ExxonMobil Chemical's Karen McKee Kicks Off 2019 Annual Student Conference

Karen McKee, president of ExxonMobil Chemical Company, addressing chemical engineering students to kick off the 2019 AIChE Annual Student Conference in Orlando, FL.
Karen McKee, president of ExxonMobil Chemical Company, addressing chemical engineering students to kick off the 2019 AIChE Annual Student Conference in Orlando, FL.

Chemical engineering undergraduates from around the world are gathered in Orlando, FL, at AIChE’s 2019 Annual Student Conference, which runs from November 8–11 during the AIChE Annual Meeting. As of this morning, the meeting site at the Hyatt Regency Orlando is teeming with 1,800 undergrads, proudly displaying pride in their home institutions as well as their chosen profession, and ready to begin building career connections through their affiliation with AIChE.

Karen McKee, President of ExxonMobil Chemical Company, opened the conference this morning with a keynote, calling on the students to embrace their individuality and unique visions — in addition to their knowledge and technical skills — to lead society toward solutions to significant problems.

Imagination will help tackle the world's challenges

In her talk, “Providing the Spark: A Call to Leadership,” McKee reflected on the Student Conference’s location of Orlando, a city that was shaped profoundly by the vision of Walt Disney. Although Disney was not an engineer, McKee explained, he was an innovator and a visionary, and the very definition of a leader. She said that Orlando’s Walt Disney World is the result of tremendous imagination and feats of engineering.

“Disney’s team," McKee noted, "coined the term ‘imagineering’ to describe the unique combination of creativity and engineering that building this state-of-the art theme park required." She likened imagineering to the work process of chemical engineering, noting that, like chemical engineers, “Disney’s imagineers were encouraged to combine their technical and creative skills to solve problems — first to visualize them, and then to figure out how to achieve them.” 

The world looks to chemical engineers for solutions

She added that this combining of engineering and creativity would be key to solving the world’s challenges in health care, response to climate change, and the need for food, water, and sustainable energy. “Our profession will be called upon for smart, innovation, and wholistic solutions to these needs,” said McKee. She also emphasized that such innovation will require chemical engineers to use a multidimensional approach, with teamwork enhanced by the knowledge, expertise, and differing perspectives of a fully diverse workforce.

McKee reminded the students that chemical engineers have always risen to solve many of society’s challenges, and affirmed to the students that their future leadership would be needed to solve the challenges ahead. She encouraged the students to pursue their calling as chemical engineers “with imagination, commitment, and integrity,” adding, “I hope that I can rely on all of you to play your part in identifying and developing the innovations that will help us continue to make progress.”

The 2019 AIChE Student Conference features dozens of sessions including student-presented workshops, networking events, and scholarly and inter-collegiate competitions, highlighted by the finals of ChemE “Jeopardy” and the 21st running of AIChE’s signature Chem-E-Car Competition. To help students build and plan their careers, the conference also includes career skills sessions, a recruitment fair, and leadership development opportunities.