Building a Leadership Portfolio

By Janet Chu, Sensient Technologies When talking with college students at local section meetings, I'm often asked about my responsibilities within AIChE with a simple question: "So, what do you do?" The answer, however, is not so simple. As a leader in the Chicago Local Section, Chicago Young Professionals Committee (YPC), national YPC, and President's Blue Ribbon Task Force on Local Sections, I could answer this question in several ways.


Building a professional network

I supplement my professional development through networking. One of my first jobs out of college involved solving calculations and preparing reports. Although I was interested in learning about other areas of chemical engineering, I had limited opportunities to do so in my position and company.?I used AIChE to build a professional network by joining the Chicago YPC within the Chicago Local Section. Communicating with other chemical engineers, especially other young professionals, helped me learn more about varied aspects of chemical engineering and other possible career paths. It also helped me keep my technical skills up to speed. After starting a position at a new company, Sensient Technologies, I reached out to my AIChE contacts to inquire about resources I could use to learn the intricacies of the technologies I would be using at my new job, such as spray drying equipment. There are many advantages to using AIChE as a professional development resource. Julie Gruhn, CDP Group Lead at UOP, credits finding and landing her job to her involvement and contacts in AIChE. "My connections through AIChE informed me about the job opening, and my leadership and experience in AIChE helped differentiate me from other candidates," said Julie. Additionally, AIChE helped open a new career avenue for Julie, which she may not have discovered otherwise. "This job is not the traditional chemical engineering role, and I love it," she said. Jon Haughton, an associate product specialist at Ingredion, enjoys the networking opportunities AIChE provides. "Being involved in AIChE committees, I get to network with people I would never have the opportunity to meet otherwise. It astounds me that I have met with executives of large companies and other high caliber professionals," said Jon.

Gaining leadership experience

I build my leadership skills -- and my resume. AIChE helped me develop leadership skills at a time when leadership positions were not available to me in the workplace. When I started my career, there were very few opportunities for me to develop leadership skills at work, as leadership positions were typically given to those with the most seniority. However, I learned that AIChE offers a variety of leadership positions -- within its divisions, committees, and local sections, as well as within YPC at both the national and local levels. I became a member of the Programming Committee of the Chicago YPC and helped brainstorm and plan monthly events. In this role, three years ago, I arranged a brewery tour and social to celebrate the graduation of chemical engineering students and welcome them into the ranks of young professionals. Although it was a small event, the committee liked it so much that it has become an annual tradition. I have also organized K-12 outreach events and technical tours.

Local and national exposure

At the local level, I volunteered as the public relations director of the Chicago Local Section. I began in this role by creating an AIChE Chicago Facebook page and LinkedIn group. As public relations director, I am a member of the Chicago Local Section's Board of Directors, where the more experienced members (the self-proclaimed "gray hairs") periodically ask for my contribution as a young professional. YPC gives its members unique leadership opportunities that help bridge the gap between younger and experienced professionals; the perspective this offers is a great confidence booster and resume builder. I volunteer to help others and contribute to my field. My local section involvement encouraged me to pursue a larger leadership opportunity within the national YPC. In 2012, I applied for and accepted the New Young Professional Group Representative position on the Local Section and Executive Student Subcommittee. This level of leadership gave me the opportunity to meet and learn from other local section young professionals. As part of my responsibilities in this role, I provided support to several local sections that were interested in starting their own local section YPC. Not only did my contributions directly help others to become involved in AIChE, they also furthered my own professional network. On the national level, I also volunteered for the President's Blue Ribbon Task Force on Local Sections, a special committee formed in Sept. 2013 to help determine and meet local section needs. Suggestions for strengthening the local sections will be presented to the AIChE Board of Directors at the 2014 Spring Meeting. As a YP representative on this committee, I am able to provide perspectives and information on current YP programming and initiatives. I have a unique perspective on the merits of volunteering because I chose to pursue a variety of leadership roles?at different levels within AIChE. I encourage others to take advantage of the diverse leadership opportunities that AIChE offers at both the local and national levels, and at the young-professional and non-young-professional levels. This article appeared in the February issue of CEP magazine, which members can view in its entirety here.