My project was a co-op with ExxonMobil down in Texas, where I worked as a process engineer in the refinery with the operations support department. As a process engineer co-op, I was assigned tasks and projects from my supervisor that I had to complete. As a co-op these projects ranged widely, but some of the main ones were trending data and increasing clarity of chemical spending. Trending data involved pulling tags and data points to graph over time. One important aspect of being in the operations support department is looking at daily unit and process trends to make adjustments, this is where my trending of the data came in; allowing contact engineers to quickly and easily inspect trends and make needed adjustments. The second main project involved sifting through chemical spend data in order to present it to the Business Team Leads and contact engineers in a clear and concise manner. This was done using Microsoft’s Power BI program. The dashboards I created in Power BI also allowed future and current business plans to be created, updated, and tracked.
I changed personally, along with my view of chemical engineering. My project took place in Texas and that meant I would be living alone for the first time ever. I had to be in charge of rent, all utilities, groceries, cooking, and not to mention all while working at my first co-op. Added to that was the difficulties of navigating the pandemic. All of these items and responsibilities led to me growing a lot as a person.
I had to be much more attentive and aware of my surroundings, how much food I had left, when I can cook, when I can go to the store to minimize the amount of people there, and so on. I think all of this responsibility definitely changed me. I had to become my own advocate and be independent because there was no one for me to rely on but myself. Another example of this was car maintenance. Since I had to commute to work every day, I took a car to this co-op and that meant I had to be in charge of its health and upkeep. This ranged from simple items like getting gas but also more complicated items such as oil changes and making sure all needed fluids where stocked. Before this experience I was relatively independent when it came to keeping track of my finances, but I am now more independent and certainly more competent with regards to personal life, handling my budget, and physically living.
The largest aspect of this project was the actual internship/co-op. This was my first co-op, first job working for a large company, and first job related to my major. Each of those three firsts had an impact on me.
As my first co-op and job for a large company I learned many soft skills. These skills ranged from getting used to scheduling meetings through Outlook, becoming more adept at scheduling and presenting in video calls, and becoming competent with using email as a primary range of communication. The pandemic also exasperated these effects, making in person meetings/communications almost non-existent. Another thing I learned was project management. Very similar to time management, I had to learn how to organize and complete my assigned projects in order to have them finished by the deadline and to the best of my ability. The large company aspect taught me a lot about how companies operate in general, such as monthly company progress updates, employee benefits, employee resources, and how to work with other departments within the company. These learned soft skills and added knowledge definitely changed me into a more confident individual. Before this co-op I wasn’t really sure how companies operated or what a real world job might be like. Now that I have learned valuable soft skills and proved my expertise with them, I now have a clear picture of how a large company operates. I feel more ready for life after college and graduation.
Being my first internship experience during college, this internship was geared towards my major, the department I was in contained primarily chemical engineers (my major). This allowed me to discuss and communicate with a broad range of people with chemical engineering experiences; whether that be their current role they hold within the company or how they found their way to a manufacturing job. Not only was I able to ask others about their chemical engineering experiences, but through my projects and meetings, I was physically able to see myself doing the types of things a manufacturing chemical engineer might do. One of the coolest things I was able to do was actually go out into the refinery (see picture below). Sitting in a classroom or sitting in an office looking at diagrams and flows is a completely different experience than seeing the actual units, pipes, and flow streams. Physically seeing the objects really helped keep me actively engaged in the work I was doing and also helped me see the actual applications and importance of my projects.
Coming from little to no real-world experience of what a chemical engineer can do after college, I found this experience truly transforming. Going into the co-op I just figured I would like a manufacturing job since most of the people I knew went into that field. After talking with numerous other ExxonMobil chemical engineers and doing my projects, I do feel that I might like a more research-oriented job after college. Sophomore year I thought of three or so areas I could go into after college: Industry, Industry research, or academic research. This co-op fit the group of industry and seeing how I might like research better, my new goal for the future is to try out the other two categories through internships, co-ops, or other means. This transformation from “set on manufacturing” to “maybe I like research more” is one of the most valuable things I have gained from this experience. What I want to do in the future beyond college will, quite literally, affect my future. Learning this early that I might want to be more research focused will allow me to pursue opportunities where I get exposure to research and allow me to refine my future goals/plans more precisely.
While this switch in future goals is definitely the most significant change, the overall co-op experience I deem valuable as well. All the soft skills I learned, through participating in the day-to-day workings of a large company, I will use in the future to my advantage. Learning and gaining the experience of living alone and becoming more independent will also serve me in the future. I think there will be a time after college where I do live either alone or with a roommate; either way I will need to rely on myself and learning how to do that now will save me time and effort in the future (when I might have a full time job). Overall, I do not think I would change anything I did, even if I didn’t find myself meshing with the manufacturing experience. The transformations I underwent, the knowledge and skills I learned, and the changes to my future goals were too valuable to miss out on.