Co-op experience leads to full-time job for Venezuelan student

By University Communications
March 24, 2016
Juan Rivera and his family moved from Venezuela to Wisconsin so he could enroll at UW-Stout. From left are Juan Diego, Jose, Maria, Juan and Jesus.

Photo: Juan Rivera and his family moved from Venezuela to Wisconsin to
enroll at UW-Stout. From left are Juan Diego, Jose, Maria, Juan and Jesus.

 Conventional wisdom, for good reason, says that the most and best career opportunities exist in big cities.

Juan Rivera is turning conventional wisdom on its cheesehead in Wisconsin.

Rivera and his family left Maracaibo, Venezuela, population five million, in 2014, so that he could enroll in the Master of Science program in operations and supply management at University of Wisconsin-Stout.

UW-Stout is in Menomonie, which has about 16,000 residents.

After one year on campus, Rivera landed a Cooperative Education Program job — a paid position with academic credit — through UW-Stout at the Land O’ Lakes cheese processing plant in Spencer.

The population of Spencer, eight miles northwest of Marshfield in central Wisconsin, is about 2,000.

Moving to smaller and even smaller cities has paid off big time for Rivera. He won’t be going back to UW-Stout — other than to tie up loose ends and graduate in May — or to Venezuela anytime soon. He recently was offered and accepted a full-time position as a production supervisor at Land O’ Lakes in Spencer. He will begin in May.

“It’s just a blessing,” said Rivera, who is married and has three sons, ages 8, 6 and 3. “It’s a really good plant and an awesome company culture.”

The Spencer plant makes sliced American cheese and employs about 250 people, he said.

Juan Rivera receives his award from Sara Mortimore of Land O' Lakes.Rivera has made a positive impression during his co-op, leading to the full-time job. The co-op began last summer but was extended throughout the 2015-16 academic year based on his performance. Then, he recently received a company Quality Impact Award after being nominated by a colleague. He was chosen over nominees from about 10 other Land O’ Lakes plants.

 “The co-op experience is really good. You put into practice what you’re learning. All of the information in the master’s program is what’s going on now in the industry. It’s a dream come true at the end of the day,” he said.

Rivera’s job is to monitor food safety and product quality. “We make sure all of the quality controls are implemented, and if we find a problem we investigate and our information goes into a nationwide database,” he said.

UW-Stout was a good fit

Rivera earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Atlantis University in Miami before returning to Maracaibo, his hometown, to work in the oil industry.

After deciding that he wanted more education and better skills, he began to look at master’s programs. He was drawn to UW-Stout because the operations and supply management program combined both of his interests. Also, he said the school has a “top-notch” reputation.

“It fit perfectly,” he said, although he added that the transition from Venezuela to Wisconsin was challenging the first year for his family.

Jim KeyesRivera and his wife didn’t mind leaving Maracaibo, where crime has become a serious issue, he said.

UW-Stout and Menomonie turned out to be the right choice. “I love Menomonie. I couldn’t say anything but good things. I met a lot of students from other states. The professors, staff — everything has been awesome,” he said.

Professor Jim Keyes, director of the master’s program, complimented Rivera for his work ethic, skills and for seeking a co-op position through Career Services at UW-Stout.

“Juan has been a great student. He has used the knowledge that he gained through the program to develop new and exciting career opportunities and the ability to provide a new life for his family in Wisconsin,” Keyes said.

While on campus, Rivera worked as a graduate assistant in the Manufacturing Enterprise Practicum Lab.

For more information about UW-Stout’s co-op program, click here. More than 1,000 students a year participate in co-ops.

Along with the master’s in operations and supply management, UW-Stout offers a bachelor’s program in supply chain management.



Second Photo: Juan Rivera receives the Quality Impact Award from Land O’ Lakes’ Sara Mortimore, vice president of Product Safety, Quality and Regulatory. He has a co-op position at the company’s Spencer plant and will begin working there full time in May.

Third Photo: Jim Keyes