This summer I interned at The Sherwin Williams Company’s Research and Development center (Breen Technology Center in downtown Cleveland). I worked in the Commercialization department on a team preparing to launch a new waterborne alkyd product line. My specific project was to perform a mixture Design of Experiment to optimize the drier package.
Going in to the internship, I pictured working in a lab exactly like the ones from my chemistry college courses or what I imagined the type of lab PhD people work in. I was very wrong. The industrial lab setting is much different from the academic lab setting. Everything is a larger scale and the test methods are specific to the industry that you are working in. I was hesitant to try a R&D internship because even though I enjoyed my lab courses in school, I had heard that lab jobs are very tedious and monotonous. I was also wrong about this, especially in the Commercialization department. In R&D you have to constantly be on your toes with quick problem solving and relating one problem to a similar problem you had weeks earlier and adapting that solution to your current problem. Every day brought a different set of challenges and even though it seemed like I kept going two steps forward and one step back, I slowly made it to my end goal, which was so rewarding.
Another thing that changed during my internship was my view of Cleveland and Ohio. I grew up right outside of Cleveland, and now I am going to OSU for college. Before this summer I thought for sure that I wanted to get an internship somewhere out of state and ultimately get a job after college either across the country or even across the world. I was set on using my twenties to explore the world and be super adventurous, and I thought the only way to achieve this was to move to a faraway place. The first part of my plan fell short when I couldn’t find an internship outside of Ohio that interested me. I was confused with what I wanted to do with my chemical engineering degree and R&D has always been something I wanted to explore. Sherwin Williams seemed like the only internship that fit what I was looking for, but unfortunately it was in Ohio. This turned out to be exactly what I needed. Not only was working at Sherwin Williams an amazing internship experience, it also showed me that it was worth staying in Ohio. Cleveland has changed a lot since I was little and it’s a much livelier city now. Not only can I have adventures if I lived in Cleveland, but I realized that I could still explore the world by going on vacations to faraway places and not necessarily have to live there.
One of the biggest aspects that contributed to my transformation was the people I worked with. I had a mentor that showed me the process of developing paint and helped me along the way with my project. He answered any questions I had or could put me in contact with the right people if he couldn’t personally answer something. He had a great attitude towards coming to work every day which gave me a great attitude towards working. Not only did I develop professional relationships, I also made friends in the lab. This helped a great deal because I felt comfortable asking anyone in the lab if I had any questions when my mentor wasn’t around. I also asked them for their advice on picking a career and what they do and don’t like about R&D, Sherwin Williams, living in Cleveland, etc. I gathered so much information that helped me to reflect on my own experience interning this summer. Working at Sherwin Williams has expanded my network and I can use those contacts in the future.
Another big aspect of my transformation was the events that Sherwin Williams put on for the interns to further inform them of the Sherwin William Company and culture. One of the events was visiting the Warrensville R&D center where other divisions of Sherwin Williams are developed. This helped a lot because we were able to see the different lab setups and products that were being worked on. I thought maybe I would want to try to work at the Warrensville location next year, but after the tour I decided that I prefer working at the downtown location. I am so glad I was able to see the Warrensville location because if I didn’t, I would always be wondering if I was missing out on something I might like better.
Later in the summer, Sherwin Williams put on a speed networking event. This event allowed the interns to talk to many different departments within Sherwin Williams. This was great because I was able to talk to the engineers who work at the manufacturing plants and get an idea of what it would be like to work at one of them. This turned out to be very beneficial because now I am going to apply for one of the plant internships. I want to work there next summer so that I can try out the manufacturing setting to help me further decide what career I want to pursue after graduating.
These transformations are directly related to all aspects of my plan for my future. This internship has confirmed that I definitely want to continue majoring in chemical engineering. Professionally, it gave me experience in my field and more practice with public speaking. At the end of the summer I made a technical poster for my intern project and presented in a poster session that was open to the entire R&D center. It also helped me to realize that I shouldn’t cut myself off from staying in Ohio. Even though I will still keep my eye out for opportunities outside the state or country, my short term plan may very well include staying in Ohio if I find a career I am passionate about. Without STEP, I wouldn’t have been able to gain such valuable experience or make all of the network connections that I have made during the year in STEP and during my STEP signature project.