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UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA-LINCOLN
WINTER 2007-08

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Bridges: Two Cities, Two Perspectives

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Bike Lanes: Making Space for Safety

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Engineering the Downhill Bike

By Matt Buxton

Alumni Tips: Mindy Yechout

By Hannah Peterson

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Mindy Yechout
By: Hannah Peterson
Mindy Yechout
COURTESY PHOTO

Continuing along the timeline of engineering alumni is an individual only five years out of college. Mindy Yechout, an Omaha native, received her bachelor of science in chemical engineering from UNL in May 2002.

“I knew I wanted to pursue a degree in chemical engineering because I was good at math and science in high school, and chemistry was always my favorite class,” Yechout said. In addition, her father was a civil engineer, and she thought chemical engineering was a perfect fit for her talents and interests.

Looking back on high school, Yechout
recalls that school came rather easily for her. That is why when she entered college, she brought bad study habits along. High school tests had been easy, while college tests and the amount of study time served as a true wake-up call, she said.

“Study as much as you can in high school, not only to learn the material, but to develop good study habits,” she said.

She recommended flashcards, meeting with other students and doing homework as true essentials while in college.

Yechout sympathized that an undergraduate’s first year is the most difficult because students are away from home for the first time, gaining independence and learning how to manage their life.

“Stick with it and push through your first and second years because the rewards are worth it,” Yechout said.

She had the opportunity to intern her sophomore year in college at HDR Engineering in Omaha. She learned about this job simply by networking. HDR is a nationwide engineering consulting company.

She worked in the environmental department for a summer. Her primary assignment was to help design wastewater lagoons for feedlots. There were a lot of other little tasks she worked on that consisted of data entry and manipulating spreadsheets in Excel.

“Interning with several people will help you find a career field that suits you earlier on,” she said.

Yechout said students – even freshmen – should start interning so they have plenty of real-world experience by the time they graduate.

“It is also reassuring to know that your education is leading you to a career you will enjoy,” she said.

She also had the opportunity for a second internship the summer of her junior year with Enron, where she was on a facility planning team. Yechout said that after spreading the word that she was looking for a part-time engineering position, she ended up hearing about and obtaining the position simply through people she knew.

She said as a senior, she was still learning many new concepts, and the projects were definitely more challenging, but the third and fourth years were still easier than the first and second.

One of the classes that Yechout remembers as being very beneficial was Fluid Transport with Hendrik Viljoen. She completed her senior project with Viljoen by creating a pizza oven for his backyard. They used Fluent, a computational fluid dynamics software. She said her professor did a great job explaining how to apply engineering elements to real-life situations.

With more experience under her belt and plenty of work to balance with school, she prepared for graduation. She started out by sprucing up her resume, spreading the word to all friends, family, past co-workers and faculty that she was job hunting, and utilizing career fairs.

Yechout thought she would be able to turn her internship at Enron into a full-time position until the company faced bankruptcy in 2001.

“Although a person might have a good idea where they are going with their education or career, it is always good to have a back up plan,” she said.

After graduating, Yechout joined Northern Natural Gas in Dec. 2003 as a facility planner. She was promoted to manager of facility planning in May 2006. Northern hires chemical, mechanical and civil engineers.

Her team evaluates existing system capacity availability to accommodate customer capacity requests. Yechout and her team also minimize or eliminate impacts to customers during maintenance activities by modeling pipeline flows and recommending alternatives to existing pipeline operations.

“The goal of the facility planning team is to identify the best solution at the lowest cost,” she said.

In addition to working with her facility team, Mindy has a lot of face-to-face time with the customer.

Yechout said early in an engineer’s career, his or her job may be from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., but if they get promoted later on, it is hard not to work extra hours. However, Mindy said she loves what she is doing and has worked hard to get where she is today.

When asked if UNL prepared her for the work force, Yechout said that in college engineers learn equations, about 25 percent of which are used in the real world. Young engineers must focus on the fundamentals and learn to accept new challenges, too. She added that building a work ethic is also
valuable. It is a point of pride in the Midwest and a quality that other regions look fondly upon.

Yechout has called upon the skills she learned in public speaking courses and leadership positions in AIChE and Neihardt Hall at UNL.

“Being able to socially adapt to changes and new career situations is beneficial compared to those who simply know the fundamentals of their work,” she said. “People who are hard workers in engineering, and who can also communicate effectively are in high demand in this field.”

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