by Chris Lowe
The following article also appears in the November issue of CEP, which members can read online. About two years ago, I was faced with a decision. I was a few weeks away from graduating with my bachelor's degree in chemical engineering when I received an email from a friend. He was recruiting graduating students to act as liaisons between AIChE's Young Professionals Advisory Board (now the Young Professionals Committee; YPC) and student chapters, and wanted me to get involved. I had done a lot of work with AIChE as an undergrad, both at my local UMass Amherst student chapter and on AIChE's Executive Student Committee. That involvement allowed me to meet some amazing people and to develop leadership skills -- but as a grad student, I wasn't sure that I would have enough time to remain active in AIChE, or how my AIChE experience would change as I transitioned from student to young, working professional. In the end, I decided to get involved with the YPC. It was the right decision. When I moved to Rutgers Univ. to begin my PhD work, I was reintroduced to AIChE on a professional level. I joined the ranks of AIChE's young professionals (YPs), comprised of members -- grad students, new professors, and young engineers in industries both traditional and non-traditional -- who hold at least a BS degree and who are under age 35. While I was integrating into my new school, I was also integrating into a new and diverse community of chemical engineering professionals.
Meaningful involvement from the start
I've been impressed that, as an AIChE volunteer, I can choose my own involvement. Because of the positive experiences I had as an AIChE undergraduate, I decided to work with the YPC on increasing undergraduate involvement in the Institute. In the past year, I've made presentations at the 2012 Annual Student Conference in Pittsburgh, PA, and at the 2013 student regional conferences at my old home of UMass Amherst and my new home at Rutgers, on topics such as "Is grad school right for me?" and "AIChE after graduation." I also help select outstanding undergraduates to feature here on ChEnected, and offer guidance to students hosting regional conferences. I'm driven to continue these volunteer activities because they have already helped me to develop as a leader and a mentor. I've benefited from strong AIChE mentors early in my career, and I have wanted to pass that along when I became a professional. Working with students as a YP has given me an opportunity to do just that, and much earlier in my career than I expected.
I didn't need to be established in my field or an expert engineer to become an AIChE volunteer. I was able to step in as a young professional and immediately have an impact. In the process, I've met countless dynamic engineers from all areas of industry and academia, which provided the unintended benefit of expanding my professional network, and opening opportunities I otherwise would not have had. One of the most memorable of these experiences came last fall when I attended AIChE's Annual Gala in New York City. There, I found myself sharing a meal with leaders from Chevron, DuPont, and Praxair, and hearing the CEOs of all three companies talk about the future of chemical engineering. Beyond my networking experiences, another advantage of being an active AIChE member as a graduate student is the scope of AIChE's offerings across disciplines and locations. For example, AIChE's 22 technical divisions and forums serve the spectrum of the practice, including groups for members in education and law. As I pursue my PhD work on engineering biomaterials to promote regeneration in the nervous system, I always look forward to talks and poster sessions hosted by the Society for Biological Engineering (one of AIChE's technical communities) and the Food, Pharmaceutical and Bioengineering Division, where I can learn and interact with other engineers in my area of study.
Participate in person or online
AIChE also boasts more than 100 local sections, as well as a Virtual Section started for members who live in locations without an active group (but open to any member regardless of his or her location). If you are a graduate student looking to make connections in your specialty or to become visible in the local engineering community, involving yourself with a division, forum, or local section can give you a jump on current technology and trends, and allow you to meet and work with engineers who are shaping local industry. Also, many sections have YP groups, where young engineers gather for social events, outreach activities, and career-related programs. Being active in AIChE has made my short time as an engineer markedly greater and has left me energized countless times. At each step, my decision to continue and increase my involvement has been justified. I want other young engineers to feel the same way about AIChE. Some graduate students choose only to participate in AIChE when they have research to present at conferences. It may be a cliche? to say "You'll get out of it what you put into it," but if you get involved in AIChE as a graduate student, you'll be able to look back as I have and know you made the right decision. Chris Lowe is currently a graduate student at Rutgers University.