Mentor, Jim Franklin
This Mentor has over forty years experience as a chemical engineer. During that time, he has worked as a process design engineer, an operations manager for a major integrated oil company, a consulting engineer and as a design/ sales engineer for a major combustion equipment company. In these positions, Jim has designed complex process equipment for petrochemical plant expansions that improved the efficiency of the plant and reduced environment emissions. In addition to designing equipment, Jim was a plant operations manager where he operated a plant that was build with equipment he designed. Later in his career, Jim specialized in the design and sales of combustion and emission reduction equipment for refineries, petrochemical plants, and oil/gas production facilities. His career as a chemical engineer has also given him the opportunity to travel to many interesting places around the world selling and helping install this technology.
In his article, Jim offers advice about how to prepare for a career in engineering and the variety of scholarships available as well as some of the advanced degrees you can get that will allow you to pursue corporate management positions or go into other areas of engineering. Engineering has consistently had one of the highest starting salaries of any Bachelor’s degree. It is also a career that gives you the opportunity to create things that serve people and make the world economy grow. If you like math and science, Jim’s article will show you why chemical engineering is a career you should consider.
I grew up in Bartlesville, a medium sized town just north of Tulsa that at the time was the headquarters of Phillips Petroleum. I had several jobs from junior high thru high school that I believe instilled in me a good work ethics. This included paper routes, mowing lawns and working in many different parts of a department store. I also worked hard on my studies and took accelerated math courses so that I had calculus, chemistry and physics before I went to college. I was also involved in a lot of school activities, something that helped me when I went to apply for college scholarships.
People mentored me in both high school and college. My high school sponsored a career day once a month on Tuesdays where they brought in people with a variety of backgrounds who talked to the students about their careers and answered the student’s questions about what it was like to work in those jobs. Because Phillips was located in Bartlesville, we had a number of engineers at these career days that influenced my decision to pursue engineering. I was also fortunate to have a good high school career counselor who encouraged me to pursue engineering and helped me apply to engineering colleges and obtain scholarships. I was able to get a number of scholarships that allowed me to attend the University of Tulsa. The University is a well-regarded private college that emphasizes academics and has a good engineering school.
After I graduated, my first job was with the chemical division of a large, integrated oil company with their corporate engineering office in Oklahoma. They made me a process design engineer working on projects for several petrochemical plants. Although I did have a mentor when I started, they immediately gave me a lot of responsibility, put me in charge of several projects and put me on a team for a major plant expansion. This is something that is important for you to know. Companies very quickly turn over responsibility to young engineers who have graduated from good engineering schools. So you will have a lot of responsibility early in your career as a chemical engineer.
The expansion project was to be built in Louisiana. I was sent there on assignment to work with the team installing the large distillation towers, pumps, heat exchangers, reactor, process controls and instrumentation. I was also in charge of the operator training and startup of this expansion. After the startup, I stayed on at the plant as a Senior Process Design engineer and continued to work on ways to improve the plant’s efficiency while supervising and training 4 to 8 engineers reporting to me. I soon decided that I wanted to be more involved in the operations of the plant. I was first made an Operations Engineer where I evaluated the efficiency of the process, looked for ways to improve the operation, and solve technical problems. I was later made Operations Supervisor for the unit where I had thirty five people reporting to me that were responsible for running the unit 24 hours a day.
Another good aspect of chemical engineering is that there is demand for engineers in many locations. After being away from family for over 5 years, I wanted to move my wife and two children closer to “home”. My next job was in Tulsa Oklahoma, which was near to where I was born and where my wife was from.
There were several jobs open in the Tulsa area and I chose one with a company that was growing rapidly due to the EPA mandating improvement of vapor emissions. The company was also was getting into combustion equipment and process equipment. After several successful years, a larger company also in Tulsa acquired us. I have continued working there for over 20 years using my process design skills and have moved up into higher levels of management. While in these positions, I have been involved with teams on new equipment research and development resulting in patented products. I have also worked with many engineering companies throughout the world designing and selling combustion equipment for major projects. I currently lead a large team that directly supports refineries, petrochemical plants, and production facilities that operate a wide range of combustion equipment. Since most of these plants operate 24 hrs/day and 365 days a year, this team provides prompt, accurate technical support as well as new, improved equipment and rapid replacement parts when needed for repairs. It is a demanding, yet very fulfilling job helping to keep the refineries, petrochemical plants, and oil/gas production facilities operating at peak conditions.
Although I did not do this myself, you should know that you could get an advanced degree that will give you different career opportunities within chemical engineering. For example, chemical engineers who also have a Masters in Business Administration can move into upper management in a many companies very rapidly. It is usually from theses ranks that upper management is chosen including the CEO as well as other staff positions like CFO and Sales and Marketing Vice Presidents. Advanced degrees in engineering like a Master or PhD also allow you to do more pure research oriented projects where you are inventing new processes if that is your interest.
How to Prepare Yourself in High School
- It goes without saying that you should try and get the best grades you can in high school. Your high school transcript is the first record of your personal achievement and is one of the most important ways to open the first door to your career path, acceptance into an engineering college.
- Before you enter college, it is important you take all of the math courses that your school offers. I took calculus, chemistry, and physics in high school. Most high schools offer these advanced classes and you will be at a disadvantage if you have to begin taking calculus your first year of college. If your school doesn’t offer it, do your best to get a basic understanding of calculus and advanced algebra while you are in high school.
- Your SAT and ACT tests are important with some colleges emphasizing one over the other. You can buy workbooks that will help you study for these tests and some high schools also offer classes. Prepare for these tests before you take them and you will do better.
- Get involved in some school activities. This will help you when you apply for scholarships. Colleges want students who are well rounded and will interact well with other students. Participating in school activities is evidence of this.
- Get with the counselors at your high school and at the colleges you apply to and learn about all the scholarships that might be available to you. If you have good grades in high school and good SAT/ ACT test scores, there should be some scholarships available to you from the college’s scholarship fund as well as private scholarship funds and companies interested in graduating more engineers in America.
- Choosing a school is important. You are going to get better job offers if you graduate with a high class rank from an engineering school with a good reputation.
Engineering is a career that has been very rewarding for me. It has always given me the sense that I am creating things that serve the people of the world and help make the economy grow. It is a career where you are immediately given a lot of responsibility where you can apply what you have learned in college. There are also a lot of areas of chemical engineering to choose from like process design and engineering research or you can move into management or marketing your company’s products. Many engineers also start their own companies once they gain experience because they know how to develop new products and processes and how to build the plants and equipment. Engineering also offers one of the highest starting salaries and best long-term compensation of any profession. I would recommend that anyone who is good at math and wants the opportunity to create things that will help society consider engineering as a career.
Recent Salary Statistics
Salaries for Chemical Engineers have escalated recently as lower oil and gas prices make chemical processing more competitive in the US and as chemical companies expand their domestic operations. Here is some recent salary information that appeared in the June 2015 issue of Chemical Engineering Progress:
“Chemical engineers continue to earn more than the average U.S. worker. The median salary of survey respondents is $127,000 — a 5.8% increase over the median reported in 2013.”
The Institute’s salary surveys also show the salary gap between men and women in this profession is narrowing.
Go to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE.com) for more information on salaries and careers in chemical engineering.