As May of 2013 quickly came to an end, then-senior Samantha Barnes parted with her four years at Niles West. Now, almost seven years later, she’s an engineer for one of the world’s sweetest companies. Literally.
“I have worked with companies like Sage Environmental Consulting, Diageo, Cargill, General Mills, and currently I am now with Mars Wrigley in Burr Ridge as a manager and engineer at their only ice cream plant in the world,” Barnes said.
At the Mars Wrigley plant, Barnes manages a team of 16 operators and works cross-functionally with the maintenance, quality, and logistics teams.
“I do a lot of data analyzation and troubleshooting on our machines and identify the top stops over a given time period and then align the proper resources to drive out the loss and increase efficiency and product output,” Barnes said.
After graduating from West, Barnes attended the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, where she majored in Chemical Engineering. Prior to landing at Mars Wrigley, she worked in the oil and gas industry and in research and development.
Barnes had a handful of teachers at West who played a vital role in assisting her in her academic journey.
“My favorite teachers at Niles West were Ms. Villa and Mr. Heinz, my SIRS teacher and my AP Chemistry teacher. I also really enjoyed learning history in Mr. Meyer’s and Mr. Schwarz’s class and English with Ms. Jaffe and Mr. Klingenberger. Ms. Lietz was another amazing teacher [who] helped me a lot during school,” Barnes said.
“She was a wonderful addition to class. Very active in class discussions and a big reason why the classroom atmosphere was so enjoyable. She was a bright student and a hard worker, and she was friendly and outgoing and a pleasure to have in class each and every day,” history teacher Joe Meyer recalled.
“I remember Samantha as being a very compassionate, high energy student, and a powerfully positive member of the Niles West community. In class, Samantha helped the learning community coalesce, by asking her colleagues questions and making sure that we all worked hard to understand one another. Outside of school, Samantha volunteered with organizations set up to provide children with limited opportunities a chance to play and learn with a mentor who cared about them. Samantha combined her desire to help and support the people around her with an unflagging ambition to pursue her dreams. Wherever she is now, and whatever she is doing, is undoubtedly the result of her pursuit of personal excellence and social equity,” English teacher Tamara Jaffe-Notier said.
West provided Barnes with more than just a great education; it also gave her lifelong best friends.
“I still keep in touch with my main friend group from high school. We get together every big holiday, and now that most of us are back in Chicago, we get together for dinner and drinks as often as our schedules allow,” Barnes said.
“Sam and I were good friends in high school and continued to foster our friendship throughout college and now as working adults. We lived together at the University of Illinois for four years and now live a neighborhood away from each other in Chicago! Sam and I stay connected by participating in the same book club and grabbing dinner when our schedules align. Sam is also getting married in September, and I can’t wait to stand up in her wedding,” Katie McDonagh, one of Barnes’ best friends in high school, said.
After leaving Niles West, Barnes realized just how special this area is.
“When I left Chicago, the biggest change for me was the lack of diversity in other parts of the country and the world. We are truly lucky Niles West has such a diverse population, and we have grown up with so much culture that everyone is accepting and respectful of,” Barnes said.
Barnes is so grateful for the skills and opportunities that she left Niles West with. They have set her up for a promising and successful future, and West can’t wait to see what she does in the coming years.