Bjorn Melin, intern at Cteq Data Consultants and 3M, is proof that drive and work ethic really do make a difference. Not about to allow his Edina upbringing to afford him any opportunities he didn’t earn, Bjorn tackled a challenging double major in Computer Science and Math and forged his own opportunities in data science at Cteq and 3M by personally undertaking 50 plus informational interviews (over five times his advisor’s recommendation) and networking vigorously in the Twin Cities’ analytics field before acquiring internships in both small and large business environments. Bjorn’s is a story spanning math faculty all the way up to corporate CEOs. He credits his education to both.
Bjorn Melin: There’s so many things that resources are being wasted on or that can’t happen because it takes too long or it’s not possible by humans that if you’d just developed an algorithm or used AI or machine learning, you could handle those tasks so easily. Save people, help people. I want to be able to invent something that’s going to help people. That’s my ultimate goal.
Paul Pribbenow: Augsburg University educates students to be informed citizens, thoughtful stewards, critical thinkers, and responsible leaders. I’m Paul Pribbenow, the president of Augsburg University, and it’s my great privilege to present the Augsburg podcast.
Catherine Day: I’m Catherine Reid Day, host of the Augsburg podcast. Today we speak with math and computer science, double major Bjorn Melin, class of 2020, about his discoveries in mathematics and data science, both at Augsburg and at multiple internships at companies large and small. We also hear from several of his academic and professional mentors about his passions for math and problem solving, which first took shape years ago on the street in Niagara Falls.
Bjorn Melin: Whenever there was money on the street, I was the one who found it, which my whole family thought was hilarious. One time, we were in Niagara Falls and I found, I think it was a $100 bill on the ground and I was just always keeping track of my money, counting it, keeping track of my coins. That’s probably the earliest memory I have is just counting coins, honestly. I was always just interested in math, not really directly, but I’d always be interested in money and counting things, doing puzzles. I guess that’s why I turned out as a math major, but I didn’t realize it at the time.
Bjorn Melin: When I started at Augsburg, I originally had no clue at all what I was going to do. I started off taking Calc 1 because I knew that, okay, I took pre-calc last year, I should probably keep going if I can handle it. After first semester freshman year I declared an econ major, which looking back I think that’s kind of crazy. Second semester then I took Calculus 2 and microeconomics at the same time and I remember sitting in microeconomics one day and our professor had written just full board equation and in calc we had just learned a single derivative that’s seven numbers long and it could solve the entire board equation that she just wrote and I couldn’t handle it, so I just went up. I was like, I got to show you this. And showed her this derivative, and that’s when I was like, okay, I need to switch to a math major. My advisor convinced me to pick up computer science later on, but that’s sort of how I started.
Catherine Day: Advising plays a key role for students as they venture into internships. Bjorn tells us where he found guidance.
Bjorn Melin: The Strommen Center, our career center here at Augsburg came into math colloquium my sophomore year in the fall, and they do that every year actually to get students thinking about internships, fellowships, anything that they offer, career advising resources. Getting my resume revised and getting cover letters written, prepping for interviews, I was in the Strommen Center pretty much every day my junior year in the fall. Starting about September until beginning to mid October, I was in at least three days a week. They helped me get my resume looking great, got me ready for career fairs, helped me write cover letters. I did a couple mock interviews. Anything possible they made it so honestly I feel like they made it so it was impossible to not get a job just because they had so many resources available and were so willing to help.
Bjorn Melin: My parents had a, they were at a cocktail party and met, who is now my old boss, Steve Hartwig, and he said, “Oh, I’m looking for an intern for the summer.” And they were telling him that I was a math major looking for a job and he just said that I should reach out. I got very lucky with that first internship over at C-TEQ.
Steve Hartwig: Bjorn does stand out as our very best intern, kind of a shining star.
Catherine Day: This is Steve Hartwig, CEO and founder of C-TEQ Data Consultants where Bjorn first interned.
Steve Hartwig: He was a guy that probably got involved in more things than any other intern, partly because of that motivation that he had. Bjorn really picked up things quickly. I myself had a liberal arts background, thought I was going to go into medicine, fell into this field by accident. I worked with a couple of guys that were about my, what I am today in their mid fifties. I think the advice may have been given to me from the same two gentlemen that I was speaking of. I think the advice is truly believing in yourself, understanding first off who you are and you can’t move to the next step if you don’t know yourself.
Bjorn Melin: He gave me the strength finder book. He really just sat me down and we went over those results after I took it and we just talked about how important it was to set goals for yourself, whether it be tomorrow’s goal or a week down the road or a year or five years. Just how important that is and how important it is to keep those in the back of your mind with every decision that you’re making. That’s the best advice that I’ve gotten. I hadn’t really thought that much about setting goals before and since then I’ve been very goal driven and goal oriented. If you’re having a terrible of studying, if you think five years down the line, it makes it a lot easier I think.
Steve Hartwig: I think it took me a long time to appreciate who I was and what I had within me before I could really advance. That’s caused me to help people like Bjorn, younger people that are under my tutelage, my authority, et cetera, to help them discover who they are. To know their strengths, to know their gifts, know their potential, know where they want to go, where they can go and help them create a pathway and a vision for doing that.
Catherine Day: After interning in the world of small private business, Bjorn also explored the other side of the equation, opportunities with major corporations. 3M in this case.
Bjorn Melin: I really started going hard on networking at my internship last summer at 3M. They required us, or not technically required, but highly encouraged us to do 10 informational interviews. I took full advantage of that. I was able to manage my work, get it done, and then still take a ton of time out of my week to go meet with people, network. I think I met with over 65 people this summer, which was incredible. The advice I got was unbelievable. Met a lot of awesome people that I still talk to during the school year. Excited to get back there.
Bjorn Melin: I guess my plan right now is to work very technical hands-on like software engineer, data scientist, data engineer. Just get as broad a range of technical skills built up as I can in the next eight to 10 years and once I’m very confident and strong in that in a bunch of different areas technically, I want to try to get into sort of leading groups, management, something along those lines, but I also want to stay technical, which I’ve heard is hard from a lot of managers I talk to at work. That’s my ultimate goal, I think.
Catherine Day: Bjorn’s extensive internship experiences have informed his future plans, but so has his academic experience at Augsburg.
Bjorn Melin: I found vocation at Augsburg really through my professors and I’d say primarily my math major friends because we’re all just very interested in a future, we’re interested in each other sort of competitive. Yeah, we’re just looking for the best out of everyone, trying to all do our best and encourage each other, help each other out. Those groups of people have just made me a better person and I think I’d like to think that I have helped them as well. In HEG for every semester since it’s been built, I’ve been in there probably at least three hours a day, every day just working on math homework, working on my coding projects, talking to friends, just hanging out. Usually doing math homework though. But yeah, we all just get together. We have a lot of homework. Three times a week we have homework assignment. It takes about three or four hours. We all just get together, work through it, help each other out on problems we don’t get, just try to make it not so stressful for each other. Sort of goof around a little bit, makes it a lot easier.
John Zobitz: I have known Bjorn since I believe he was a first year student here. He was a student in my calculus class.
Catherine Day: This is John Zobitz, associate professor of mathematics and statistics.
John Zobitz: Right away then I knew sort of his excitement and motivation for and passion for mathematics and also at the time computer science as well. And so he was one of those students that you could give him a problem and he would just take off and work on in a zone, solve it and come together with a couple of different answers and just impressed me with his depth of knowledge.
John Zobitz: I think he likes seeing the applications of data and computers and mathematics and sort of the intersectionality between all three of those. It requires a lot of creative problem solving on his behalf. He needs to think about how that computational tools that he’s using can and cannot apply to a particular problem at hand. What are some of the mathematics behind it as well? That way he applies the right mathematical tools and to get a better result than if he just pursued one of them in isolation.
John Zobitz: Last summer he was at 3M and when the summer ended he came to my office and said, “Wow. All of the stuff that we had learned in my previous classes that was so directly relevant to what I was doing.” And so I think he was sort of excited and energized by some of what he was learning in his classes that became relevant to his work experience.
Bjorn Melin: For me personally, Augsburg has been 10 out of 10 experience. I can’t imagine doing what I’ve done anywhere else or having the resources or advice given to me. Just the ability to be able to go to office hours every day and get one on one help when I’m confused or just need to talk about something is just so huge. I can’t imagine being in a 300 person lecture and having of learned what I’ve learned in the past four years, which I also saw at work kind of. I sort of understood things more in depth because I was able to get that one on one help. We have bunch of fun events. They always bribe us with candy in the math department. It’s been great.
John Zobitz: This is a story about one student, but I think here in our department we sort of take that individual student perspective to heart and we really try to differentiate our perspective so that all students have the ability to succeed. And so Bjorn is just one example of many success stories that we’ve had here and that we are so pleased when students do well and they tell us that too because that gives us meaning and purpose too.
Bjorn Melin: I definitely see myself giving back to the school. The school has just done so much for me in terms of my career and just setting me up for the life that I wanted after school. That if I have the money, or have the resources, I’m definitely going to give back or I definitely plan on in the next few years, even just coming back for mathematics colloquium, and just discussing with students, trying to get them ready for their careers, helping out with stuff like that. Anyway I can, I will. It’s just been an awesome experience.
Catherine Day: We’ve heard today from Bjorn Melin, math and computer science double major, class of 2020. We’ve also heard from Steve Hartwig, CEO and founder of C-TEQ Data Consultants and John Zobitz, professor of mathematics and statistics. I’m Catherine Reid Day and this is the Augsburg podcast.
Paul Pribbenow: Thanks for listening to the Augsburg podcast. I’m president Paul Pribbenow. For more information, please visit augsburg.edu.