A Hero Finds a Quality Career

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Nicole Reyna’s professional journey—from college student to Army sergeant to senior quality assurance technologist at Smithfield Foods—wasn’t one she had planned. But thanks to The Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes MAKE America program, it’s one that has brought her where she wants to be. Initially, Reyna was interested in medicine and went to college to become a medical assistant. Shortly before graduation, however, she had an experience that changed her mind.

“I was two months from graduating that program, and I was working on removing stitches—and that’s when I realized I was not what you would call a ‘medically inclined person,’” Reyna said.

Instead, she spoke to recruiters at her local mall and ended up joining the U.S. Army, where she served for 12 years in logistics and quality assurance. When she left the military in 2019, she had only 90 days to find a job. And while she was enrolled in Department of Defense program that teaches veterans about resume building and job searching, she ran into a Heroes MAKE America program manager sitting outside the door, giving feedback on job candidates’ LinkedIn profiles and talking about a certified manufacturing program.

“It was a chance thing,” said Reyna. “But the Heroes program was fantastic. They walked through your resume; they help you write your resume; we’d do mock interviews. You go through The Manufacturing Institute’s certification process. And every week, we would go to manufacturing facilities and see what they look like—how robotics work, how generators are built, how food is manufactured. It was very comprehensive.”

The program managers were also highly engaged in ensuring Reyna found a role. When she was initially passed over for a position at a Smithfield distribution center, Reyna’s program manager called the company’s talent acquisition executive to make sure Reyna could receive an interview. After a conversation, Smithfield decided to find Reyna a role—and today, Reyna is one of three senior quality assurance technologists for one of Smithfield’s large distribution centers.

After her experience, Reyna has one piece of advice for people considering the Heroes program: Do it.

“The opportunities afforded to you are insane,” said Reyna. “When you don’t do these programs, you’re thrown to the wolves. At the Heroes program, you have resume assistance, you see facilities, you get to meet with people and speak with hiring managers. And if we put in a resume somewhere, we’d tell our program managers we applied and they’d call to follow up. It’s invaluable.”

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