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There's room for an 'A' in STEM

April 14, 2021
Our Hall of Fame inductees are refreshed and sustained by artistic pursuits

If you look at the cover of Control magazine, you’ll see the tagline “Promoting Excellence in Process Automation.” You, our readers, design, build and maintain the instrumentation and automation infrastructure of the critical industries that support the needs of global society—from energy to clean water, nourishing food and life-saving pharmaceuticals. And if we can help spread the word of the new advances and promulgate the best practices that can make your processes safer, more productive and sustainable—then I, for one, will sleep better tonight.

The work we do in this industry is important, and that's partly why one of my very favorite projects every year is the induction of new members into the Process Automation Hall of Fame. The 60+ current members named since its inception 21 years ago nominate then vote on other outstanding contributors to the practice of process automation to join their ranks.

And it’s my honor, privilege and pleasure to interview, profile and present to you our 2021 inductees in our cover story, starting on p 24: Tom Burke, currently global director of industry standards for Mitsubishi Electric but longtime of the OPC Foundation; Bridget Fitzpatrick, process automation authority for engineering consultancy Wood; John Rezabek, process control specialist for Ashland; and Dr. Babatunde Ogunnaike, William L. Friend Chaired Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Delaware.

One of the things that struck me in particular when talking to the Class of 2021 is a dedication to making a difference in the world, in ways large and small—from advancing the industry standards that help raise the performance of our industry, to mentoring the next generation of engineers who will solve the challenges of the day, to making sure that the needs of front-line workers are met by those designing the solutions they’ll live with day and day out.

But another thing that I’ve noticed in years past and found driven home among this year’s inductees is a perspective and humility shaped not only by the STEM pursuits of science, technology, engineering and math—but by the arts as well. When asked what sustains them outside of their work, I quickly discovered passions for art and nature, music and poetry.

Bridget Fitzpatrick collects National Park admission tickets like they’re merit badges. Tom Burke has a taste for Louisiana artist George Rodrigue’s Blue Dogs—although the price of his works has climbed substantially since his death in 2013. Our own John Rezabek was on course to be a professional musician before a wage-related epiphany landed him in engineering school. (He still plays trombone on the side.) And Babatunde Ogunnaike plays guitar in his church’s worship band—that is, when he’s not writing poetry, such as the piece he was commissioned to write and read at the inauguration of Nigeria’s current president, Muhammadu Buhari.

Ogunnaike stumbled into poetry when in 1977 as a college student in Lagos he read in the newspaper of a competition to contribute lyrics for a new Nigerian national anthem. He wasn’t impressed with some of the examples in the paper, so submitted some himself. He left for graduate school at the University of Madison soon after, but subsequently learned from his father that some of his words had made it into the final lyrics. (And perhaps just to prove Rezabek’s instincts correct, his share of the prize totaled 50 naira, or about 31 cents.)

I’m frankly not sure if a talent for STEM pursuits tends to come bundled with a passion for the beauty of art, nature, music and language—or if it’s these latter pursuits that refresh and sustain those who would excel at engineering pursuits. Either way, it makes our 2021 inductees a fascinating Zoom interview—that I hope to follow up with a properly fascinating dinner conversation just as soon as we’re all able.

About the author: Keith Larson
About the Author

Keith Larson | Group Publisher

Keith Larson is group publisher responsible for Endeavor Business Media's Industrial Processing group, including Automation World, Chemical Processing, Control, Control Design, Food Processing, Pharma Manufacturing, Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Processing and The Journal.