Status message

COVID-19 Update: The University of Minnesota has suspended in-person instruction and will offer online, or alternative, instruction through the end of spring semester 2020. Read the latest CCAPS updates. For the latest information on the University’s response to COVID-19, please see the Safe Campus website.

Overcoming the Odds

Nicole Rohloff 1500x400

Nicole Rohloff

Nicole Rohloff always wanted to study at the University of Minnesota, but her path to fulfilling that wish was not paved and smooth. She faced a number of stalls and bumps in the road. Now, however, she is coming out the other side—stronger than ever with a nearly complete Manufacturing Operations Management certificate and a great job. This is Rohloff’s inspirational story.

Rohloff had begun an undergrad degree at the University of Minnesota but dropped out due to uncertainty about the major she’d selected: athletic training. It didn’t feel like a good fit. In a swirl of indecision about what to study, Rohloff left the U of M and enrolled at MCTC. Her motivation to keep on the path of higher education waned even more. Then, when she discovered she was pregnant, Rohloff put education on the shelf to focus on raising her daughter, Kamryn (Kami).

“After my daughter was born, I worked different jobs,” Rohloff says. A stint at a nursing home, a restaurant, and various retail stores. “None of these jobs had desirable hours or wages. I remember times when I had no money left from my paycheck, and I had to decide between gas so I could drive to work and diapers for my daughter. I had to do better for myself. I had to go back to school.”

With a one-year-old daughter at home, going back to school wasn’t an easy decision to make. Rohloff used every spare cent to pay for childcare, determined to return to her education in order to get a good job and avoid becoming another “single mom statistic.”

“I have been told too many times that because I dropped out I would never go back to college, or because of my finances or that I was a single mom, education was out of the question. I just had to accept it,” Rohloff says. “But I wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

Manufacturing Operations Management

The motivation to return to her dream school, the U of M, came with a new professional goal: to go into the field of manufacturing. Her new academic pursuit came with her earning a scholarship (Mucke-Roff SP16) as well.

Rohloff’s family had been in the manufacturing business for years, so the industry was in her blood. Exploring her own interest in manufacturing, Rohloff was surprised to find out how much she enjoyed it. After searching online, she discovered the U of M’s MM program and immediately knew she wanted to pursue a certificate in Manufacturing Operations Management.

“It’s an incredibly intricate industry. You see what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ of familiar products,” she says. “Manufacturing is a web of multiple business systems, requiring synchronicity to function at its best. Also, I’m interested in manufacturing because of how much it has declined in the US over the last 100 years. Local businesses, like my family’s, are proud to be ‘Made in America’ manufacturers.”

“I firmly believe that knowledge is power. Being educated in manufacturing, or any area for that matter, gives you the power to grow within your career path."

In tandem with taking classes (a mix of online and on-campus), Rohloff completed a nine-week internship focusing on quality management and Lean manufacturing through her family’s business, Remco Industries—a manufacturer of pumps, pump equipment, and accessories. She worked with her brother, Zach Rohloff, to learn about everything from sales and advertising to quality assurance to product knowledge and application. She also did a study of a Remco production line and was able to implement the change of removing a station in order to improve overall efficiency.

“The coursework in the MM program was so relevant to my internship and my subsequent employment with Remco,” Rohloff says. “I was able to apply the material right away to my job setting.”

After her internship, she worked full-time at Remco as a Production Planner, which entailed a lot of sale analysis and integration with inventory data. Rohloff also coordinated the assembly lines that would be running each day, and she prepared workstations with correct inventory components.

A Focus on Quality

Rohloff’s particular interest in quality management grew, and she decided that it was the manufacturing specialization for her.

“Quality is something my dad, Terry, and my brother, Zach, instilled in me at Remco,” Rohloff says. “My dad always said, ‘People won’t remember how fast you did a job; they will remember how well you did it.’ That is absolutely true. Without quality assurance measures, the product might not meet customers’ standards.”

While grateful for her family’s help in gaining valuable on-the-job experience, Rohloff wanted to find a job of her own accord. She did just that in the summer of 2016, when she was hired to be a Production Coordinator at Clearwater Composites, LLC, based in Duluth, MN. The company manufactures composite materials, such as carbon fiber in the form of tubes, plates, and other shapes.

When asked about working in an industry comprised of mostly men, Nicole says, “As a woman, I think it’s great that I can be in an industry dominated by men. I believe I can do anything, and the stigma of a male-dominated industry isn't going to stop me. I love hands-on work, so that’s what I chose to pursue. I’d like to be an example for other women who might not have as much confidence because of this stigma.”

"It's great to have more and more women entering the field of manufacturing and operations management." says Mac McKeen, Faculty Director of the MM program. "The program offers the flexibility to manage a work-life-school balance."

Tony Scott, Academic Adviser in the MM program agrees, "The MM program provides a wonderful opportunity for students that need more flexibility in a certificate or degree program. The mix of blended and online classes, along with the knowledgeable industry professionals that teach our courses, help students like Nicole acquire knowledge and skills that can be transferred to their jobs in order to be successful." 

Rohloff is now living comfortably just outside of Duluth with her daughter, Kami. She’s finishing up her MM certificate and considering going on to earn a degree in the program. Looking back on her journey over the past five years, she’s proud of accomplishing what she set out to do. Rohloff wants others to know they can do it too.

“I firmly believe that knowledge is power. Being educated in manufacturing, or any area for that matter, gives you the power to grow within your career path,” Rohloff says. “Follow your passion and strive to be the best. If I can be an example for even one person to follow their educational goals, I would be happy. I did it despite all the things holding me back.”

Related Stories