- Pathways & Partnerships
How Fiona Chow used early involvement to create opportunities and a path to project management and teamwork in technology and business.
When she graduated from Burnsville High School (BHS) in 2018, Fiona Chow already had a lot going for her. She had a foundation in the basics of coding, website development, and mobile app design, some awards from the National Center for Women in IT (NCWIT), and was starting an internship at a major corporation before entering college at Michigan Technological University (MTU). This was made possible by the opportunities provided at BHS, as well as her incredible passion and drive.
During her sophomore year at BHS, Fiona furthered her interest in technology by taking a mobile computer science programming course, which gave her a foundation in basic coding and mobile app development. Next, she wanted to pursue her interest in engineering and further her skills of collaborating with others. The following year, she changed her focus to the Engineering Design Pathway and began to fuel a combination of interests that would lead to her next steps.
“Looking back, these opportunities are when I started figuring out that I really enjoyed project work and bringing all the puzzle pieces together,” said Fiona. “I took some Project Lead The Way courses at BHS that allowed me to work with a team on a project throughout the year (Augmented Reality Sandbox for William Byrne STEM Elementary) and that experience really led to a lot of opportunities for me.”
The experiences of working with a team on STEM projects while at BHS allowed Fiona to get an introduction to different work and communication styles, while solving complex problems. Her passion for people was reflected in her extracurricular involvements, where she also refined her leadership skills: Captain of the BHS Alpine Ski Team, BurnsvilleStrong, Interact Club, Senior Class Officer, and co-founder of the Women in STEM Club. After graduation, she started a summer internship at Land O’Lakes through NCWIT in Minnesota where she gained knowledge on how the corporate world works.
“Interning was somewhat overwhelming because I was young compared to most other interns and my co-workers,” said Fiona. “It was my first real experience in a corporate office environment and I felt like I didn’t have a ton of knowledge or experience to bring, so I was focused on trying to absorb and learn as much as I could.”
Fiona was accepted to Michigan Technological University (MTU) and initially majored in Software Engineering before changing her major to Management Information Systems (MIS) with a minor in Enterprise. During her first year at college, Fiona found a sense of community within her residential hall, bringing her out of her shell and getting her involved in several extracurricular activities. After her first year, she interned again at Land O'Lakes and was able to bring more knowledge and experience while networking and learning more about how different stakeholders fit together into the larger project picture. She also got involved with extracurricular activities including the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE), the American Marketing Association (AMA), and the Enterprise Program.
The Enterprise Program is an interdisciplinary program that gives opportunities for students to work on real projects with real clients in a student-driven environment that is more like a business than a classroom. Fiona joined the Strategic Education through Naval Systems Experience (SENSE) Enterprise team and her passion for people and project management really grew.
"We were running multiple sub-projects at the same time with teams of four to five people," said Fiona. "We got to work on lots of different types of projects and industries while navigating various work styles, communication styles, conflict styles, and the complexities of team dynamics."
Through SENSE, Fiona gained significant leadership opportunities as a Public Relations Officer, Project Manager and, later, as the Program Manager of the whole team. In addition to improving her leadership skills, she was able to learn a lot about naval research which led to a summer 2020 internship opportunity in Rhode Island with one of the Naval Warfare Centers. This opportunity was canceled due to COVID and replaced with a shorter remote internship in December 2020 where she was still able to get a deeper view of naval research, augmented reality, and more. Fiona furthered her skills and involvement by joining the Enterprise Program Office as a student assistant helping with running the behind-the-scenes tasks and planning program-wide events.
She graduated from Michigan Technological University in December 2022 and will be starting a full-time business analyst role in February 2023 with her former internship employer, Land O’Lakes. In June 2023, she will start in the Land O’Lakes Talent Acquisition Program (TAP), which is a two-year rotational development program.
“It is so important to be attentive so you can understand how to best manage and navigate your team. We all have different styles and personalities so it’s important to find how we can come together and find a way to work together, “ said Fiona. “The pathway program helps students like me because it allows you to think earlier about what you want to major in or pursue so you can try something out, find a good fit, and take off running.”
She hopes to someday be in a fully remote work environment to be able to travel the country while working in project management or data analytics. As she thinks about other students who may be exploring their path, she has some advice to help them find their path and pursue it.
“If you have an interest in something, you should just go for it,” said Fiona. “Reach out to people who have gone through those pathways or are in those industries to get a feel for it. It’s ok to try something and find that it’s not for you–don’t be afraid to try something new! Your path is never set in stone.”