Junior MacKenzie Painter stands in front of the Lied Science and Mathematics building on Doane's Crete campus. Painter wears a white tshirt that reads "Doane Volleyball" in black text.

Written by Doane's Office of Strategic Marketing in partnership with Nestlé Purina PetCare.

MacKenzie Painter, an engineering student, hadn’t intended to pursue an internship between her sophomore and junior years at Doane University. As a volleyball player, she sustained a devastating knee injury and was looking at a summer of heavy rehab before returning to the court for the fall season.

But she had wanted to gain experience in mechanical engineering — which was the focus of an internship recently established between Doane and its Crete, Nebraska neighbor, Nestlé Purina PetCare.

“Cale [Stolle, associate professor of engineering] contacted me about this internship and said I was his number one recommendation,” Painter said.

That internship was several months in the making, after Dan Neil joined in fall 2022 as factory manager of Purina’s Crete manufacturing facility. Neil connected with Doane staff and faculty, including Stolle and Chris Brady, director of strategic partnerships, on opportunities for the two long-standing Crete institutions to provide support to each other and the community.

“We’re both dedicated to the city our facilities, associates and families have called home for decades, and what better way to show that than helping our current and future associates gain skills and opportunities to learn,” Neil said. Purina will celebrate 60 years in Crete in 2025 and Doane recently celebrated 150 years.

For example, Purina sponsored a Back-to-School Community Picnic held on Doane’s campus on August 1, which provided over 400 bags of school supplies to area students. At Doane, Purina managers will participate in a half-day leadership training session on the university’s campus. Doane has robust leadership development programs, including its Master of Arts in Leadership and the Hansen Leadership Program for undergraduates, that shape the curriculum for its non-degree-seeking professional learning opportunities.

Along with creating a paid summer internship program with Doane, Purina also built a student sponsorship program with Southeast Community College (SCC). The program covers tuition and fees at the school alongside a full-time salary as an automations/controls technician.

“We’re interested in not only hiring top-quality associates but also building them up. Partnering with Doane and SCC is a great way to help our greater community, by providing paid work experience as students pursue their education,” Neil said. “And we benefit by connecting with dedicated students eager to learn on the job and use their knowledge for real-world applications.”

Which, in a nutshell, describes Painter. She developed a love of math and problem-solving at a young age but hadn’t identified engineering as a career path until enrolling at Doane.

“At my orientation meeting with Cale, he explained the whole idea behind engineering and all the opportunities in the field. This interaction was really a selling point for me as I love the satisfaction that comes along with solving a problem,” she said.

That satisfaction was also something she got to experience during her internship with Purina. Over the course of the summer, Painter was assigned one main project — redesigning a space in the plant to provide more access and ensure safer working conditions — and three smaller projects. 

“The most affirming part of engineering is watching your project being implemented. The design process can be very long. However, as you see your design actually being built, that is what makes the work fun and rewarding,” she said.

Taking charge of a major project was a little nerve wracking, though. As a young engineer, she was anxious about making the right decisions while designing and communicating with contractors. But she found that her colleagues at Purina were supportive and encouraging in not only her ideas and designs, but in establishing her as part of the team.

“On Fridays, we went to City Slickers in Dorchester for burgers,” she said. “This time with my colleagues has made me feel welcomed here at Purina.”