Meet May Shek—Featured YP for September

Where are you from? Originally from Hong Kong, I have been a long-time Houstonian since my family moved to Texas in 1993. What company/institution do you work for? I have been with Shell after graduating from the University of Houston in 2002. My career with Shell began at the Deer Park Chemical Plant where I have held various positions with increasing responsibilities. Where did you complete/are you completing your chemical engineering education? I received my B.S. in Chemical Engineering (with Honors) from the University of Houston in 2002. How many years have you been a member of AIChE? I joined AIChE as a student member in 1999 and upon graduating became a full time AIChE member in 2002. Describe a recent challenge you managed, notable achievement, or obstacle you overcame at your job or in your work as an AIChE member? My current job provides me the opportunity to deliver results through others as well as stakeholder engagements. One of my job deliverables is the development of the Deer Park Refinery five-year capital investment plan through personal effectiveness and building strong relationships with stakeholders. In order to help the organization achieve the goals that I have set, I consult and provide guidance for stakeholders (project engineering, process engineering as well as maintenance) through the capital planning and capital projects approval work process. The reality is that capital and resources are limited, so the challenge of this job is to provide a clear platform and succinct recommendations for the decision-makers to best utilize the available resource in a timely manner. Re: my involvement in CEP: In 2007, Wendy Young (whom I met through AIChE STS and through work) recommended me to Cindy Mascone as a volunteer on the CEP Advisory Board. It has been an eye-opening experience for me to be able to work virtually with the breadth of experience that the CEP Advisory Board represents. It is a special treat to be able to work with and learn from our talented editor in chief, Cindy Mascone. She even provided me opportunities to write my own book review on CEP (published back in October 2010). What do you do to meet people in your field? I am very fortunate that I am working in a global energy company where I have lots of opportunity within and outside of my work location to meet people in my field and take advantage of best practice forums. Outside of work, I have been active at the UH Engineering Alumni Association which provides lots of opportunities to connect myself with engineering alumni, colleagues in the industry, professors as well as students. AIChE also provides another means for me to reach out and network with other chemical engineers. I have participated at STS Young Professional Workshops. In today's world, never underestimate the power of virtual networking. I have expanded my network by being an active participant in ChEnected. For example, Elizabeth Horahan (another previously featured YP who works and studies in Pennsylvania) and I would not have "met" without ChEnected. Now we are already talking about getting an AIChE triathlon relay team together (anyone out there a cyclist?) What's the first thought you have when you wake up in the morning? It depends on which day it is. On the weekend, it is usually, "I wonder how many miles I can run today?" If your college had offered a class on real-life skills for the aspiring ChE, what would you want them to teach? I would recommend a class called "Troubleshoot This." The course would be loaded with open-ended operational problems to solve (much like a unit support engineer would). Another course that would be helpful is Technical Communications (written and presentation).

A yoga moment: Who would know she dreaded PE in high school?

If you weren't a ChE what would you most want to be? Besides running, my other passion is the piano and classical music. I started playing the piano at age 7. My childhood dream was to be a concert pianist and a classical music conductor (there are pictures out there to show that as young as age 10, I was already directing a very small choir). In high school, I was a student piano accompanist (and I still have room-full of medals from piano contests, etc). At one point (as late as early senior year in high school), I was preparing a repertoire to audition for a full scholarship as a music major. My short fingers and my love of math, science and problem solving directed me to a major that is more science oriented. Before the freshman summer orientation, I was going into UH as a pre-pharmacy major. Call it serendipity: during the orientation, I got lost, and ended up in the chemical engineering building. After a brief presentation on what a chemical engineer does (by an AIChE member), I decided that I had found my major. The rest is history. What don't most people know about you? I dreaded PE (Physical Education) growing up and I was usually the last person that the teams will pick for dodgeball. Before 2008, I could barely finish a 5k in 39 minutes. When I took on the Calgary assignment, the whole experience opened me up to a whole new realm: the mountain hiking/scrambling and running outdoors. Through practice and motivation from my running friends, I was able to increase my mileage slowly. The 10k race in 2009 was a confidence booster as I was able to reach my goal in running a sub 49 min 10k. I am happy to share that I ran my first marathon in 2011 in Calgary in under 4 hours. Running has provided an outlet for me to achieve work life balance and expand my network. I have also learned some valuable lessons about leadership through running: you can't ask people to do what you wouldn't do yourself. How many ChEs does it take to screw in a light bulb? None. 1) We focus on the design phase and allow others to implement. 2) We have already applied the latest robotics technology to install the light blub. 3) We have invented a way to power the light bulb where it does not require tungsten wire.

Join us in CONGRATULATING May by commenting below.


RGCook's picture

Great interview and wow...some insightful advice for us all as bonus. I especially liked the attitude towards networking, and technical communications. Let's face it, sometimes it can more like "herding cats" than "collaborating with peers". While it might seem unrelated, there is something to this staying in shape thing. I mean, the folks who work out, just seem to have sharper minds. Its hard to do when our profession tends to be rather sedentary for most. To make time shows great passion and dedication - a trait that has equal value in business. Best wishes to you Shek!

May's picture

RG - Thank you for the kind words. I totally agree with you that having an active lifestyle (on the weekend) really do help me balance out my rather sedentary style during the week (although I am very fortunate to be working at a plant, so I can always make excuses to go out and check out the units).

johnvasko's picture

May, fantastic inteview/profile. I love how you hated physical education in school but grew to really love running. I feel the same way about exercise now... and then..

May's picture

Thanks John! :) I still have to admit that I would probably be the last one to be picked on the dodgeball team!! :)

Lizie Nguyen's picture

hi May.....! you're awesome - Lizie

May's picture

Thanks Lizie! It's really good to hear (and see) that you are enjoying your time in London! Take care!!

ehorahan's picture

Congrats May!!!! Well Deserved!