Christiansen gains knowledge on renewable resources at Pierce Manufacturing

Written by Jason Piddington on Thu, 09/22/2022 - 08:48 |
Caleb Christiansen

Caleb Christiansen, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and member of the cross country and track and field programs, has always been interested in renewable energy. As an engineering physics major with an emphasis in electrical engineering and minor in sustainability and renewable energy systems, his summer internship at Pierce Manufacturing gave him hands-on experience with a company that is investing heavily in the electrification of their vehicles. 

Pierce Manufacturing is a part of the Oshkosh Corporation, with four manufacturing sites in the Appleton, Wisconsin area and one in Bradenton, Florida. Being the technological leader in the firefighting apparatus industry, Pierce designed and built the first electric fire truck in North America. This technology demonstrator is currently in front-line use at the Madison Fire Department in Madison, Wisconsin. 

“I would love to work in solar or wind power. I think it will be a big part of our future,” Christiansen said. “If I can’t do that, I would like to get into the electrification of vehicles, just like Pierce. I haven’t been on that project, but I have been able to observe and see some of the data on that truck.”  

Christiansen was hired for the internship at Pierce by 2001 UW-Platteville alumnus Jason Anibas. Anibas also majored in engineering physics when the program was in its early stages and was excited to hire Christiansen.  

“When I started at UW-Platteville, the program was very new,” he said. “I’m glad to see it still going strong. My engineering physics degree has served me well over my career. I welcome the opportunity to support students of the program and to promote the value of the engineering physics degree in the corporate environment.” 

The UW-Platteville connection wasn’t the only reason Christiansen was hired. 

“The engineering physics major is a good fit for what we do at Pierce,” Anibas said. “All our vehicles are electromechanical machines, so it is beneficial to have a background in both the electrical and mechanical disciplines.” 

Christiansen, a Springville, Iowa native, attended UW-Platteville’s job fair his sophomore and junior year. Unable to secure an internship with the Oshkosh Corporation his sophomore year, he went back again and secured an interview and was then hired for the position.  

Christiansen’s first few weeks in the internship were spent at his desk. “[I worked] on an excel worksheet that their product engineers use. I’ve been doing bug tweaking and fixing things within the excel sheet,” he said. 

The work Christiansen did on the excel sheet didn’t slip the eye of his supervisor, Anibas.  

“The challenge we have with summer internships is that they are short, there is a lot to learn very quickly to be productive,” he said. “What we try to do is present opportunities that add value to the student, can be accomplished in 10 weeks, and provide some level of return on our investment. The first few weeks, Caleb [was] exposed to new product development related to the Volterra electric fire truck project, research and development cycle testing of new enclosed top mount pump panel design, manufacturing support through the design of stabilizer tester, and production engineering support through the enhancement of Excel based tools. Caleb’s immediate impact [was] in troubleshooting and enhancing some visual basics scripts for our Excel base tools. His work will improve the efficiency and quality of future electrical system designs.”  

As an alumnus of UW-Platteville’s engineering department, Anibas knew what type of intern Christiansen would be for Pierce.  

“Beyond the obvious technical backgrounds he brings, I see an element of humility along with a Midwest work ethic,” he said. “He knows how to put his head down and get it done and solve the problem. His willingness to take advice and learn from others, especially when you come into a new environment like this is critical. There are opportunities to learn from everybody, especially the people that are building the trucks. They appreciate that, when an engineer listens to them. That is what I see from Caleb and other students that come from UW-Platteville.” 

The reputation of UW-Platteville’s engineering programs are well known within the state of Wisconsin and the country. Anibas is one of several alumni employed at Pierce Manufacturing. The reputation is what led Christiansen from his hometown to UW-Platteville. 

“In high school I decided I wanted to go to college for engineering,” he said. “A family friend spoke to me about UW-Platteville because they had a family member attend here and was on the cross country and track team. After that, I began researching and exploring UW-Platteville and saw that it was one of the best engineering schools in the country, let alone Wisconsin.” 

Following his research, Christiansen made the drive up Highway 151 to UW-Platteville and met with Head Coach Tom Antczak about the opportunity to run for the Pioneers. After a few follow up conversations, Christiansen felt he found his home to continue his education and athletic career. 

Being an athlete is tough for all majors, especially engineering majors. Anibas admires and respects Christiansen for making the sacrifices needed to compete and get an education.  

“I have always admired the student-athlete at the college level, especially an engineering student-athlete,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing that myself when I was going through it, just knowing the investment and time it takes for the studies. Being a student-athlete demands an added level of discipline and time management. I know Caleb gets up early to go running in the morning; a lot of college students wouldn’t have that motivation. I think that translates into the work environment, understanding what it takes to set goals and achieve them.” 

Christiansen is scheduled to graduate in May 2024 and will enter the workforce with an engineering physics degree with an emphasis in electrical engineering and minor in sustainability and renewable energy. He said that he hopes his opportunity to work with the Pierce Volterra electric fire truck will help get his career off to a running start.