It changed my view of modern ag

When Justin Hanks learned he had been assigned to Monsanto Hawaii for his summer internship, he thought he’d be spending a lot of time out in the fields doing manual labor.

Six weeks later, the King Kekaulike High School senior aspiring to become a computer engineer says the experience was not at all what he had expected, and that it “really changed my view of modern agriculture.”

Hanks was one of 25 high school students who participated in the Maui Economic Development Board’s 2017 STEMworks internship program. The program encourages the development of future Hawaii STEM professionals by providing today’s students with an opportunity to work on real-world projects with the help of industry partners like Monsanto Hawaii.

Hanks initially envisioned he’d be put to work hand-shucking corn. Instead, he was assigned to help build and implement a computerized sensor system to gather real-time data on temperature and moisture levels on Monsanto’s farm. The system enables the farm to better manage its operations – to reduce water wastage and grow crops more successfully.

“I learned how to breadboard, the basics of C# programming, soldering, how PCB boards work,” Hanks said. “There was more robotics and engineering involved in the process than I had expected, and I’m glad I got Monsanto for my internship. I gained a lot.”

In addition to his hands-on engineering experience, Hanks said he received a lot of career and college advice as well. “What I enjoyed most about the internship was just hanging out, speaking and learning from all of the employees. They took me under their wing, taught me to think about what you have to know or do to manage an entire project. They shifted my perspective. I was thinking ‘college, then career.’ But you have to think about ‘career, then college.’”

Hanks’ primary internship mentors were Manager Corey Barth and Agronomic Research Specialist Richard White. “It was a genuine delight to work with Justin,” Barth said. “He has a great work ethic and ability to communicate. We think he’s got a very bright future ahead of him and wish him lots of success at whichever college he chooses to attend.”

King Kekaulike High School senior Justin Hanks (center) with mentors Richard White (left) and Corey Barth. A participant in MEDB’s STEMworks internship program, Hanks spent six weeks at Monsanto Hawaii’s farm in Kihei, gaining hands-on engineering experience.

Justin Hanks demonstrates how a moisture sensor is inserted into the soil. Data is collected and transmitted to a computerized system, which in turn can adjust irrigation levels to optimize water usage and reduce waste.