Leadership Academy, like situational leadership and understanding your strengths, to her internship (for the record, Lauren’s Top Five strengths are Strategic, Arranger, Individualization, Learner, and Relator).

“I remember some of my friends [about the Leadership Academy] being like, ‘this isn’t even engineering, it’s not relevant,’” Lauren said. “Then I went to work at Gallo and I came back and was like, this is insanely relevant.”

Lauren’s positive experiences at E.&J. Gallo Winery led her to pursue the leadership route in engineering, as she self-identifies as a servant leader who enjoys supporting people and helping them grow. She later completed another internship at Nestlé in Iowa (where she learned how to make Nesquik and hot chocolate mix) which led her to her current two-year rotational program at Nestlé Dreyer’s & Edy’s facility in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Lauren’s program at Nestlé allows her the opportunity to grow as a leader.

“The purpose is to prepare us to be leaders in the factory,” she said. “At Nestlé, they really want us to understand what it means to be a leader, not just a manager. In a factory, in any type of team setting, and really help with aligning and moving forward toward a common goal.”

Having been out of college for a little over six months, Lauren recommends that Leadership Academy students should take advantage of as many workshops as they can, because of the continued relevance of what she learned during her time in the program.

She also recommends going to the networking opportunities with industry members, such as Summit and Suit Camp, because they taught her how to promote herself as a professional.

“It’s how you learn to interact with people who are higher up in a company. You can talk shop as much as you want, but even when I first started at Nestlé, I went to a ton of mixers and it was very interesting because no one really wanted to talk about technical stuff,” she said. “It was more about getting to know you, so you should be pretty well versed in that type of conversation because you are going to keep having to have it. If I had a dollar for every time anyone asked me, what’s your five-year plan, I would be pretty well set!”

Engineering can be a demanding discipline, and many students put pressure on themselves to get perfect grades, land the perfect internship, and stay highly involved in every single campus activity. Looking back now, Lauren says she wouldn’t have worried so much about these sort of unrealistic expectations, because as long as you work hard and stay curious, opportunities will arise.

“When you’re first starting out, try and learn as much as you can about where you’re working,” she said. “If you’re inquisitive and curious, that’s something a lot of managers notice, and they see your drive and will give those opportunities because it gives you and them an opportunity to see what you can do and what you learn. Just go for it, be okay with possibly failing. It might happen, but it’s a learning process.”