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Students turn internships with Deere & Co. into post-college jobs

Barry McNamara
10/31/2019
From left, McCaulry Johnston, Michelle Zelnio and Mike Bersell.
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Going into last summer, Monmouth College seniors Mike Bersell, McCauley Johnston and Michelle Zelnio already had great news – they had secured internships with Deere & Co.

After successfully completing the summer programs, the news got even better for the trio of accounting majors – earlier this fall, they accepted full-time positions with the world’s largest manufacturer of farm equipment following their graduations next May.

“It feels awesome,” said Johnston, “but it makes these last few months of school a little harder.”

“Deere seeks out the best people to work for it – those who are not only smart but have other highly sought after qualities: creative, critical thinker, technologically adaptable, problem solver, ethical mindset, team player,” said Monmouth accounting professor Judy Peterson. “Michelle, McCauley and Michael possess all of those qualities. The alums we have there are so welcoming and have already taken the three of them under their wings.”

Johnston’s internship was in Olathe, Kansas, at Deere’s Ag Marketing Center; Zelnio spent the summer at Deere’s Horicon Works in Wisconsin; and Bersell worked at John Deere Financial in Johnston, Iowa. Zelnio’s time was cut a little short on both ends, as she took part in a Monmouth College study-abroad trip to Colombia after finals, then needed to be back to campus early for training as a resident assistant.

Lessons at Monmouth

During her time at Monmouth, Zelnio said she has appreciated working closely with faculty.

“Being at Monmouth helped me learn how to ask for help,” she said. “The faculty-to-student ratio is really low, so the faculty is super accessible. I can always ask a question if I need help, and that’s something that’s going to be very translatable to working at Deere.”

Bersell has appreciated the way Monmouth has shaped his mind.

“I was thinking the other day about how I can connect concepts pretty well from class to class,” said Bersell, who is a triple major in accounting, business and economics. “That type of thinking is the No. 1 thing that Monmouth has taught me.”

Johnston said he appreciates how Monmouth’s accounting program will make him a better professional.

“The big thing the classroom does is teach you how to learn,” said Johnston, who is also a business major. “You never know what will get thrown at you on any given day at work, so having the experience we did at Monmouth really helps in that regard.”

Bersell applauded the College’s Wackerle Center for Career, Leadership and Fellowships, which helps prepare students for life after Monmouth.

“Prod your professors a little bit to get some of the connections they have,” he advised. “Alumni help and networking are huge.”

Lessons on the job

Zelnio said learning to speak up is an important part of being in the corporate world.

“The best thing to do is make opportunities for yourself,” she said. “There’s no shame in asking for an opportunity for yourself and to also solve a question at the same time.”

Johnston echoed Zelnio’s observations.

“The two big things I learned from the work environment at Deere were how to interact with people and that it’s important to ask questions and not be afraid to be wrong,” he said.

“No question is a dumb question,” agreed Bersell. “My internship also taught me that not all negative feedback is bad. A lot of it is helpful. It helped my skin get tougher.”

Peterson said having Monmouth students intern with Deere is “a win-win.” Not only do Monmouth students acquire valuable experience, but “we get to hear what’s going on accounting-wise out there in the workforce and what employers like Deere & Co. are looking for in employees. For instance, Excel proficiency is highly valued and now data analytics is a hot thing to be good at.”

Zelnio is not only thrilled to have her post-Monmouth plans settled, but also to continue a family tradition.

“I’ll be a fourth-generation Deere employee in my family,” she said of a history that goes back more than a century to her great-grandfather, who was a factory worker. The latest Zelnio at Deere is Michelle’s father, Tom, who is the company’s deputy chief security officer.

Following graduation, the three students will enter Deere’s Finance Development Program. Much like medical school rotations, the Deere program is structured into three distinct year-long learning experiences, with a guarantee that at least one of the experiences will require a physical move from where each graduate starts working. During one of the rotations, participants are placed in a Deere facility to focus on cost accounting.

The Monmouth students will find out their first location in January and will learn the next two once they’ve started working for the company.