| May 22, 2018

Sharing Industry Insights with the Next Generation

Student Day at the 2018 GEAPS Exchange gave young leaders an opportunity to ask questions, make connections and develop an understanding of careers in the grain industry. Brian Utoft, a Senior Associate / Senior Process Engineer at VAA, participated along with several of his peers to lead discussions. Read the full GEAPS article about the 2018 Student Day at Exchange below.


Student Day at Exchange is an opportunity for students to learn more about the industry and make connections to help launch a successful career in the industry. This year featured two industry experts speaking on a panel, and roundtable discussions between students and industry professionals. The event drew 61 students from Kansas State University, Ohio State University, University of Nebraska at Lincoln University, Huntington University, Valley View High School in Gilcrest, Colorado and Fort Morgan High School in Fort Morgan, Colorado.

One of the panel speakers was Rick Fifer, retired, Cornbelt Chapter. He volunteered because he is passionate about America’s youth, and could provide some insight into the industry after a successful career in product sales and service.

“I was extremely impressed with the number of students attending, and the smart questions that were asked of the panel,” Fifer said. “I felt that all the students were genuinely interested in the program. They were particularly interested in the various challenges professionals face in day-to-day grain operations, and what characteristics were considered as essential in building skillsets.”

The other panel speaker, Mark Fedje, General Mills, Minneapolis, volunteered to help give back to the industry and to show students that they are entering a different industry then what many current workers did.

“I tried to highlight the new technologies and changes in safety programs,” Fedje said. “One of the questions that came up more than once was how you build a great safety culture. I said you have to walk the talk and meet with your employees in their space get out on the floor and talk about what their needs are, what would make their job better and easier. That will build great relationships with employees and also build that culture.”

After the panel, students were invited to break out into roundtable discussions with a number of current grain industry professionals. For Brian Utoft, VAA, Minneapolis, it was an opportunity to meet the next wave of industry professionals, and learn about the challenges they face to anticipate issues as potential employers.

“Most of the students were relatively shy at first but we ended up having good conversations.” Utoft said. “One challenge students are facing today is the fact that a large number of people are starting to

retire from this industry and the knowledge transfer isn’t always clean. A lot of knowledge is leaving this industry and there isn’t much time for students to learn everything they could.”

For Jeff Jones, MKC, Great Plains, International Board director, it was the third time he has been involved in Student Day. He said he always enjoys the roundtable discussions, and he was impressed by the students’ preparation.

“It’s exciting to see the enthusiasm these young folks are bringing to agriculture and the grain industry,” Jones said. “I want to give them a realistic expectation of where the industry is headed and opportunities that they will have.”

Students attending Student Day and accompanying faculty are invited to attend the Exchange for free each year. If you know a student or advisor with a college or university that would be interested in attending Student Day at Exchange 2019, or if you would like to be involved in the program next year, contact Deb Most at deb@geaps.com or (763) 999-4300 to learn more.


The Grain Elevator and Processing Society (GEAPS) is an international professional association that supports its members and the industry by serving as The Knowledge Resource for the world of grain handling and processing industry operations. GEAPS addresses the industry’s critical grain handling, storage and processing operations needs by providing the finest networking, professional development programs, and access to a global marketplace of equipment, services and technology solutions providers. GEAPS’ global network of industry professionals includes more than 2,800 individual members from about 1,150 companies.

Let's connect.

Whether you need a new or expanded facility, a process designed or debottlenecked, life safety or structural analysis… VAA can help you grow.

Scroll to Top