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Cultivating the Future: Drew Parker & Sydney Wheeler

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From family farms to ag econ to John Deere

A child growing up in agriculture is as likely to recognize the deep green logo with a yellow deer leaping through it as they could any other animal in their picture books. Purdue students, too, are no strangers to John Deere. The company is a strong supporter and sponsor of Purdue’s colleges of agriculture, engineering and technology. What’s more, John Deere sends representatives to several career fairs on and off-campus, including the College of Agriculture Fall Career Fair at the CoRec, held this year on October 3, to recruit students to work and intern for them. 

Drew Parker, a sophomore majoring in agribusiness and minoring in crop science and farm management, was hired by John Deere for his internship at a career fair through MANRRS. Parker says that his strength has always lied in chasing new challenges, so he took the chance to talk to several recruiters as a freshmen. 

His chat with John Deere stopped feeling like a high-stakes interview as he shared stories of farming with his grandfather. While Parker grew up in the suburbs, his grandparents had a small farm with corn, soybeans and goats in southeastern Indiana.

“My grandfather instilled good values in me and taught me hard work and discipline,” Parker shared. “Working with him taught me about doing things the right way the first time and having the persistence to get the job done. They were honestly some of the greatest experiences ever, and they dictated a lot in my life. My grandfather is really where a lot of my agricultural passion comes from.”

Parker was the Combine-Running Equipment Marketing Intern at the John Deere office in Moline,Parker stands in front of a John Deere Tractor Illinois, this past summer. Some days, he was in the office, structuring deliverables for future product launches. Other days, he might be traveling with a combine specialist to a farm to help set up new equipment for a producer who had just switched to the John Deere brand. He even helped run tours and trained John Deere dealerships about new products on the market.

“My favorite part was definitely being out in the field with customers. I tested some combines, and I loved riding out with the customers and learning about their family history, their farm history and then some of the frustrations they had with past machines that they had from different brands.”

Parker’s mentors and managers at John Deere, Matthew Cotton, Tyler Rumbold, Blake McOllough and Nathan Kramer taught him about working in the corporate side of agriculture and were happy to pass on life lessons, too. 

“One of my coworkers told me ‘It means more when you do it yourself.’ That's something that's stuck with me.” To Parker, internships like his at John Deere are what you make of them. Every experience in the internship and every connection he made in that time will have a major impact on the rest of his education and his future.

Drew Parker stands outside in a field with two of his mentors at John Deere. Drew Parker stands in a field with two mentors from his time at John Deere

Parker might be a few years from graduation, but this internship helped him see that he wants to take on a customer support role when he finishes school. He enjoyed getting to work with product specialists in marketing at John Deere and could see himself growing into a position like theirs. 

Like Parker, Sydney Wheeler also got involved with John Deere through a career fair. “I saw their booth in the Agricultural Future of America career fair, and I have friends who had completed an internship with them in the past who really enjoyed it. I went up to the John Deere booth, started a conversation, and told them I was willing to relocate—that was a big selling point—and I immediately got pulled in the back for an interview.”

Wheeler, a senior in agricultural sales and marketing, grew up on a hobby farm. Her grandfather owned the land and homesteaded. From a young age, she had lots of animals, and she later joined FFA and interned as a crop scout during her sophomore year. She found her passion wherever she was helping people, which made her well-suited for John Deere and agricultural economics. 

Wheeler’s organizational and planning skills also helped her succeed in her internship. Most of her time was spent in the office. She liked the routine that came with a constant environment that allowed her to talk to and get to know the team she sat with. 

Even though she spent a lot of time in one place, she tackled several different tasks and learned a lot. “John Deere makes it a priority to put you in a place where you can grow. They don’t just place you in a department you already know everything about. There’s an expectation that they’ll teach you something new while you’re here. I worked on building marketing materials, deliverables, and other promotional material for their new hay baler. I had to learn what a hay baler is and how they work. They didn’t expect me to already have this experience—they trained me.”

All that hard work and strong connections she built have already started to pay off for Wheeler. Not only is she working remotely now for DPH Biologicals, a company that produces bioactive fertilizers and seed coats, while she finishes school, but she also recently received very exciting news from her former employer. After realizing her potential during her internship this summer, John Deere offered Wheeler a full-time position in their marketing representative development program after she graduates in May. 

Wheeler was so excited that she “immediately called all of my coworkers individually to tell them.” This included Nick Flies and Rob Rippchen, two supervisors who had helped form Wheeler’s internship around her own goals.

Sydney Wheeler stands in front of the John Deere Ball Baler Sydney Wheeler got the chance to visit the fields and hay bales that the John Deere products she promoted worked on (left) and also saw the John Deere Ball Baler (middle).

Wheeler and Parker’s advice for anyone thinking of trying for internships is to pay attention in class. What you learn there is applicable to your work and real life—even if it doesn’t seem like it at first. And, if you’re scared, know that everyone is. Just go for it, there is nothing to lose and so much to be gained.

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