July 2018 Young Alum of the Month
Name: Caleb Burns
Hometown: Springfield, Ohio
Degree: (‘15 agricultural systems technology, ‘17 MS industrial and agricultural technology)
Title and Company: process technician at Danfoss
Caleb Burns’ mind works overtime. As a process technician for automation controls at Danfoss, Burns’ is often tasked with trying to identify the solution to a problem. Although sometimes frustrating, Burns enjoys the challenge.
Burns (‘15 agricultural systems technology, ‘17 MS industrial and agricultural technology) spends his days creating code for process improvement, troubleshooting hardware issues using software or advancing projects. Burns’ current project involves increasing production in the paint system. No two days are alike.
“For me, the most rewarding part of my job is the feeling of accomplishment after struggling through a project that challenged me in ways I haven’t been challenged to think before,” Burns says.
Drawn to Iowa State for its reputation for excellence in engineering, Burns checked-out the Agricultural Systems Technology (AST) major in pursuit of a more hands-on learning environment. He made an appointment with AST adviser, Jenny Macken, and knew he had found his true Iowa State home.
Macken was the first of many faculty and staff Burns was able to build relationships with in the department. Burns became involved and reached out to professors by asking questions and doing more than course requirements.
Burns met Russ Hoffman, in Introduction to Manufacturing Processes. Hoffman lectured the class and would stick around afterwards to answer Burns’ questions. Seeing potential in Burns, Hoffman offered him a job as a teaching assistant during the fall semester of Burns’ junior year. Burns worked for Hoffman every semester throughout his undergraduate career.
Hoffman’s guidance did not stop there. He presented the idea of graduate school to Burns and collaborated with other professors to encourage Burns to further his education. In the spring of 2015, Burns was accepted into the industrial and agriculture technology graduate program.
Throughout his time at Iowa State, Burns’ favorite class was Automation Systems Controller (PLC) taught by Lie Tang. The class was technical and involved writing code. Recognizing his talent for PLC, Tang hired him to help teach the lab portion of the class while Burns was in graduate school.
“I’m so grateful for the course and my time with Dr. Tang. I apply what I learned from it every day as a process technician,” says Burns.
As a graduate student, he studied under Shweta Chopra. His research focused on enhancing the effectiveness of student learning through industry engagement. The research gave Burns the hands-on learning he had always yearned for. He values Chopra’s mentorship.
“Chopra pushed me to get where I am today. The jobs and experiences I have obtained are due to her guidance,” he says.
Burns hopes to return to Iowa State as a professor so that he can encourage and instill the same drive in students as his professors did in him.
With the start of a new semester on the horizon, Caleb offers CALS students this advice:
“Get to know your professors,” Burns says. “Throughout my time in AST, I never had a professor who wasn’t approachable and welcoming. They want to see you succeed.”
Learn more about Iowa State’s number-one-in-the-nation undergraduate program in agricultural and biosystems engineering. The program tied for top honors with Purdue and Texas A&M University in 2018 rankings by U.S. News and World Report. The department’s graduate program is one of the country’s best ranked at number two.