Meet Robert Szczesniak — Featured YP for December

Graduating in 2000 Robert took an engineering job that allowed him to stay in Chicago. Growing up in the suburbs, he discovered the city in college and wasn't ready to leave. The other advantages were that he developed a new level of appreciation for the situations detailed in Dilbert and he didn't mind taking time off to visit Beth (his future wife) as she was studying abroad. Robert soon found his way into the environmental field, starting as a Lead Inspector on the reconstruction of South Lakeshore Drive, working for Huff & Huff, Inc. This involved spending time on the Southside observing as history was excavated, including regular finds from The Chicago Fire and the 1893 World's Exposition. Other projects involved permitting, regulatory compliance, site investigation, and remediation. Highlights included developing a new process for treating impacted groundwater and dismantling a petrochemical facility. During this time he served on the Board of the Lake Michigan Section of the Air & Waste Management Association as Webmaster and Membership Chair and used the time to develop a Young Professional program to actively engage younger members of the association. Seeking to get back to a more engineering-intensive workplace, Robert transitioned to UOP over the summer of 2006. After spending almost 2 years designing Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) units, he transferred to Field Operating Service and has been working abroad (in 8 countries - maybe 9 by the time this is published) for almost 3 years, mainly within aromatics complexes.

Below is my recent interview with Robert:

John: Where are you from?

Robert: Chicago, IL.

John: Where did you complete/are you completing your chemical engineering education?

Robert: I attended the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, earning a BS in Chemical Engineering and a BS in Environmental Engineering in 2000.

John: How long have you been a member of AIChE?

Robert: I was involved on and off in college. I worked in the environmental field for some years after school. I was active in our local professional organization, but still followed AIChE, even modeled our Young Professional group after AIChE's. I have been actively involved in AIChE since about 2005.

John: What company/institution do you work for?

Robert: I am a Technical Advisor with UOP, a provider of cutting-edge technology to the petroleum refining, gas processing, petrochemical, and major manufacturing industries for over 90 years. You can read more about my position in my ChEnected post "Where You Hang Your Hat..."

John: Describe a recent challenge you managed, notable achievement, or obstacle you overcame at your job or in your work as an AIChE member?

Robert: Besides being selected as YP of the Month? I am pretty excited about this one. I really like to stay challenged - both professionally and personally. While this can't really be checked off a list as "completed," I think I am doing a good job of it. AIChE provides a lot of ways to keep learning and stay up to date on what is cutting edge (I am currently a big fan of ChEnected and archived webinars). This is important to me since I am usually pretty isolated while on assignment, and AIChE is my main source of information for the engineering world. It can be difficult to keep pushing all by yourself, so the network that AIChE provides is important. A good network can provide a depth and range of experience to educate, mentor, encourage, and inspire to keep me learning and pushing my boundaries. For example, being a contributor to ChEnected has challenged me to write more - and improve an important skill. It is similar to a mass balance with the exception that you actually can get out more than you put in. A short list of related accomplishments would be obtaining and maintaining my Professional Engineer license, my first ChE job (met the lead contact at a local section meeting), and receiving my Six Sigma Greenbelt Certification.

John: What do you do to meet people in your field?

Robert: Working mostly outside the US and traveling quite a bit, lately I have been meeting other engineers in seemingly random places. Planes and trains are common. On the odd occasion I am in an ex-pat bar, there are often a few to meet. It is interesting because I meet professionals from many major corporations involved in all stages of manufacturing, from design through operations. It is much more common to meet English teachers, so when I meet another engineer we take some time to get to know each other. Before I started traveling I mostly met other chemical engineers at local meetings, so to replace that I have gotten more involved in online communities - such as ChEnected and I have joined the Virtual Local Section.

John: Tell us a little bit about yourself... What is one of your hobbies? How do you spend your spare time? What's your favorite place to travel? Or anything else you'd like to share...

Robert: I love to stay active. I swam competitively through college. After college, finding it difficult to maintain pool time, I started to get more involved in land sports. Ultimate Frisbee is a wonderful way to get some friendly competition and enjoy some outdoor time. Getting a group to play through the winter in Chicago is only a challenge occasionally. I also really enjoy cycling. Everything from riding around the city on a single speed to multi-day touring rides. I maintain some contact with the water through whitewater kayaking - there are few things like seeing a mountain valley from the water. My wife and I also enjoy backpacking and cooking together. It is great when we can combine those interests, traveling to different countries and exploring cultures through food. We haven't had our son, Kalvin, out on the trails yet, but he has already joined us in sampling local foods on some of our travels through Japan, Spain, and China. He hasn't turned anything down yet. When in Chicago, I stay involved with my fraternity, Delta Tau Delta, advising our local chapter of about 40 undergraduates on operation of their house, extracurricular, and philanthropic activities on campus. John: Where can readers ChEnect with you (other than ChEnected)? Robert: I would welcome connections on LinkedIn (, or I share some of my travels and photos on my blog (

Join us in CONGRATULATING Robert by commenting below.


ehorahan's picture

Congrats Robert! Well deserved!

Rich Byrnes's picture

Congratulations Robert, nice job! We had a hard time getting our children to eat what was being served when they were young, and this was in the United States. Having your young son share the local foods in Japan, China, and Spain is quite the experience, and a commendable achievement on your part! What's the secret? .... ;-)

Robert S's picture

Thanks everyone. Rich - I would say it is part necessity and part his own curiosity. In some countries it is difficult to find baby food and without a kitchen we have little choice other than trying to get him to eat adult food. Also, it has been really interesting to see what different countries feed their little ones. In the US some people say no to oranges, strawberries, and peanut butter. He loves oranges and peanut butter. In Japan, they brought us strawberries with sweetened condensed milk for him - and they have baby food with horse meat. Spain almost everything has olive oil. China uses a lot of liver. The other part I think is that he sees us enjoying what we are eating and he wants to take part in it. Once he figured out how to chew things, the sky has been the limit. He loves the noodles here in China. If there is a bowl on the table and he isn't getting a share he gets really upset. He eats like his dad...I just hope it continues!

Joel McMillan's picture

Congratulations Rob! Keep up the great work.

Robert S's picture

Thanks Joel!