Meet the 2018 Board Election Candidates - Part 4: Life Experiences as a Young Chemical Engineer

Voting for next year's AIChE Board of Directors is under way as of August 27th at Have your say and help direct the future of AIChE by voting!

The Young Professionals Committee (YPC) asked potential members of AIChE's board four questions about Young Professionals and AIChE. Answers are shown in alphabetical order by position and the candidate's last name.

In addition to learning about the candidates here, you can also learn more about candidates and the election process on the AIChE election page

Q: What is your best memory of being a young chemical engineer?

For President-Elect

Monty Alger

My entire career changed the day that I discovered I could be useful at the intersection of technology and business — and, of all things, I have Microsoft Excel to thank.   

 Many years ago, I was talking to a product manager I had gotten to know as part of a  development program. He was working on a presentation for the annual strategy review, specifically a table of sales and sales growth by year.  He calculated the sales growth by subtraction of the annual sales numbers. Instead of an annualized effective growth, it was a choppy year/year comparison. 

I said, “You should fit a polynomial to derive the long-term effective growth rate.”  I had just learned solver in Excel, and I showed him how to use it. He loved it. I asked, “What are you doing with the sales trend?” He replied, “I’m preparing the business strategic plan: growth, cost, and margin forecasts.” 

He had tables of numbers, costs, and other information from finance, but he did not really have a good sensitivity to various process and cost parameters. I had been building mass balances for another project using linked spreadsheets, so I suggested we do the same thing and add in the costs, prices, and usages. 

We made the models together, and I learned about long-term investment, short-term capacity creation, and new product development. I learned about operations, product strategy, standard cost financial systems, and how engineering and business can complement one another.   

That chance discussion — and a spreadsheet! — opened a completely new set of future projects, jobs, and experiences for me. It changed the direction of my life. You never know what will happen — but looking back, you will see how chance encounters altered your life path. 

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Dan Lambert

My best and worst memory with AIChE happened at my first Spring Meeting in New Orleans in 1986. I attended this meeting to look for a job as I was ready to leave the Air Force after serving four years. I was looking through the program to find good events where I could meet with professionals. I decided to attend a Fellows breakfast but didn’t realize it was for AIChE Fellows.

I was very embarrassed when I found out Fellows were highly respected engineers with at least 25 years of experience, but everyone was so nice. They insisted I stay and eat with them. I was unofficially named AIChE’s youngest Fellow.

My best memory as a professional was my interview day with DuPont at the Savannah River Plant (SRP). I had only had three or four interviews prior to this one and DuPont handled my interview day so much better than the other companies had.

The arrangements were made by Bond Calloway who handled chemical engineers who were interviewing at SRP. My host met me at the airport, took me out to dinner, and brought me back to my hotel. On my interview day, he prepared me over breakfast, took me to my first interview, and had dinner with me that night.

I interviewed with five different groups and I had five jobs to pick from. Bond asked me to rank the five jobs and they’d try to match me with the group I liked best. I soon had a job offer with the company I most wanted to work for and I couldn’t have been happier. Even though DuPont left SRP a few years later, I can still say 31 years later that it was a great decision.

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For Secretary

John P. O’Connell

I am fortunate to have many warm memories at all stages of my life.  Some early ones were events, though most were interactions with chemical engineering students and leaders. 

They started when I felt the thrill of discovering as a student that chemical engineering was really my thing. Then I was amazed at the scope of my career opportunities when I began interviewing companies and universities.

My first AIChE Annual meeting exposed me to a wondrous array of activities, outstanding people, vital presentations, and advanced knowledge. I got hooked.  I have been to more than 100 national and regional meetings. I continue to attend because I still get to grow and learn each time, along with enjoying interactions with many professional friends.

Making successful presentations and persuading skeptics to act on my recommendations have been memorable confidence-builders over the years. Some of my most cherished memories have been as teacher, research advisor, and mentor seeing positive responses of my students as their worlds were enlarged, especially about chemical engineering. 

Much of my joy has come from connecting them to each other, to potential employers, and to professional leaders when, as AIChE Chapter Advisor, I encouraged their participation and accompanied them to AIChE meetings at all levels. 

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Joseph D. Smith

Though I've been involved with AIChE for over 40 years and have many great memories of my service to our profession, but my best memory was probably while I was still in school at BYU. 

I had been elected chapter president and we were scheduled to host the regional conference the following year. My officers and I were able to travel with our chapter advisor to attend the regional conference prior to having to host it. 

We spent several days driving from Provo, Utah, to Tucson, Arizona, where we attended the regional meeting. This time gave me a chance to get to know my advisor much better. It also gave me a chance to see how my leadership team worked together in stressful situations, but the best part was meeting other students from our very large regional section. 

As I look back now, I smile as I remember the long talks about things we'd never discuss with our professor in the classroom. 

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For Director

Ana P. Davis

Looking back on my career, there are many memorable moments I experienced as a young engineer. Surprisingly, the most rewarding and impactful memory is one that, at the time, was a heartbreaking event.

As a new plant manager in a highly hazardous chemical facility with only two days on the job, I was confronted with a devastating worker injury. A plant technician had been inadvertently sprayed with a highly toxic chemical from a leaking flange. Given the toxicity of the chemical, we had a very limited window for decontamination and medical treatment. 

The workplace incident left him hospitalized with visible facial injuries. He had suffered severe burns to his face, even though he was wearing the specified personal protective equipment, including a face shield. I still remember arriving at the hospital that day, where his family greeted me, looking for answers from the very person entrusted to take care of their loved one at work.

We were very fortunate our colleague fully healed and returned to work. But he came back with great hesitation about our ability to achieve an injury-free workplace.

Little did I know, months later we would use that fateful day as a catalyst to reshape our entire safety program. Remarkably, it was my colleague who led the safety program and served as champion! Many years later, the learnings from that tragic event have stayed with me. It has fueled my passion for the well-being and safety of workers in ways I never expected. And it serves as a reminder: the past can be rewritten in ways one may not think possible at the time. 

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Brian H. Davison

At my first AIChE Annual meeting as a grad student, I went to lunch with my advisor, another professor (and his grad student). The other professor bought me a beer. We had a real conversation as scientists together. Surprisingly, I am still in touch and talk with all three of them to this day.

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Walter L. Frank

Actually, I will cite two memories. First, I began my career in what was, essentially, a “one-company” town.  If you knew a chemical engineer, it was a virtual certainty that he or she worked at “the plant.” 

When I started attending local section meetings, it was an enjoyable experience to deal with other chemical engineers, some many levels higher in the management chain, in a more collegial context, in contrast to a more stuffy and hierarchical environment at work.

Second, and more significantly, I should cite the associations that I have made through AIChE, such as through the national meetings (to which I have referred in my answers to other questions in this series).  It was very gratifying to find a context where other chemical engineers, generally outside of the company that employed me, would take on what was, in essence, a mentoring role that helped my professional development. 

Again, my AIChE focus has been in the process safety community, where there is an open sharing of process safety technologies and practices. Process safety performance is viewed as a common responsibility, rather than the basis for a competitive advantage between companies.  So, there is an open sharing of non-proprietary information that allows us to accumulate knowledge and hone skills that help us enhance the safety of our industry. 

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Syamal Poddar

As a young chemical engineer, I had the opportunity to be a part of the team to develop a process of direct liquefaction of coal, later known as EDS (Exxon Donner Solvent) process. I stayed engaged with the team from the inception phase through the bench scale testing, to designing and operating a small scale pilot plant, and to validating the process through a large scale pilot plant, process development unit (PDU).  

The excitement I experienced as a team member with the success of the scale-up of the EDS process when we started and operated 250 tons per day (tpd) units. This was the ground-breaking step to designing and building a commercial size plant. It has been an everlasting memory ever since. 

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David S. Sholl

As someone who came to chemical engineering from another academic discipline, I was deeply impressed by how welcoming the discipline of chemical engineering was to new ideas and methods. This is just one example of how we should continue as a profession to expand our diversity in every sense of the word — diversity of backgrounds, people, and ideas makes us a stronger community. 

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