Voices: Montague

STEM Efforts in Community Colleges Pay Off

Pure Partnership, Lasting Legacy

By Jim Montague

I enjoyed researching and wiring this month's "Spring Chickens" cover article on how science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs are beginning to produce the rookie process engineers, technicians and operators needed to replace their rapidly retiring counterparts. It was refreshing to learn about the headway these programs are making because I've sat through a few dozen presentations in recent years proclaiming the coming brain drain, but offering few suggestions on how solve it. I was beginning to get depressed because they made the problem sound unsolvable. As usual, panicky, doom-and-gloom talk is initially exciting, but it's ultimately cheap, empty and unhelpful.

Anyway, it was a true breath of fresh air to cover STEM efforts at some U.S. community colleges, and even more gratifying to see the help they're getting from some veteran engineers and technicians, who then have a better chance to hire the graduates they need. These students, teachers and builders don't just know the brain drain can be solved—they're living embodiments of how it's done.

One of the best of these was Edward Meyers, who worked for 45 years at Citgo's refinery in Joliet, Illinois, and went on to teach four classes at Joliet Junior College (JJC), where he trained some of the next generation of engineers and operators his profession needs so desperately. To help JJC's process control program take off, he also arranged to bring in added equipment, and even recruited some colleagues from the ISA Will-DuPage Section to teach.

Sadly, Meyers died suddenly on June 13—a devastating blow to family and friends alike, and a true tragedy in every sense. I only met Meyers briefly during JJC's open-house event earlier this year, and was hoping to interview him later at length, but I waited too long and foolishly missed my chance.
It's only small consolation, of course, but Meyers provided a shining example of the cooperation between industry and academia that must be the ultimate solution to the brain drain threatening all areas of process control and automation, and the hundreds of industries they serve. Just as he did, process control veterans be must be willing to jump in, interact directly with their potential replacements, and participate in passing on their hard-won experience and know-how.

Sure, most community colleges and some high schools are willing to develop curriculums that can serve the needs of businesses in their communities, and this can have some success. However, regular teachers and textbooks can't show students more than basic concepts of what they'll need to know to maintain and optimize a distillation column, or carry out partial-stoke valve testing and gather crucial signals and performance values. All the essential, real-world techniques and tweaks must come from the people who've actually done it. There's no substitute. Oil and gas, chemical, pulp and paper, food and beverage, and all other process control users and their organizations must recommit themselves to offering training to local students in their communities. They can't simply wait until they get new hires in house. No one has time for the old recruit-and-hire go-round anymore.

Meyers imparted his knowledge to hundreds of coworkers and students over the years, and they, his family and his productive career are his best legacy. The present and future tragedy is that no more students will benefit from his expertise and humor. Fortunately, this is something that everyone can help with—particularly those with similar process knowledge. Logically, the best way to remember and honor Meyers is to carry out some of the same helpful activities, get useful process knowledge into more young brains and inspire them to live as productively as he did. No one can really hope to have more of an impact and be more alive than that, right?

More from this voice

Title

Process Automation Innovation in Orlando

We Try to Pursue Innovation in Our World, but We've Learned That Each of Us Can Make a Difference in Everyone's World

10/11/2012

Process Simulation Pans Out for Goldmine

Barrick Gold Is Using Mynah's MiMiC Software to Simulate Multiple Processes for Training Operators and Improving Performance at Its New, $3.7-Billion Gold Mine in the Dominican Republic

10/10/2012

Safety Stories - So What?

Maybe Everyone is Doing a Great Job, and This Seemingly Unending Series of Accidents Is Just Statistics Catching Up With Us

09/10/2012

SCADA Update Protects Potable Production

Windsor Utilities Commission Bolsters Its Water Production System With Data Tracking-and-Tracing Capabilities and Some Wireless Controls

09/07/2012

Sweeter Simulation

Once-Separate Silos of Simulation Are Cross-Pollinating Into a Functional Whole From Which Users Can Pick the Elements They Need for Design, Configuration, Training and Process Optimization. Here's What the Buzz Is About

09/06/2012

All-You-Can-Eat Platters of Automation Products

Browsing Our Product Database Is Like Standing in Front of an Unlimited Buffet, and Someone Hands You a Big Fork, Plate and Napkin. Yummy

09/04/2012

Industrial Networks: Priorities and Pigeon Holes

Nebulous Networks and Virtualized Computing Can Be Better Understood by Organizing Them into Approachable, Function-Based Segments

08/07/2012

An Automation Process Application Measurement Reminder

Trends May Be Your Friend, but They Can Also Get You in Trouble If That's All You Look at Without Understanding the Fundamentals

07/16/2012

Everybody on Board

End Users, Process Control Engineers, Integrators and Suppliers Are All Getting On the Sustainability Bandwagon With All Kinds of Green Applications. Here's How They Do It

06/07/2012

Securing Your Sustainability

Here Are Some Basic Ways to Go Green That Can Be Used Across Different Processes

06/06/2012

Three End Users = Three Shades of Green

Here's How ABB Helped Three Diverse End Users to Get Greener

06/06/2012

Airbags for Intrinsic Safety

It Is Crucial to Learn About IS, It Is Also Vital to Learn How It Can Be Aided by HPT, DART and Other Coming Tools

06/01/2012

Pictures Beat Words

The Industry Needs Rebranding. Young People Today Think That Working in Power or Petrochemical Plants Involve Shoveling Coal, But A Graphical Presentation Can Easily Change This Point of View

05/14/2012

Intrinsic Safety Innovations

Executive Editor Jim Montague Takes a Look at White Papers from Moore Industries International and Pepperl+Fuchs on Recent Innovations in Intrinsic Safety

05/12/2012

Crazy, Simple Search Terms Get Results

We All Search the Web Differntly, and There Are many Shortcuts to Get Better Results. Here Are Just a Few

05/04/2012

Process Safety and Sustainability are a Two-Way Street

Effective Personal Safety, Process Safety and Asset Integrity Programs Can All Contribute to Sustainability Improvements

04/26/2012

Arena Immerses Attendees in 800xA Experience

Dramatization Drives Home Benefits of ABB Automation Platform and Control Room Technology

04/26/2012

The Challenge of a Multigenerational Workforce

Commitment, Leadership, Respect Help Generations Find Common Ground, Communicate, Collaborate

04/25/2012

Virtualized Computing Aids Process Visualization

There's More than One Way to Display Graphics on a Remote Screen, and Not All Are Created Equal

04/25/2012

North America Anchors ABB Global Strategy

Services for the Company's Extensive Installed Base Also a Key Focus

04/24/2012