Manufacturing Co-op Student Determined to Finish Strong

Despite pandemic, UM engineering student John Finnegan continuing Batesville internship


John Finnegan, manufacturing engineering co-op student. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

University of Mississippi mechanical engineering senior John Finnegan had been doing a co-op with Parker Hannifin in Batesville since May 2019, and was working close to full time when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Faced with the choice whether to go home and be with his family in Westchester County, New York, or stay and strive to complete his internship program, the self-confessed optimist enthusiastically chose the latter.

“Since the plant has remained open (with restrictions in place, of course), I’ve been fortunate enough to not have any new financial stresses so far,” Finnegan said.

“A few friends of friends have tested positive, as well as a myriad of people I know from when I used to live in New York. I have been lucky enough that I haven’t lost anyone close to me, and none of my acquaintances who’ve had it have been hospitalized. I consider myself very fortunate.”

As a manufacturing engineering co-op student, Finnegan’s primary responsibilities include fabricating new tooling and fixtures, implementing new and improved processes, and overseeing the application of new components to the production line.

“My job is mostly about diagnosing problems that come up with one of the many parts that Parker produces,” Finnegan said. “This could be during the production or the quality control stage. First I look at the issue priority – often based on when it needs to be shipped out. Then I try to determine a workaround or develop a new process that might be able to work instead.”

He and Anish Bista, a fellow Ole Miss mechanical engineering student and co-worker, developed an automated temperature screening system to check employees for fever as they clock in and out.

John Finnegan works at Parker Hannifin in Batesville. The New York native has remained with the company through the coronavirus pandemic. Submitted photo

Finnegan has proven to be an asset to the company, said Joel Lender, supervisor of Parker Hannifin’s internship program.

“I have had the pleasure of working with him in many capacities,” Lender said. “He has proven to not only myself but also to the Parker Hannifin Co. that he is focused on uplifting his co-workers and enhancing productivity. John goes above and beyond to better the conditions through new initiatives and interactions with employees.”

Finnegan had planned to attend a school closer to home but found UM was by far the most affordable.

“I wanted to pay my own way through school as much as possible, and Ole Miss gave me the opportunity to do so,” Finnegan said. “I never expected to wind up in Mississippi, but I couldn’t imagine having gone anywhere else.”

He chose to study mechanical engineering because he always hoped to do work that would meaningfully improve people’s lives, and engineering always inspired him in that regard.

“I thought I’d be good at it, and I knew I’d have the chance to do work that was important to me,” he said. “I was drawn to the automotive and aerospace industries, so mechanical engineering it was.”

Finnegan expressed mixed feelings about his final semester at Ole Miss and beyond.

“I’d cherish the opportunity to learn in a classroom, but I dread the thought of putting our classmates, co-workers and families at risk,” he said. “I hope that we can act selflessly out of care for one another, push through the difficulties we’re bound to experience and come out on the other side stronger.”

Ever the optimist, Finnegan encourages fellow UM students to persevere as he plans to do.

“Learning may be harder than normal for a while. Jobs may be harder to find for a while,” he said. “But I implore my classmates and professors not to lose sight of why they started, nor how far they’ve come.

“We all are (or hope to be) engineers. We solve problems during periods of stress each and every day. Take care of yourself, keep your head up, and trust that if you’ve made it this far, you will make it through this.”