Then and Now
Alumna Nicole Mercer and current student Kylie O’Connor both landed in roles at Advanced Agrilytics and Ag Ingenuity partners. Two of the four founders of these sister companies are also Purdue alumni—Kess Berg (MS ’02, PhD ’04, agronomy) and Aaron Gault (BS ’01, agricultural economics), and their work supports a Purdue graduate student and several Purdue interns. Read on to see how Mercer and O’Connor’s work experiences have shaped their paths to success.
Nicole Mercer – BS ’00, Agronomy
Nicole Mercer was always drawn to science as a kid, but her first soils class at Purdue was the true revelation. “After that, I was absolutely hooked,” she says.
Mercer worked her way through college, and had a job with Herb Ohm, a distinguished professor of agronomy and her class advisor. Walking down the hall together one day, he helped set her course in life. He noticed the number of people she stopped to talk to, and suggested she reevaluate her plant genetics major to consider a career in sales, noting, “I’ve worked with these people for 20 years, and in the four conversations you’ve had walking down the hallway, you know more about them than I do. I think we need to pursue your gift.”
She took a semester off to intern for Monsanto. The agricultural economy was depressed when she graduated, but “Purdue provided me with information that no other student would have gotten,” she says. She cites data on starting and projected salaries and interview training as keys to her early success.
One key to her current success is the variety of experience she’s gained throughout her career. She has worked in soybean production, as a dairy technologist, and as a sales agronomist for multiple companies. Each job introduced her to different aspects of food production. Her myriad Purdue connections brought her to Advanced Agrilytics/Ag Ingenuity Partners, where she is a research scientist and works with several Purdue alumni—two of whom are former colleagues and one a former Purdue teaching assistant.
And it’s those relationships with her colleagues and clients that matter most to her. No matter where you work, she says, you must treat customers with honesty and integrity, or you won’t be welcomed back.
Her advice to students: take advantage of all the opportunities at Purdue. She and her alumni coworkers agree, “We would all describe our years at Purdue as nothing less than special.”
“At the end of the day, it’s the American farmer who employs me, not the
company that I work for.”
Purdue Faculty Member: Brad Joern, Professor of Agronomy
Campus Landmark: Loeb Fountain
Food: Mad Mushroom Cheesestix
Kylie O’Connor – Class OF ’18, Major: Agribusiness
There was never any question that Kylie O’Connor would attend Purdue. She was raised on Purdue basketball by her mom, Kim, an alumna, and knew that the College of Agriculture was one of the best in the world. And when she learned that Advanced Agrilytics founder Aaron Gault needed an intern around her hometown of Columbus, Indiana, in the summer of 2016, she raised her hand.
She scouted corn and soybeans in a four-county region, looking for insect and weather damage that could hamper yield. She then reported those data to her supervisor and their clients so that they could develop a game plan for field productivity. She used an iPad with maps and multiple GIS data layers showing attributes like soil variability, recording locations so that she could return to them. She enjoyed problem solving outside her major area of study and learning more about how to identify insect and disease damage.
She stays busy on campus as well, working as a grader and conducting research for Jim Mintert, professor of agricultural economics and the director of the Center for Commercial Agriculture. She also enjoys being a peer mentor for incoming agricultural economics students. “I liked being a resource for younger students, because I remember coming to Purdue,” she says. “It’s nerve-wracking your first semester here.”
This summer, she’ll intern at Advanced Agrilytics again. “My bosses treated me with a lot of respect and gave me a lot of freedom,” O’Connor says. “They didn’t really treat me like an intern, but more as an equal. I learned a lot, and there’s still a lot more I can learn.”
“Be adaptable. Be able to apply the things you’ve learned to something, even if it’s not a textbook situation.”
Purdue Faculty Member: Kim Cook, Academic Advisor and Instructor
Campus Landmark: The Engineering Fountain
Photos provided by Nicole Mercer and Tom Campbell.