At Burns & McDonnell, we like to say, “We invest for a better world.” Giving back is among our core principles — because we see the needs, because we care about our communities, and because we know we’re in a position to help.
That’s among the reasons I’m proud to have completed my third year as an industry capstone sponsor in the Chemical Engineering Department at the University of Colorado Boulder. The capstone program aims to synthesize an undergraduate student’s entire course of study into a single final project. Each project demonstrates how effectively students can combine the knowledge, teamwork and communication skills necessary to effectively solve a problem presented by the sponsor. Last year, I helped a group of students with a wastewater treatment plan design challenge.
This year, I worked with two teams: One worked on an isomerization and alkylation project within an oil refinery; the other worked on a cumene and phenol project to be included in a petrochemical complex.
I drew upon my 22 years in the oil refining industry, most of it in technical service, to provide students practical insights to help them shape their final products into processes that would actually work. The projects themselves, and the processes they use in achieving them, offer insights into what they may be doing as they pursue their careers. They also pick up confidence, as they face the challenges of resume writing and interviewing.
Having the opportunity to serve as a sponsor is remarkable. I enjoy developing the initial project statements that the students are to address. It’s empowering to meet with the students multiple times on campus to discuss the project — exploring issues identified in their designs, and addressing roadblocks they must worth through to overcome. It’s amazing to see them develop projects with safety, reliability, and economics in mind — not just feasibility.
While we work through the obvious — the chemistry — we also consider equipment needs, siting considerations, manpower-saving ideas, and other factors. These are capstone projects, after all.
I really appreciate how, at Burns & McDonnell, we are encouraged to get involved in our communities. I consider it to be both good for our industry and good for myself. Though the time commitment is considerable, being a mentor is so energizing that it doesn’t feel like work. And to see the students accomplish so much during the time we spend together, I can’t wait to see where they take us in the years ahead.
As for me? I look forward to mentoring capstone students for years to come, likely until I retire. By then, I’m confident these students will have our industry’s future well in hand.