As a recent grad, Connor McCarty is grateful for the time he spent at NHCC and he looks forward to furthering his education. Connor was accepted into the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota and he'll be studying Bioproduct and Biosystems Engineering this fall.
We got the chance to catch up with Connor and ask him some questions below!
“NHCC has offered me another chance to pursue my dreams, and without the positive influence from those around me, I may've never been where I am today!” –Connor McCarty
What did you study at NHCC?
After high school, I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do, but in 2020 I gave NHCC a try.
I worked on general elective MnTC credits, and I took a lot of STEM courses. I finished Calc I-Calc III, Physics I-II and Chem I-O Chem II. I’ll receive my AA degree in Liberal Arts from NHCC this summer. Coming to NHCC definitely opened my horizons and I’m happy things worked out.
When did you graduate from NHCC?
I walked in May (note the Commencement Speaker photo above^). I’m taking three classes this summer and then I’ll have my degree. I was accepted into the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities and I will start studying Bioproduct and Biosystems Engineering in the fall. I'm still in the process of finding out my class situation. The MnTC credits I got at NHCC did cover many of the existing requirements I would normally need at the U, but the writing intensive courses were not covered. I took College Writing I and II and I'll need two more writing courses per the University of Minnesota’s requirements. However, my chemistry minor at the U is already complete, thanks to the many chemistry courses that I got done at NHCC!
What excites you about the Bioproduct and Biosystems Engineering field?
Over the past few years, I’ve worked many jobs in the restaurant industry, and I fell in love with cooking. However, one thing I noticed in the restaurant industry, is that it's all tailored towards single use materials. I’ve never been a fan of that. People are deliberately making something, and they know that the full life cycle of it will end with garbage in a landfill. Basically, I want to change either the life cycle of a product or create new uses for products.
How did you first get interested in this subject?
I think at one point, I just noticed the wastefulness from either people or of things. I saw a lot of waste in the world, and I didn't like that. I started asking myself, ‘what can I do about it?’ For some reason, ingenious discoveries, and things like that come naturally me. I learned about a company that takes used chopsticks, from Asian restaurants, processes them, compresses them, and turns them into wood again. From the recycled wooden material, they make new items like, tables, coasters, picture frames, or desks! They’re changing the life cycle. Straws, plastic forks, and chopsticks were created by inventors, for the purpose of only being used once. When I see companies out there recycling materials, it gives me inspiration.
Where would you like to work after college?
I want to work at an engineering firm that specializes in bioproducts, to learn the process and see what's required to get things done. It would be cool to work at a place like 3M for a little bit and use that as a steppingstone, because ultimately, I want to create something myself. I find motivation when I think about the next generation. I want them to be able to see all the beauty that Minnesota has to offer. Before I make real changes though, I feel like I need more resources; and taking the entrepreneurship route will help me access those resources. Being an entrepreneur would allow me to consider my own goals and think independently. Using the knowledge and experience that I gained from working for a company, I hope to be able to combine those skills into something I can create for myself to work towards change.
What kind of items do engineering firms make?
That’s a good question. I know 3M encourages employees to create their own products and present them. I spoke with a Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering graduate, who works for an engineering firm creating systems. People come to her and say things like, “I want to start making whey protein and I want to sell supplements to the Vitamin Shoppe. I have a warehouse and I want to be a household brand. Can you set up the process for me to create this product?” That’s exactly what she does. It was great to talk with her and see how systems and engineering can relate to something like making a supplement. I’ve used protein powder myself and in organic chemistry class, we learned about the amino acids that make up protein. It’s cool, because now I’m familiar with certain elements on protein powder ingredient lists and I’ve drawn many of them on paper before! The innovation part of this industry excites me.
At NHCC, who helped you to uncover your passion for chemistry?
I took Organic Chemistry because it was required, but Organic Chemistry II was an elective. Thanks to Dr. Eugenia Paulus, I fell in love with the coursework. She's very worldly, well-rounded and one of the most straightforward professors I’ve ever had, in a good way! Her class forced me to take charge of my own success. O Chem was an uphill climb. I didn't know how to get through it, how to be successful, or what it meant to put in the work. It took me time to get the results I wanted. Study groups and networking helped a lot. I appreciated Dr. Paulus’ experience (she previously taught at the U) and how she was always upfront about the reality of the situation; she helped me plan for my future and offered great insight. You can tell Dr. Paulus wants her students to reach their potential!
How was your experience at NHCC?
One thing I've enjoyed about the people at NHCC, is how they make you feel. Even if you're trying new things, everyone is very open, it’s the coolest thing! I love to ask questions and I'm okay being the dumbest person in the room. Maybe I’m asking something that someone else wants to know. Questioning is important. It takes away the stigma that you need to be super knowledgeable on a topic. There’s power in saying, ‘Hey, I don't know all about this, but I’m trying to understand it.’ That mindset shift has been such an asset to me.
I've learned a little of everything from almost all the professors I’ve had here. Right away, I took Calculus I with Nicole Lang; and she did a really great job of bridging the math gap from high school to college. I also enjoyed my time with Dr. Payton. He directed the African American Civil Rights Immersion Experience trip that I went on. I also knew him from being in the club, Brother2Brother. Dr. Payton helped me to focus on my future and think critically about my options. The Civil Rights Immersion trip gave me insight on a lot of BIPOC issues and gave me a better understanding of how African American history helped influence certain things and directly/indirectly shape the American south.
It means a lot to me; the people that I’ve interacted with and what the college has done for me as far as shaping me as an individual and changing my life. NHCC has offered me another chance to pursue my dreams, and without the positive influence from those around me, I may've never been where I am today!
Toting large items to our Food Drive you said “NHCC’s done a lot for me.” Why'd you donate?
Whether we realize it or not, I think every day is a blessing, (even if it doesn't seem like it). I learned, sometimes you need to experience what it's like at the top. This could be ordering the $60 T-bone steak or flying first class, (which might not even be in your means). But by doing it, you could realize that it’s actually something you want in your life. Therefore, you may be inclined to do a little bit more or do things differently to get that back in your life again. Going through school and having these necessary experiences, inspired me to achieve my goals. That's what drew me to donate, I wanted to give back to the communities and places that altered my view on life. Donating was important to me, not only because the school altered my view on life, but to jog my brain to try and figure out ways that I can keep doing it and help others. Always think about tomorrow, what can you do tomorrow and how do you want to be remembered?