A chance encounter at Taylor Gies’ high school graduation party in 2019 set in motion a series of valuable co-op experiences that have led her to Birmingham, Ala., Minneapolis, Minn., and one yet-to-be-determined location.
The journey began when her high school classmate’s father, a plant manager at Avient Corporation near her hometown of Huron, put her resume into the right people’s hands.
“In school, I liked chemistry, math and was always into the sciences,” Gies explained. “I didn’t want to be a chemist in a lab. I wanted to be involved in the product material side of it, which is what led me down this path.”
Gies, now a junior chemical engineering student at The University of Toledo, is in the second rotation of her co-op with Avient, a specialized polymer materials manufacturer. She completed her first as a sophomore – a position she remarkably locked in her freshman year.
“Taylor is one of those students you meet and say, ‘Wow, this person is going to climb the career ladder very quickly,’” said Geoffrey J. Humphrys, associate director of the Shah Center for Engineering Career Development. “She secured a co-op on her own during her freshman year, which is very unique for students to do, and a year ahead of her peers.”
UToledo’s engineering co-op program is one of only eight in the nation where paid work experiences are integrated into the curriculum. Gies is currently based at Avient’s Minneapolis location, where she’ll focus on improving manufacturing efficiencies and worker safety.
“This facility is completely different from my first rotation,” she said. “Avient likes to rotate co-op students through different divisions so we can experience various aspects of the industry. I’m still learning about the processes at this facility, but I’m excited to see what I will accomplish during my time here.”
Gies spends most of her workday in the plant, observing machine operators, engineers and manufacturing processes. She carries a notebook to jot down ideas.
“There is a lot of back and forth exchanging of ideas,” Gies said. “I’ll put together some ideas, talk to the operators and they’ll explain that ‘no, we can’t walk here’ or ‘that won’t work,’ so I go back to the drawing board.”
But the satisfaction of finally developing a workable solution is the ultimate thrill, which Gies experienced during her first co-op with Avient in Birmingham.
One of the products manufactured at that facility is large-diameter insulator rods, each weighing about 120 pounds. On average, operators lift around 15,000 pounds worth of rods during their 12-hour shifts. It was Gies’ job to find a way to limit that number to improve worker safety and reduce repetitive use injuries.
After several rounds of ideas and multiple discussions, Gies helped develop a solution that involved adding a rolling/sliding mechanism and lift into the process, ultimately reducing the number of times an operator physically lifts insulator rods during their shift.
In addition to building skills as an engineer, Gies has grown in other ways. “I’ve gained more confidence in myself and in my decision to become a chemical engineer, and these experiences have reinforced that this is what I want to do full time. This is why I’m going through UToledo’s engineering program. I love it.”
Humphrys has witnessed that same growth.
“After Taylor’s first co-op, I noticed how much more confident and knowledgeable she was about navigating the workplace,” he said. “Taylor is definitely a go-getter and before we know it, will be a very engaged alumna recruiting future UToledo engineering students wherever she lands her first full-time career.”
Gies will return to UToledo to take classes this summer with plans to complete her third Avient co-op in fall 2022.