POET Employees Grateful for Role BVU President Played in Career Arc
From BVU students to coworkers, alumni Ben Arentson and Victor Espinoza reflect on the impact BVU had on guiding them into their successful careers at POET Bioprocessing.
Once per year, Buena Vista University graduates Ben '08 and Nikki (Fulk) Arentson '08 return to their alma mater for a walk around the lakeside campus. The couple often find themselves in the state-of-the-art Estelle Siebens Science Center, taking in sights of a place they came to know well as undergraduates more than a decade ago.
Fate intervened in a good way on their campus walk four years ago. Dr. Brian Lenzmeier, then BVU Professor of Biology and Nikki’s old academic advisor, was at work on a Sunday afternoon.
“It was no surprise to see Dr. Lenzmeier working in his office,” Ben Arentson remembers. “We caught up on things. I told him I was working as Quality Manager at the POET Bioprocessing, a bioethanol refiner in Corning. I also explained we had just lost a lab tech.”
Lenzmeier, who now serves as BVU President, remembers the chance meeting. “It was great visiting with Ben about his career and then hearing he had a staff need,” says Lenzmeier. “I suggested BVU senior Victor Espinoza immediately. Victor had been working in the lab with me at that time.”
Victor Espinoza '17, a first-generation college student, is the son of Silvestre and Teresa Espinoza, immigrants from Jalisco, in Mexico, a state hundreds of Storm Lakers call “home.” The Espinozas immigrated from Mexico to California, then came to Storm Lake in 1993.
“BVU had many opportunities for me to learn what I needed in order to jump right into my career. My lab experience with Dr. Lenzmeier helped me build a foundation for the work I’m doing now.”
“My parents, who are now retired, came here to work in their desire to provide a better life for their sons,” says Espinoza, who has an older brother, Juan Espinoza.
Espinoza attended Storm Lake High School. He played on a Tornadoes soccer team that earned runner-up honors in the state soccer tournament his senior year, 2013. He resided at home in Storm Lake while attending BVU as a freshman, intent on studying biology and playing soccer for the Beavers. Being at home also allowed him to remain close to his parents as he often translated as they made their way through official documents, medical appointments, etc.
Espinoza earned scholarships based on financial need and through Tyson Fresh Meats, where he worked in the sanitation department one summer.
“During another summer in college, I worked in the lab, studying the effects of nicotine on lung tumor cells, doing gene expression work with Dr. Lenzmeier,” Espinoza recalls. “He has a servant’s heart, always willing to go out of his way to help an individual.”
Lenzmeier directed Espinoza to apply for the position with POET, noting how this kind of referral takes place regularly all across BVU academic departments. Espinoza earned the position and remained there nearly three years. He was then promoted to Quality Manager for POET and went to the company’s plant in Jewell, where he supervises lab techs at a site producing 90 million gallons of ethanol annually.
“I lead the lab and make sure our equipment is usable and in great condition to be able to monitor all process streams,” he says. “I oversee the fermentation process and the quality of all final products.”
Arentson is proud of the work his hire—and fellow BVU alum—has done during his time with POET. “I left the Corning plant in 2019 to become General Manager for POET at Hanlontown, and Victor had been there 18 months at that time. I can’t say enough good things about Victor, his work ethic, his commitment to POET and his coworkers. He blew me away with his ability to learn.”
Espinoza, who now resides in Ames, smiles while reflecting on his journey. He wasn’t sure this career field existed during a childhood spent playing soccer and catching fish with his father along the shores of Storm Lake.
“I enjoyed science and science-related topics in school,” he says. “My curiosity was always present. I just didn’t know bioethanol would be a career field for me.”
BVU’s financial aid, its class sizes, and the ability to participate on a team played roles in the success enjoyed by both Espinoza, a Beaver soccer player, and Arentson, who played football.
Lenzmeier, too, played an integral part in a career arc built by both men, serving a University that aims to place more and more young professionals in science- and ag-related careers, thanks to a growing Institute for Agriculture featuring four majors and multiple academic programs.
“It is very beneficial for Iowa as well as the region to have BVU committing resources to ag-related fields,” Arentson says. “We have jobs that are essential for both Iowa and our country, and they pay well. This is a BVU space that will continue to grow.”
As will employees like Espinoza, the young pro focused on working his way up.
“BVU had many opportunities for me to learn what I needed in order to jump right into my career,” says Espinoza, among the youngest POET employees to be named Quality Manager. “My lab experience with Dr. Lenzmeier helped me build a foundation for the work I’m doing now.
“I built friendships through classes and activities like soccer at BVU,” he continues. “I started building a career through my time in research. I enjoyed everything about the BVU experience.”