It has been said that beer brings people together. At least that was the case for Missouri S&T students and Zeta Tau Alpha sorority sisters Delaney Sexton and Courtney Mandeville, who worked together in co-op positions at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis.
Sexton and Mandeville worked with S&T’s Cooperative Education Program, which gives students employment opportunities to gain practical degree-related work experience before they graduate. The program is set up so that students can take a break from studies and work full time for one semester or a combination of semesters, which allows eight to nine months of work experience versus the three summer months allowed for internship positions.
Sexton, a senior in engineering management and mechanical engineering from Independence, Missouri, worked in operations, where she managed four bottling lines at the company’s historic Bevo Bottling Plant. She says she had 30 operators reporting to her at any given time during her co-op, which concluded in July.
Mandeville, a senior in chemical engineering from Belleville, Illinois, works as a brewing quality and operations group manager. As she says, she makes the beer taste good. Her co-op runs through December.
Each has had to deal with problems on the fly. In some cases, they worked together to find a solution.
“Sometimes Courtney sends me beer with higher levels of oxygen,” Sexton says. “Or maybe my meter’s off. Then we have to call up her people to test the beer.”
“We have to react quickly,” Mandeville adds.
They have also had to learn how to manage a group of employees that are sometimes much older and certainly more experienced than themselves.
“You can’t come in thinking you know everything,” says Sexton, adding that she gleaned as much from her co-workers as they did from her. Applying what she learned in engineering management, Sexton says she got to know her operators on a personal level, which helped earn their respect.
Mandeville says she’s learned a lot from her superiors, as well. “It’s an open-door policy. It could be a stupid question, but they will answer it for you. They are there to help you grow.”
“Actually, it’s more of a no-door policy,” jokes Sexton.
Indeed, there are no corner offices on A-B’s St. Louis campus. Regardless of title, office employees work in cubicles with no door.
The A-B co-op program has been around since the mid-’90s, and many S&T students have been through it, according to Jane Killebrew, director of brewing quality at A-B. In fact, many S&T graduates are now employees at the company, including Jim Bicklein, general manager at the St. Louis Brewery, who earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering in 1987.
“I think the biggest thing is you watch them come in at the very beginning, and they don’t know anything about making beer,” says Killebrew. “But they will leave at the end of their co-op term and know an incredible amount about making beer.”
“It’s amazing how much a person can learn in a semester or a summer,” she adds. “It’s one of the most rewarding things in the world for me to watch — to see them learn, grow and evolve. The ones that really love it usually come back to work full time.”
“There’s so much here to learn about,” Mandeville says. “’In the two and a half months I’ve been here, I’ve become more confident in myself.”
Meanwhile, Sexton looks back on her co-op fondly. “I had no idea what I was expecting, but it was awesome,” she says. “We made beer. How can that be bad?”
By Greg Katski