Chemical and environmental engineers go with the flow
Environmental is growing and chemical is slowing, as industry dynamics affect hiring in these two engineering fields
Government regulations on water treatment and contaminated site cleanup will keep environmental engineers in demand
By Sonya Stinson
Senior Contributing Editor
Compared to the national average for all job categories, the job growth forecasts for chemical and environmental engineers are mirror images of one another.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has projected an 8 percent higher than average increase in jobs for environmental engineers between 2010 and 2020, but it estimates that chemical engineering jobs will grow 8 percent slower than average. The BLS projects that just 1,800 new chemical engineering jobs will open up during that ten-year period. That’s an increase of 6 percent, compared to a 14 percent average increase for all job segments. Environmental engineers are expected to gain 11,300 new jobs, a 22 percent jump.
Federal and state regulations on wastewater treatment and the cleanup of contaminated sites will help keep environmental engineers in demand, according to the BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. In the more sluggish chemical science and chemical engineering job markets, contraction in the pharmaceutical industry is a big reason unemployment levels are rising, says Victor McCrary, president of the National Organization of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE, www.nobcche.org).
“There are jobs in the energy sector, particularly in places like Houston, but not enough to pick up the slack for the number of jobs that have been lost in pharma,” says McCrary, who also is vice president for research and economic development at Morgan State University (Baltimore, MD).
NOBCChE puts a heavy emphasis on career development in its programs. The organization’s annual conference from October 1-4 in Indianapolis, IN will include a career fair with more than 100 exhibitors. McCrary shares some career advice of his own that could apply to job seekers in chemical or environmental engineering, or any engineering discipline, for that matter.
For experienced professionals, “we stress the importance of knowing more than one language,” he says. “It makes you more marketable. It gives you more options and more arrows in your quiver than other candidates.”
For new graduates, internship experience is critical to landing a job. “Saying you have a GPA of 4.0 is not as good as saying you have a GPA of 3.5 and you’ve had a couple of internships,” says McCrary. He says while employers in the past were willing to give new hires time to get up to speed, “now they want you to hit the ground running.”
Here’s a look at several people who are enjoying successful careers in chemical and environmental engineering, along with some insights on the hiring outlook and vision for inclusion from some of their employers. Many are hiring.
Jehna Dent is a systems engineering supervisor at Linde Process Plants
When Jehna Dent joined Linde Process Plants, Inc (Tulsa, OK) in 2008, she had already earned a patent for her work at the company next door.
After graduating from Oklahoma State University (Stillwater) in 2007 with her BS in chemical engineering, Dent spent a year as a development engineer at SemMaterials (now Road Science, Tulsa, OK), a maker of advanced asphalt products. Her research on how different asphalts perform at low temperatures led to her credit as a co-inventor in the patent titled “Crack resistant layer with good binder fracture energy properties and method of selecting same.”
When the parent company of Sem-Materials went bankrupt, Dent was laid off. In September 2008, she started working at Linde, located right next door to her old employer. Linde hired her as a plant engineer, a job the company re-titled in 2013 to systems engineer. She became systems engineering supervisor in March.
“My team is responsible for everything that’s on the P&ID (piping and instrument diagram), such as line sizing, piping specifications and control philosophy,” Dent says. “We also participate in process hazard analysis, perform hydraulic calculations and provide process information for control valve and relief valve sizing, and other tasks.”
Leading at Linde
Working with people gives Dent tremendous satisfaction. “I like working with everybody to make sure we meet the needs of our customers and clients, and resolve differences between departments,” she says. Dent’s interest in management spurred her to pursue an MBA. She got her degree from Oklahoma State University in May.
Linde director of people and systems excellence Rebecca Ford links workforce diversity with business leadership. “We believe the diversity of our employees, their capabilities, our global footprint and our range of business activities are all sources of competitive advantage,” Ford says. “We unleash the power of our people by creating an environment where every employee can contribute fully.”
Michael Washington travels far and wide to ensure safe practices at BASF
At the Angleton, TX location of chemical giant BASF Corp (Florham Park, NJ), Michael Washington works to identify hazards and risks related to the company’s chemical processes, and promotes sound engineering practices to prevent catastrophic incidents.
“I teach seminars and workshops to engineers and operations personnel; participate in complex hazard assessments and engineering reviews for new and existing chemical facilities across North America; and provide engineering, legal and regulatory guidance to the various manufacturing facilities,” says Washington. He’s been a senior process safety and risk specialist for the North America region for nearly two years.
Washington received a BS in chemical engineering in 1994 from Prairie View A&M University (Prairie View, TX). He earned an executive MBA from Texas Southern University (Houston) in 2013.
Before joining BASF, he held other industry posts as a process engineer and production manager. He once aspired to be an environmental attorney, and says he’s particularly proud that his engineering expertise helped one former employer save at least $1 million in a successful legal defense.
Washington’s favorite part of the job is its variety. “There is very little, if any, redundancy in my position,” Washington says. “One week I could teach an exothermic seminar in Alabama or New Jersey. The next week, I might travel to Ludwigshafen, Germany to participate in a global expert engineering exchange meeting. The following week, I might do a process hazard analysis of a chemical process in Texas.”
Washington hopes to become an executive leader in the environment, health and safety function at BASF. With that goal in mind, he’s active on several cross-functional teams.
BASF: Demand for engineers strong and steady
Bernadette Palumbo, BASF’s director of talent acquisition and university relations, says the company’s demand for engineers is expected to remain strong over the next several years.
“We were recently awarded a Top 100 Engineering ranking from Universum, a testament from university engineering students that BASF is recognized as an employer of choice,” Palumbo says. Universum conducts image surveys for corporate clients on campus and elsewhere.
“BASF’s core values of being creative, open, responsible and entrepreneurial appeal to both recent graduates and experienced professionals,” she says.
Zohreh Movahed leads WSSC’s regulatory service group
As an environmental engineer with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC, Laurel, MD), Zohreh Movahed’s number-one job is to ensure a safe water supply and a sufficient wastewater collection system.
The seventy-one-person regulatory service group that Movahed leads includes a code development-cross connection unit, a plumbing inspection services unit, an industrial discharge control program and a program for the disposal of fats, oils and grease.
The recent adoption of new regulations for water reuse was a significant development at the WSSC. Now, water processed at the wastewater treatment plant can be recycled for non-drinking use.
Movahed got her BS in 1984 in chemical engineering from the University of Houston. She went on to receive a 1986 MS and a 1989 PhD in environmental engineering from the University of Maryland-College Park.
She’s been a part-time professor of environmental engineering at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD) for more than sixteen years. In 2004, she received an excellence in teaching award from the engineering school for her design of an online course.
Movahed says her gravitation toward a career in EnvE was largely influenced by an undergrad professor who was a strong advocate of greater industrial responsibility for environmental protection. Another key influence was a civil engineering student named Ben Movahed, who had already decided to make a switch to environmental. “He became my husband twenty-seven years ago,” she says with a smile.
Hiring is strong at the WSSC
WSSC chief engineer Gary Gumm says the utility’s hiring outlook is promising. “There is a huge need for all kinds of engineers to work on our nation’s infrastructure problems, whether roads, bridges or underground utility systems,” Gumm says. “As the infrastructure gets older, the need gets bigger, as we have failed to fully address the issue in the past.
“Aspiring engineers, while trying to map out the exact direction and nature of their careers, should not overlook opportunities to get experience and a progression of degrees at the same time. You not only gain experience, but learn what you like and what you don’t like.”
Acting HR director Carolyn White says the WSSC workplace is diverse and multi-generational. “We value and respect diversity,” White says. “Diversity for us is more than differences and commonalities. It’s a collection of ideas, experiences and opportunities. We leverage these by establishing partnerships and collaborations to keep the commission growing and focused on the future.”
Marjan Roos manages LNG knowledge at Bechtel
Marjan Roos’s job title at the Houston, TX location of Bechtel (San Francisco, CA) is manager of liquefied natural gas (LNG) knowledge systems in the oil, gas and chemicals business line. It’s a mouthful, but she says her role can be summed up simply. “The purpose of my job is to develop a one-stop shop for anything related to the design of an LNG facility, for anybody who needs that information within Bechtel,” Roos says.
One of her most challenging design issues is the extremely cold temperature of liquefied natural gas, -260 degrees Fahrenheit. “Dealing with these very cold liquids requires a lot of attention, especially going from an ambient temperature to really cold temperatures,” Roos says. “The transitions associated with that require special engineering and construction approaches.”
Roos has been with construction and engineering company Bechtel since 1998, and in her current job since March. Previously, she was the department manager for process engineers in the oil, gas and chemicals division. There she was responsible for hiring and career development, training employees and choosing their assignments, and more.
Second-gen engineer finds “the big pool”
Roos, whose mother and father are both engineers, earned her BS in chemical engineering in 1985 from the Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands.
After graduation, she went to work for the Badger Company, an engineering and construction firm based in the Netherlands. Badger transferred her to Houston in 1995. When that company began to struggle, Roos landed a job with Bechtel.
Roos thrives on the sense of accomplishment she gets from discovering solutions to a new set of engineering problems each day. “Bechtel continuously challenges you,” she says. “They throw you in the pool, and sometimes it’s a pretty big pool. So you’d better swim.”
Bechtel opportunities around the world
A. Claire Morse, manager of employee relations and global diversity and inclusion, says there’s room for more talented tech professionals like Roos at Bechtel.
“Bechtel has a consistent and ongoing need for talented chemical and environmental engineers in our offices and on projects around the world,” Morse says.
Carla Pinckney leads Canadian commercial development for BP
As commercial development director at BP America (Chicago, IL), Carla Pinckney helps the company secure Canadian sources of oil and gas for its refineries in the midwestern region of the United States. She also helps find outlets for the products generated from that oil and gas supply, and ensures that refineries have sufficient infrastructure to process it.
Recently, Pinckney managed a project team charged with finding the best way to deliver an increased volume of a byproduct to a customer without interfering with refinery operations.
“Not only were we able to save the refinery millions of dollars each year in logistics costs, but we also created a new system that would benefit the refinery for decades to come,” Pinckney says.
She received a BS in chemical engineering from Yale University (New Haven, CT) in 2000 and an MBA in finance and strategy from the Yale School of Management in 2006.
Before starting her current position, Pinckney worked on the commercial side of BP’s petrochemicals division, and before that as a ChE at a BP manufacturing plant. She’s been involved in a wide range of projects throughout her career.
“One highlight of my career was managing the startup of a $20 million wastewater treatment reactor when I was an engineer,” says Pinckney. She notes that the project was the first of its kind for BP. “I became one of the BP experts in this new technology and was able to share what I learned with counterparts around the world.”
A leader looks ahead
Pinckney was recently selected to participate in the Bright Futures program for high-potential talent, run by the Executive Leadership Council (www.elcinfo.com). “My goal is to be in a leadership role where I can impact future decisions,” she says.
Redia Anderson, the company’s chief diversity officer, says, “At BP, we strive to attract and retain the best talent from the diversity the world offers. Our ability to be competitive and thrive globally depends on it.”
Theresa King tracks efficiency and usage at Baltimore Gas and Electric
At Baltimore Gas and Electric Co (BGE, Baltimore, MD), a subsidiary of Exelon Corporation, tasks like applying for air permits to install new generators and boilers and calculating the company’s greenhouse gas emissions fall to senior environmental scientist Theresa King.
“I keep track of the amount of energy used by the company, the amount of natural gas used, chilled water usage: a lot of building efficiency numbers,” says King, who has been at BGE for six years.
Drawn to environmental work
King graduated from Pennsylvania State University-State College in 1994 with a BS in environmental resource management and an emphasis in environmental engineering. The program is housed in Penn State’s College of Agriculture; King made the switch from her initial choice of chemical engineering. “I saw this program, and most of the engineering courses I’d already taken could be used,” she says.
King says a job at the university’s environmental health and safety department while she was in school helped prepare her for the work she would do when she started her career.
With three children, King says her biggest career challenge is balancing her home and work life. However, she says she finds it gratifying to “work with different people throughout the company and see the positive impact we as a company can make on the environment in central Maryland.”
DIVERSITY-MINDED EMPLOYERS OF CHEs AND ENVEs
Check website for current listings.
|Company and location
|Baltimore Gas and Electric Co (Baltimore, MD)
|Gas and electric distribution in Maryland
|BASF Corporation (Florham Park, NJ)
|Bechtel Corporation (San Francisco, CA)
|Civil infrastructure; power generation; oil, gas and chemicals; mining and metals; government services
|BP America (Houston, TX)
|Oil and gas production
|Duke Energy (Charlotte, NC)
|Regulated electric utility services
|Hess Corporation (New York, NY)
|Exploration for and production of crude oil and
|HNTB Corp (Kansas City, MO)
|Infrastructure solutions for public and private
owners and construction contractors
|Linde Process Plants, Inc (Tulsa, OK)
|Gas processing, refining and deep cryogenics
|Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission
(Laurel, MD) www.wsscwater.com
|Water and wastewater management
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