Milaca graduate returns to help ignite spark

Jennifer Struffert-Abon talks to a student about engines recently at Milaca High School. The engineer with Cummins, Inc. presented high school girls with a unique learning experience. Photo provided
Jennifer Struffert-Abon talks to a student about engines recently at Milaca High School. The engineer with Cummins, Inc. presented high school girls with a unique learning experience.
Photo provided

An opportunity to give back, both to her high school and college, proved to be a rewarding experience for Jennifer Struffert-Abon, a 1999 graduate of Milaca High School.
While growing up on a dairy farm near Hillman, she spent an hour on the bus each way, making her way to school in Milaca.
That prep education propelled her toward graduating from St. Cloud State University with a degree in electrical engineering.
Showing early promise while at St. Cloud, she earned an internship in 2003 with Cummins Inc., a company known worldwide for engines.
Those engines can range from one used in a Dodge Ram diesel truck to engines needed in power generation or perhaps being used for powering a locomotive.
The home office for Cummins is in Columbus, Ind.
That relationship led to her being hired full-time by Cummins after graduating from SCSU in 2004.
Today, some 10 years later, having gone through eight field changes, she presently serves as the global parts return manager for Cummins.
“I was glad to join a company where I could grow,” Struffert-Abon said.
Struffert-Abon currently works in a customer support division of Cummins where she manages a 46,000-square-foot facility in Columbus, Ind., where engine parts are returned and analyzed.
All together she oversees about 25 people working in three facilities.
These days the majority of her work is done by computer and teleconferences from her home office in Mount Pleasant, S.C.
While some travel is involved in her work, she foresees some global travel in the future.
Should an engine failure ever occur, she has a team ready and in place to recover the parts and analyze the components and determine what caused the failure.
Focusing on “drive improvement,” the plan is to make sure that failure does not happen again.
When an opportunity arose close to home, she seized that chance as a way to give back to her college and high school.
That came during the 24th annual Society of Women Engineers Horizons Conference held at St. Cloud State on March 22.
The conference is held with an emphasis on introducing women into the field of engineering.
Milaca High School teacher Mark Erickson accompanied a small group of Milaca high school students to the Society of Women Engineers conference in St. Cloud.
Earlier, Struffert-Abon had contacted Milaca High School Principal Damian Patnode, letting him know she would be in the area. She asked if there would be a period of time after the conference to spend with Milaca students.
In looking back to her high school days, Struffert-Abon recalled that she “really enjoyed math and science.”
“They really pushed me on the math side to continue and I was asked to take two math classes and I jumped at it because I loved it.”
Not knowing what her career choice would be until she reached college, it was the urging of one of her professors that finally “reached out” to her.
“What a great way to give back and also be able to get our Lego engine to Milaca for the girls to build with,” Struffert-Abon said.
The QSK 95 Lego engine is made up of just under 30,000 parts.
According to Struffert-Abon, this is a “scaled-down version of the 95-liter diesel engine.”
The Lego engine has been in use for just under two years and has been “a huge success.”
Struffert-Abon added, “The Lego engine also works as a great media for conversation.”
This trip also allowed Struffert-Abon an opportunity to get back to the farm.
“It felt like back in high school as I borrowed my father’s truck to help transport the Lego engine to Milaca,” Struffert-Abon said.
The engine parts are stored in three crates, weighing in at 80 pounds apiece.
Struffert-Abon points out it was Lego enthusiasts coming up with the design, while the parts are credited to Lego.
With Erickson “pulling it all together in Milaca,” approximately 20 high school girls in grades seven through 12 took part in the build of the QSK 95 Lego engine.
Struffert-Abon was impressed with the Milaca students putting the engine together in approximately 90 minutes, adding “they were quick.”
While Struffert-Abon termed the build as a “team effort,” she was especially pleased that SCSU Professor Dr. Ling Hou made the trip to Milaca, accompanied by nine engineering students who worked along side.
The build session called for breaking the students into smaller teams of two to three students, who were then paired with a college student, serving as a mentor.

Along with Hou and the students, Struffert-Abon arranged for another Cummins employee to attend to answer questions, while providing further mentoring for the Milaca students.
Struffert-Abon believes many of the young minds need encouragement, much like she did when she was younger.
“I knew at St. Cloud that I enjoyed math and science, but I didn’t have a direction,” Struffert-Abon said.
It wasn’t until that SCSU professor pulled her aside it all came together.
“Perhaps this will give a spark at a much younger level,” she said.
Overall Struffert-Abon considered the visit back to her high school as “a very successful trip,” while completing three engine builds overall during her time back in Minnesota.
Struffert-Abon’s hope is the experience with the engine builds just might “ignite that spark” in one or more of the some 60 girls that took part over the course of all the presentations.
“I was really pleased that Milaca was able to pull things together in the time frame they did to make this happen; that was a huge key,” Struffert-Abon said.
“The willingness of the teachers and students were a big help to us to pull it all together,” she added.
“It was amazing Dr. Hou and her students came, as all of it made the day successful,” Struffert-Abon concluded.
Since graduating from Milaca, Struffert-Abon has been married to Jason Abon for six years this month. The couple has a daughter, who just turned 3.
If additional Milaca alumni are interested in presenting to students with learning opportunities from their career fields, they can contact the school office at 320-982-7190 or by email at [email protected] to make arrangements.