Even before Ben Propson became a mechanical engineering major (and a Phoenix) he was a problem-solver at heart. And to extend that Phoenix metaphor just a bit further, while he didn’t personally rise from any ashes, there have been some sparks along his career path.
“I worked in construction for years, then went into manufacturing. I walked into the door as a welder.” The “door” in this case, was at the Case New Holland Agriculture facility in St. Nazianz, Wisconsin. And as part of a global network of companies employing more than 64,000 people in 66 manufacturing plants and 54 research and development centers in 180 countries, that door also opened a lot of opportunities.
So welding, while a laudable career choice, was more a launching point for Propson. When he ran into challenges at his job, he also saw opportunities. When quality issues began to crop up, he got involved. “Working with quality, manufacturing and design engineers, then seeing the interactions, plus the abilities to resolve issues quickly, was just awesome to be a part of.” That experience led him to focus more on engineering and now he’s progressed to the job title of manufacturing engineering. His secret to success “I was just tracking down problems as I went.”
But a “can-do” attitude only goes so far with a multi-national corporation. Propson knew the real key for advancement was first through continuing education and then higher education. In fact, by the time he enrolled in the Mechanical Engineering program at the UW-Green Bay, Sheboygan Campus, he already had two associates degrees from a local technical college under his belt.
While no stranger to going to school and work at the same time, entering a bachelor’s degree program presented a significant logistical challenge. Luckily his company worked with him to balance his current position as a manufacturing engineer with his pursuit of a mechanical engineering degree. And so was the University with his scheduling. “It was nice to have Sheboygan as an option, because it’s closer than the Green Bay campus and I can even take some courses at Manitowoc, too.”
While long past “first-year student” status, Propson was surprised to find other non-traditional students of a similar feather within the flock. “I was kind of shocked I wasn’t the only adult student.” But that didn’t mean he was exempt from the challenges most fresh-from-high-school engineering majors face when enrolling in a liberal-arts university—completing general education courses. “I think I finally got most of my gen eds taken care of.” But that might have been the only part of his plan that was made up as he went along. “I’ve jumped all over the place just trying to get classes that will fit my schedule. So, I’m going into my senior year, but I still have sophomore classes to take.”
His advice for anyone (not just engineering majors) enrolling in college? Find an advisor and listen to that advice! “I really got into the practice of working with an advisor on a regular quarterly basis, probably five or six times a year. Just to make sure I stay on course.” And with graduation just around the corner, his final undergraduate decision may be choosing the perfect frame for his diploma.