Resilient Student Achieves Goal With John Deere Position

Published 10.18.2017

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Engineering & Industrial Design Technology
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Approximately 200 employers greeted the sophomore at her first Pennsylvania College of Technology career fair. As an industrial design major, the student could approach numerous companies representing all economic sectors. But her focus was the booth decked out in yellow and green, the iconic colors of John Deere.

Hanna J. Williams fell in love with John Deere tractors while growing up on her family’s 800-acre produce farm in Marion, New York. She dreamed of working at the company responsible for the equipment that made her father’s hard farm work a bit easier.

At the career fair, she planned to take the first step to making that dream a reality. She clutched her impressive resume and confidently approached the John Deere booth. Anticipation quickly turned to dejection when company representatives informed her they were recruiting only welding majors.

“They didn’t want anything to do with me,” she recalled.

Crushed, Williams walked away from the booth … but not her dream. “I had to go back,” she said. “This is what I really wanted.”

“I just knew this was where I was supposed to be,” Hanna J. Williams says of Penn College, which attracted her through small class sizes and personal interaction with faculty and fellow students. (Photo by Tia G. La, student photographer)Williams returned to the John Deere representatives, explained why they should be interested in her and implored them to deliver her resume to somebody in the company who could recognize her value. Three days later, she answered a phone call offering an interview. Ten months later, she completed the first of two summer internships. Two years later, she received a full-time job offer.

Williams recently accepted John Deere’s invitation to join its engineering development program, which will allow her to rotate through various departments of the vast company before choosing her area of specialization.

“A feeling of relief went through me when I got the call,” said Williams, who is scheduled to graduate in May. “It is an awesome opportunity.”

An opportunity generated by her resiliency and persistence at that career fair. “I didn’t want to give up on it,” she said. “What if that would have been my only chance to talk to them? Not everyone gets a second chance.”

Williams knows firsthand the fragility of second chances. Her life today is built upon one.

On the morning of Jan. 7, 2012, Williams was an athletic and active high school sophomore. By evening, she would have to learn how to walk.

A fun day skiing in upstate New York turned life-changing on the car ride home. Williams was sleeping in the front passenger seat when a car T-boned that side of the vehicle. She was airlifted to a hospital for an eight-hour surgery. Williams suffered three broken pelvis bones, a ruptured bladder and a broken collarbone. A 13-day hospital stay led to several weeks of bed rest followed by months of painful rehab where she had to relearn the simple mechanics of walking.

First with the aid of a walker and then a crutch, Williams methodically reacquainted herself with the muscles and movements most take for granted. She lived with two pins protruding from her pelvis and connected by a curved bar for 72 days. The inconvenience ensured equal leg length and proper healing of the pelvis.

“There were good days and bad days of rehab,” she said. “Sometimes, I was just too sore to do anything, but in order to continue to play soccer, I had to be tough and not give up. I knew I couldn’t rush things because that would have made it worse. Patience was key. Very good things come in time.”

By summer, she returned to the soccer field for limited bursts of action. She also resumed her love for track and field. Williams won the triple-jump sectional championship as a senior.

The return of her physical abilities coincided with a new appreciation for life. “Something good came out of the accident,” Williams said. “It changed my whole point of view. I go into every day smiling, realizing that I was lucky and not everyone gets that second chance. It’s hard for people to realize what life is all about if they haven’t gone through something tragic. The accident pushed me to grow up and realize what I want to do in life.”

That turned out to be an industrial designer, someone who develops creative solutions to human needs, whether in the form of physical products or user experiences.

Williams remembers gingerly moving about the family farm with her walker when she noticed an elderly farmer struggling to mount a tractor. Inspired by the empathy generated from her accident, Williams thought of designing a factory-built chairlift for tractors. She had discovered her potential career niche with John Deere.

“It’s about me wanting to help people in their daily lives,” she said. “You can really design anything.”

The interest in doing so led her to Penn College. Small class sizes and the opportunity for personal interactions with faculty and fellow industrial design students convinced her to commit to the school. “I just knew this was where I was supposed to be,” she said.

During her initial visit, Williams made her career objective quite clear to Thomas E. Ask, professor of industrial design.

“Tom asked me what my goal was, and I told him, ‘I want to work for John Deere,’” she said.

“Hanna had a singular vision,” Ask said. “She has proven to be talented in distinctive ways in terms of her ability to design a variety of things, from products to virtual experiences.”

With her John Deere job offer in hand, Williams took to social media to share the good news.She has also proven to be talented in distinctive ways outside the classroom. Williams is a four-year member of the women’s soccer team and has competed on the tennis team for three seasons. She is president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, vice president of the Alpha Chi Honor Society, and is active in both the Penn College Construction Association and Society of Inventors and Mad Scientists.

The Dean’s List student juggles all of those commitments while maintaining a near-perfect GPA.

“I don’t want to miss out on anything. I want to learn as much as I can,” she said. “This school has given me so many opportunities. They even brought John Deere in!”

Thanks to her two internships, Williams has already worked with the manufacturing engineering department at John Deere’s tractor cab assembly plant in Waterloo, Iowa, and the user experience team in Des Moines. This summer, she will return to Des Moines to begin her full-time position in the engineering development program.

“There are many reasons we believe Hanna will be a great addition to our John Deere family,” said Margaux Ascherl, manager of user experience for John Deere’s Intelligent Solutions Group. “Hanna has a deep appreciation for what our products can do to help farmers adopt precision agriculture technology, and she brings the skill set to contribute unique ideas toward new solutions. We are excited to have her. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for Hanna and John Deere!”

Neither can Ask.

“Hanna is a hard worker and wants to do a good job at everything she is assigned,” he said. “She has the potential to advance in the profession because she combines intellect, talent and people skills in powerful ways.”

“I can go in so many different directions with John Deere,” Williams said. “I want to do all I can to make myself and my parents proud. I’ve been given a second chance at life, and I’m not going to screw it up.”

She certainly hasn’t.

For information on Penn College’s industrial design degree and other programs offered by the School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520.

Penn College is a national leader in applied technology education and workforce development. Email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.