Our faculty make a tremendous effort to provide our students with a curriculum that has a sound basis in the fundamentals and prepares them for their careers. But YOU, our alumni, help us fulfill our mission in numerous ways. Whether it’s participating in class panels, presenting lectures, providing job opportunities for our students, mentoring our seniors in process design, or helping in so many other ways, our program is enriched by the alumni who give of themselves to help the next generation of chemical engineers.
In our Material and Energy Balances class our students get to meet a handful of alumni every year in a career panel that represents the wide range of career options available to chemical engineers. More technical panels in other core courses allow our students to see applications of chemical engineering fundamentals in industrial settings. Junior Connie Jiang really appreciates the alumni insights. “It’s hard to see how the material we learn in lecture applies to the ‘real’ working world. Having alumni come back to tell us what kind of jobs they do and how material we are learning in lectures applies to their particular jobs gives me more motivation to absorb the information I am acquiring in my classes.”
Scott Siegmund (BSE ’79), Global Manager for Customer Plant Support at Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., has for the past few years presented a case study in our Process Economics class in which he walks the students through some real-world economic decision-making. “I feel that it’s our responsibility to help train the next generation of engineers just as those who taught us took it as their responsibility to train us and, as an added benefit, I really enjoy the interface with the students,” says Scott.
The AIChE student group has also benefited from Scott’s generosity, as he has performed countless liquid nitrogen demonstrations for them over the years, using the experiments to emphasize safety and separations issues. Lindsey Weisler, AIChE president, comments on their industrial speakers, “They give our members great insight into the industry and the type of work they could be doing. Through these speakers, I know I have been able to better tailor internship/job searches to my interests and I also have taken their valuable advice and applied it to my internships. As president, I am extremely grateful for the alumni support, which has made all the events AIChE organizes possible. When I was scheduling companies this summer, it was great to see how large an alumni base we have and how enthusiastic and willing they are to help.”
One of those alumni is Rob Dieterle (BSE ’97), above, Technology Manager of Snacks R&D at General Mills, who along with a large team of U–M ChE alumni, devotes much time to developing creative experiences, such as brainstorming sessions, to expose students to some of the product development activities at General Mills. “Campus recruiting gives me the opportunity to stay connected with the students and faculty in the department,” he writes. “I love sharing with students the career opportunities General Mills provides and the value we place in developing our people.”
Some of our alumni devote themselves to teams of our students for a whole semester, serving as industrial mentors in our senior process design course. Christine Curran (BSE ’10), Flow Assurance Lead at ExxonMobil, explains why she takes the time to mentor design teams: “I have always learned best by teaching others. The immense amount of mentoring and knowledge transfer I have received while working at ExxonMobil was vital to my development as an early career professional. It was great to be able to pay it forward and share my new industry knowledge with current U–M students in the context of the senior design projects. By answering the students questions, it helped to fill gaps and strengthen my own knowledge of process design. In turn, I was proud to be able to give back to my university in a personal way, helping the students to transition from engineering students to engineering professionals.”
“Our alumni mentors are invaluable to the design process. They bring experiences and industry insights that the instructors don’t have personal access to,” says Dr. Andrew Tadd, one of the senior design instructors, “and the mentors tell me they love working with our students, who have tremendous energy ready to be channeled. It’s an opportunity to give back, but also keep in touch with the younger generation of engineers who will be coming to their companies shortly.”
Our alumni’s breadth of experience also benefits our students through our career counseling sessions. Originated by our Alumni Board, these sessions give our students one on one time with alumni who spend the day on campus answering any questions the students might have. One student who takes advantage of these sessions regularly is Edward Khodaei, a ChE senior. He explains “I talked to alumni representing a variety of employers, who have chosen diverse career paths, from R&D all the way to consulting. They helped me recognize my own goals so I will be able to make wiser career choices. I really appreciate the networking opportunities.” So eager are our alumni to counsel our students that even those who couldn’t come to town wanted to make themselves available via email to our students. Our list of such alumni has grown to over 120, much to the delight of our students, who appreciate having such a strong network to seek advice from.
Many alumni are involved behind the scenes as well. In addition to our Alumni Board, other alumni approach us to give us suggestions on how to improve our curriculum. Jim Cross (BSE ’78), recently retired from his role as Global Process Safety Director Dow Corning, has organized numerous visits over the years with colleagues Jeff Fox, Corporate Safety Business Partner, and Stephanie Snoblen (BSE ’09), Senior Process Engineer at Hemlock Semiconductor to discuss how to better incorporate safety into our curriculum. They have also delivered sessions on safety and other topics in our senior design course. Their real world perspective drives their points home in an impactful manner.
Professor Henry Wang is particularly appreciative of the significant role alumni played in the development of the interdisciplinary Pharmaceutical Engineering program since 2000. “Many of them have become frequent speakers in our courses and act as mentors for our students in their summer internships or co-op programs,” he adds. “As the industry is evolving to become more prevention oriented, patient centered and cost conscious, the role of engineering has become increasingly more important. Currently, we have been discussing how to evolve this into a more health engineering and regulatory science focused program.”
Many of our alumni forward us announcements regarding internship or permanent opportunities within their companies to pass on to students. Although BASF did not officially recruit at Michigan at the time, Joel Young (BSE ’97), Manager, Specialty Production and Experimental Safety, created a position at their plant in Wyandotte Michigan and selected student Chris Rausch for it. Chris did such a great job that he was offered a permanent position. Chris and Joel led an effort to get Michigan back on BASF’s recruiting list, participating in class panels, presenting to our student groups, organizing social events, developing workshops, encouraging students to participate in BASF’s Chemistry Challenge, hosting football tailgates, all to get students excited about BASF. Their efforts sure paid off for our students—Michigan was the top school out of 309 BASF interns this summer! One of the interns, Ashley Kiemen, speaks of the mentoring she received from Chris this summer: “…he was able to tell me what employers assume about Michigan students, and he helped me refocus my resume to emphasize the experiences that will make me a more rounded engineer… I appreciate the opportunities that have been presented to me based on the network of ChE graduates I’ve met at Michigan.”
Such a team effort is but one example of how U–M ChE alumni go out of their way to improve our curriculum and develop opportunities for our students. We are humbled by your enthusiasm and thank you for your efforts. You are truly the Leaders and Best.