‘Exceptional’: General Motors internships lead to job as engineer, national award

Hellquist, mechanical engineering major, recognized for her skills, saving company hundreds of thousands of dollars
​Jerry Poling | June 5, 2024

Julia Hellquist wasn’t sure at first if higher education was the right choice for her. No one in her family previously had gone to college.

However, as someone who liked to “fix things,” when she heard about UW-Stout’s lab-based, applied learning focus she knew it was the right fit. She graduated in December 2023 with a degree in mechanical engineering and a job as an engineer with one of the biggest and best-known companies in the U.S., General Motors.

This past spring, the Ham Lake, Minn., native put a post-graduation exclamation point on her UW-Stout experience by winning the Student Achievement Award from the national Cooperative Education and Internship Association. The honor, the second time in six years a UW-Stout student has won, was based on Hellquist’s four “exceptional” co-op experiences with GM.

Mechanical engineering major Julia Hellquist had four internships with General Motors before graduating and beginning a full-time job with the company as an engineer.
Mechanical engineering major Julia Hellquist, right, had four internships with General Motors before graduating and beginning a full-time job with the company as an engineer. / Contributed photo

Hellquist was recognized over tens of thousands of students across the country. More than 1,000 a year take part alone in UW-Stout’s co-op and internship program, in which they were paid an average of nearly $20 an hour while receiving academic credit.

Her GM team recommended her for the award, in part because her work as a student saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Julia Hellquist is an exceptional student and engineer. She has proven to be a self-starter, quick learner and someone that demonstrates great engineering problem solving skills. Her creativity, leadership skills and her exceptional communication skills have enabled the success of all her projects,” the team said.

Julia Hellquist was named the national co-op student of the year this past spring. Attending the award ceremony were Career Services’ Bryan Barts and Bethany Henthorn.
Julia Hellquist was named the national co-op student of the year this past spring. Attending the award ceremony were Career Services’ Bryan Barts and Bethany Henthorn. / UW-Stout

Her first GM co-ops were in person, from June to September 2021 in Spring Hill., Tenn., and May to August 2022 in Warren, Mich. Her achievements included:

  • Interior compartment manufacturing engineer for the 2024 luxury Cadillac Celestiq
  • Led error proofing and design changes of a vehicle component
  • Completed statics and tolerance testing on vehicles through Siemens software
  • Updated documentation to ensure accurate assembly processes
  • Collaborated with outside vendors and manufacturers to cut the cost of an assembly item to one-third of its original price, leading to a predicted savings of over $70,000 a year.

Those co-ops were followed by remote co-ops in summer and fall 2023 that involved three major projects:

  • Underwent training to become a PFMEA — process, failure, mode, effects, analysis — engineer and led the development of a new process that improved quality and productivity
  • Worked with the Vehicle Systems Financial Team, studied the GM purchasing system and helped streamline processes regarding projects’ financial status, saving the company several hundred thousand dollars
  • Underwent training in evaluation of continuous improvement software that led to additional efficiencies and savings for the company as part of the Operational Excellence project.

In the software project, Hellquist “showed extensive growth in her leadership skills and critical thinking skills. Julia exceeded all expectations by leading the team through this difficult Operational Excellence project while completing other projects,” the team said.

“We leverage our student programs to support talent development where they are responsible for collaborating to find solutions to immediate and future challenges. These assignments allow them to apply their knowledge and experiences previously gained to real world programs and projects that impact our workforce and customers.”

Julia Hellquist graduated in December 2023, posing after the ceremony with one of her engineering professors, Brenda Puck.
Julia Hellquist graduated in December 2023 and met after the ceremony with one of her engineering professors, Brenda Puck. / Contributed photo

GM was one of 56 Fortune 500 companies that hired UW-Stout graduates from 2022-23.

Hellquist’s success at GM reflected her success at UW-Stout. 

“On top of learning the intricacies of mathematical concepts surrounding engineering design and application, I was also able to learn welding, machining, and work on projects during each class that aided me in remembering the course content,” she said.

Hellquist felt prepared for any type of challenge when she graduated in December.

“The campus community is very supportive, and it contains the perfect environment for students to learn face to face with professors,” she said. “It is nice getting to know them and your peers in a smaller class setting.”

UW-Stout’s Robert F. Cervenka School of Engineering also has programs in manufacturing, plastics, and computer and electrical engineering, as well as engineering technology. A master’s in manufacturing engineering is available on campus or online.

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More than 700 employers support UW-Stout program

More than 700 employers support the co-op program at UW-Stout.

Career Services works closely with academic departments and faculty mentors to ensure a “personalized and impactful work experience,” said Bethany Henthorn, co-op and internship program manager in Career Services.

Henthorn and Career Services Director Bryan Barts attended Hellquist’s award presentation.

“When students land their positions, they are often uncertain about their abilities. Upon completion of their work experience, I see students confident in their abilities along with a record of success in the workplace that will springboard them into their first professional position,” Henthorn said.

More than 27,000 UW-Stout students have benefited from the program since its inception 40-plus years ago.

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