Ag Ed Major Katie Bell Turns Summer Opportunity into Career

Friday, February 7, 2020
Since transferring to UArizona from Pima Community College, Bell has made a habit of taking on new challenges. Now her hard work has paid off with a sought-after career at Land O'Lakes.

Katie Bell began her summer internship as a stranger in a strange land. But by the time she was finished, Bell knew her way around well enough to propose $20,000 of practical cost-saving methods. The company rewarded her with a full-time job offer.

Not bad for a few months of work.

“I decided that I could either learn everything I can from this or just take the paycheck,” Bell said. “I would have been a very unhappy person taking the second option.”

Bell, a senior Agricultural Education major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, grew up on her family’s cattle ranch in Nogales, Arizona. She wanted to step out of her comfort zone for her internship.

She got her wish. Bell participated in an interview competition at a MANRRS (Minorities in Natural Resources and Related Sciences) conference, choosing to meet with Land O’Lakes representatives, and two months later was offered a supply chain manufacturing internship at Calva Products, one of the company’s powdered milk replacer plants in Northern California.

When she and her parents, University of Arizona alumni Dan and Roxanne Bell, drove to California to settle her into her apartment, they stopped by to visit the plant where she would be working.

“For me, it was almost mesmerizing,” Katie Bell said. “I was thinking, ‘I grew up in rural ag, but I’ve never been in a manufacturing plant and I don’t know a thing about it. This is going to be a pretty cool experience because I’ll be able to learn and advocate for both sides of the agricultural industry.’”

Bell was issued a small office, a hard hat, and an assignment to study plant procedures and identify streamlining methods—a significant challenge for someone brand-new to the facility.

Each day, Bell’s supervisor gave her a small task to help her fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Meanwhile, she relentlessly asked questions of everyone in management and on the production line. The learning curve was steep, but she eventually began to understand the operation and how she could contribute ideas.

“Sometimes you need a fresh-faced intern like me asking, ‘Why is that over there and not over there?’” Bell said. “Small things like that make a big difference. At the end of my journey, my manager and I sat down for two days and did the projections and recognized there was an opportunity to make changes that equated to almost $20,000.”

Bell was invited to present the results of her project at Land O’Lakes corporate headquarters in Minnesota. What she and the other summer interns didn’t know was that division heads would be in the room watching and making decisions about career potential.

“You saw all these people sitting there with their laptop and clipboards and a checklist: yes or no,” Bell said. “It was a simple as that. If that doesn’t bring up your nerves right before a 20-minute presentation, I don’t know what does.”

Bell found out two days later that she’d received a resounding ‘yes’ when a call came from her former supervisor offering her a job after graduation. Bell accepted and next spring will start work at a Land O’Lakes – Purina plant in Indiana.

Since transferring to UArizona from Pima Community College, Bell has made a habit of taking on new challenges. She is a member of MANRRS, CALS Ambassadors, a Vice President of the Arizona Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers, a student chair on the CALS Diversity and Inclusion Council, and an assistant girls basketball coach at Cholla High School and works in CALS Business Services.

“It’s representative of CALS—the more you put into it, the more you can take away,” said agricultural education associate professor and MANRRS advisor Quintin Molina. “Katie is really willing to step outside her comfort zone. I don’t know her to shy away from an opportunity. She’s a hard worker, and she finds success.”

Joel Badzinski
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences