More than a decade ago, the United States Congress passed the Scientific and Advanced Technology Act, which authorized the Advanced Technological Education program (ATE). Through ATE, the National Science Foundation (NSF) was directed to develop models aimed at two-year colleges of advanced technological education in order to expand the nation's pool of skilled technicians and to increase and improve the nation's productivity and competitiveness globally in advanced technology fields--including chemical processing. But it is the mutually beneficial relationship between industry and educational institutions that has accelerated the evolution of process technology education.
There was good reason for the ATE program to direct the focus of the models to be aimed at two-year colleges. It recognized the flexibility and rapid response of two-year colleges in meeting the growing need for a technical workforce, and appreciated the ties these colleges have with local businesses in surrounding communities. Businesses in the Gulf Coast region, home to the largest complex of petrochemical industries in the nation, wasted no time in addressing the need to fill their own anticipated shortage of highly skilled process technicians that would result from baby-boomer retirements.
In 1993, a group of petrochemical industry representatives from the Texas City area came together to form a committee to discuss the education of "process operators." The committee explored increasing the courses in pre-hire education that would go beyond technical courses and expand general education. The committee decided that a two-year associate of applied science degree program was the answer. It was also decided that the term "process operator" would be replaced with "process technician," and "process technology" was adopted.
In 1994, after the committee took a long hard look at the petrochemical industry, visited area colleges, and most importantly, conducted job analyses of first-class operators, it took its findings along with a proposed curriculum to the State of Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, where the program and state guidelines for the new Process Technology program were approved.
During visits to and evaluations of area community colleges, the committee had discovered that each school was using a different curriculum that resulted in graduates with varying levels of skill and knowledge. The group needed to find a way to guarantee that all institutions were teaching the same curriculum. So, in 1996, the Gulf Coast Process Technology Alliance (GCPTA) was formed, and its first goal was to "standardize the core technical components of the degree program in process technology to meet industry needs."
GCPTA pioneered the way for other alliance partnerships such as the Louisiana LAPTEC Alliance, the Greater New Jersey Process Technology Alliance, the Oklahoma Partnership of Industry and Education Alliance and many more. And today, learning institutions and industry work together to produce highly skilled process technicians to secure the future of the chemical processing industry. This region of the country is now home to an exceptional group of schools offering the best in process technology education. A great chemistry is increasing.
Brazosport College (BC) is located on the Texas Gulf Coast just a short drive south of Houston, and the chemical industry is an integral part of this area. But, many of these processing plants are now requiring an associate degree for entry-level positions. Brazosport College has an excellent Chemical Process Technology program, so this is the perfect venue for aspiring process technicians.
BC offers an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Chemical Technology with either a Process Operations or Laboratory Technician option. Studies in safety and environment, operations, troubleshooting, instrumentation, lab analysis, team skills and work ethic, quality and economics, computer skills, communications, and academics are part of the process technology curriculum. There is also an internship program that gives students the opportunity to gain valuable practical experience while they earn wages and college credits.
Gary Hicks has been teaching at Brazosport for 25 years. Prior to this role, he worked in both the production and research and development areas for Dow Chemical. He brings firsthand experience in chemical process technology to the classroom.
"Our program is somewhat unique," says Hicks, "due to the emphasis we place on hands-on training; although, more and more process technology programs are developing labs. Another unique characteristic of our program is that our college is among three community colleges in the state of Texas that have been selected to offer a four-year degree. This degree is a Bachelor of Applied Technology."
Brazosport College received accreditation approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in December 2004 and will be offering a Bachelor of Applied Technology in Technology Management degree in the fall of this year. Admission for the program will be competitive, and the application process began January 17, 2005.
"The bachelor's degree offering will receive students from the college's nationally recognized Chemical Process Technology program," notes Dr. Dorothy Brandt, who directs the program. "In subsequent years, BC plans to seek approval to receive students from other technology disciplines. The approval for a community college to offer a baccalaureate degree is history making in Texas. Strong industry support and input were crucial in making this specialized degree possible. State Representative Dennis Bonnen authored the groundbreaking legislation for this initiative, while Senator Kyle Janek led the efforts in the Senate."
Brandt joined the Brazosport College faculty not only as an educator, but to assist in the coordination of the program. "The mission of the Technology Management degree is to educate, train and develop successful business leaders and managers who are prepared to utilize technology and leadership skills to the competitive advantage of their enterprise," explains Brandt. "This program builds upon a general education core and process technology courses completed in the freshman and sophomore years. The program is designed to provide management skills to workers who have process technology skills to enable them to move into supervisory positions. The breadth of the coursework enables graduates to lead and manage by utilizing a wide variety of business, finance, technology and people management skills."
The introduction of such a program at the community college level is indicative of the quality and success of Brazosport's Chemical Process Technology program.
"Based on our May 2004 graduates, we had 43 process technology graduates with a 93 percent placement rate," says Hicks. "Most of our intern positions are obtained by the student. We currently have about 20 to 30 intern positions each semester. Most of these positions are as distribution operators at Dow Chemical in its Site Logistics Department. After they complete their degree, they are then able to bid into a process technician position."
The solid relationship between Dow Chemical and BC's Chemical Process Technology program has been mutually beneficial. But Dow is not the only local industry that has its eye on BC graduates.
"Although most of the graduates are employed by Dow," notes Hicks, "other companies that employ our graduates in the local area are Air Liquide, Conoco-Phillips, Chevron-Phillips, BASF, Shintech, Schenectady and DSM."
Hicks has seen many changes in his 2S years at Brazosport. There has been a lot of positive growth since 1987 when the school first offered training in process technology for BASF. Technicians from that long-ago program have since gone through BC's "operations training after employment" program. In 1993, the degree program in process technology began, and now, in 2005, the program has far exceeded expectations. The relationship that Brazosport College continues to share with local industry and the surrounding community has kept it viable.
"Since our initial start, the local industry has essentially engineered and built the inside and outside labs containing 'mini-plants' that are used for training. The replacement costs for these units have been valued at one-and-one-half to two million dollars," notes Hicks. "These training units have allowed us to create a good plant environment for hands-on instruction."
Reaching out to High Schools
BC's program has spilled over into the community where it has dual credit and tech prep agreements with four area high schools, and a fifth on the horizon. Brazosport College Instructor Mark Stoltenberg goes to Sweeny High School where he teaches process technology courses on its campus.
"The Sweeny High School Process Technology program has really come a long way from the first class that I taught on its campus," says Stoltenberg. "We started small and have progressed into a great program. I really enjoy the energy level of the students. Along with Brazosport College, some of the local area industries helped to build a process lab trainer and place it at Sweeny High School. It's the right thing when everyone pulls together to make sure students have a chance to pursue their goals."
The local high school program is designed to make students aware of career opportunities in the local chemical process industry; but BC couldn't have done it alone. The success of the project illustrates a truly joint effort among education, industry and community. Through generous support and contributions, a unique process control lab affords students the opportunity for a hands-on education in the various aspects of process technology. They experience the role of the process technician through lab exercises in instrumentation, piping and instrument diagrams, startup and shutdown procedures, safety, and troubleshooting. There are plans to build a second training unit on the Angleton High School campus next year.
The investments made, both in time and money, by the high school, the college, local industry and the community have paid off in a big way. High school students learn to look beyond their graduation, and with the introduction of process technology at this level, many students begin to focus on careers. The program has been such a success that it was recognized by Brazosport College and awarded the Team Innovation Award--an award that seeks to recognize individuals whose collaboration has made a positive impact on others' lives. Experienced and dedicated instructors like Stoltenberg are a big part of the program's success.
"I really do enjoy the high school students," states Stoltenberg. "It's been a lot of fun for an old operator."
Brazosport College's vigorous networking with local industry and the community has brought it to the forefront as a leader in the field of process technology education.
Alvin Community College
Like Brazosport, Alvin Community College (ACC) is located in the Gulf Coast Area where process technicians are in great demand. As one of the founding colleges of the Gulf Coast Process Technology Alliance (GCPTA), ACC adjunct instructors assist in the development of recommended teaching materials and curriculum for schools offering a two-year Associate in Applied Science - Process Technology degree.
ACC's Process Technology Department Chair Mark Demark has been instructing the program since his arrival in the summer of 2001. "The GCPTA and the Center for the Advancement of Process Technology (CAPT) have been valuable in keeping our program up to date," says Demark. "I, and our adjunct instructors, attend GCPTA quarterly meetings and interface with our peers, which allows us to share our problems and develop solutions in a noncompetitive environment solely geared to helping students."
CAPT (www.captech.org) encourages collaborative efforts between industry and education at many levels, and is committed to the future success of process technology education through various means, including curriculum and professional development.
"CAPT has been very good at developing teaching materials such as textbooks and guides," notes Demark. "The guides help us develop syllabi, course outlines and teaching materials when no textbooks exist. A new textbook on instrumentation has just been published, an event the colleges have been eagerly anticipating."
Demark brings volumes of experience deeply rooted in process technology to ACC. He was a partner in a consulting firm, Partec Resources, specializing in training for the processing industries. And prior to that position, he spent 30 years with Shell Oil Company where he held positions of increasing responsibility from engineer to operations management to planning and economics. He managed a startup subsidiary of Shell that developed, manufactured and sold catalysts to oil and gas production, refining, petrochemical, pharmaceutical and aerospace industries worldwide.
"Catalyses are near and dear to the heart of processes that depend on these materials," says Demark. "I have been in many operating facilities around the world helping operators start up and run these processes. I've interfaced and worked with people who have been trained in all ways imaginable."
Demark's impressive career has given him a unique perspective that he shares with his students at ACC.
The GCPTA recommended curriculum is flexible. It gives schools such as ACC the latitude to adapt the program to industry needs in each locality. The design of the core curriculum allows students to demonstrate technical knowledge, skills and abilities that are commonly found in the processing industry. Areas such as health, environment, safety, security, processing equipment, installation, instrumentation, communication and economics are among the many courses ACC students study during their process technology education.
Texas colleges are required to have advisory committees whose members are representatives from the industries that hire graduates from the program. ACC's Process Technology Advisory Committee meets quarterly. Always keeping in mind the curriculum and the operating budget, the focus of these quarterly meetings is straightforward: Is ACC educating students who are sought after by industry?
Apparently, the answer to that question is yes.
The Lubrizol Foundation in Ohio awarded three of ACC's process technology students--Jean Wooley, Libby Hardie and Michelle Sorenson--each a $600 scholarship to be used toward their college expenses in September 2004. Lubrizol is the world's number one manufacturer of additives for lubricants and fuels. The Colorado-based company Sundyne donated a $50,000 gearbox to ACC, and it has become an important teaching aid. A furnace model donated by BP has been incorporated into the curriculum as a valuable training tool for ACC's process technology students pursuing a two-year degree. The Equistar Chocolate Bayou Chemical plant donated almost $8,000 worth of equipment and materials, providing great visual, hands-on tools for ACC instructors.
Local industry most definitely sees the benefits in its generous donations to ACC, as ACC's process technology graduates have had a l00 percent employment rate over the last three years.
In the Brazoria County Business Journal article dated August 26, 2004, journalist Jane Faulkner writes the following: "Companies realize several benefits by hiring employees with Process Technology degrees according to CAPT. First, a savings of $26,000 per person in reduced overtime expenses and basic training time was achieved by hiring only those with the degree or seven years of operating experience. Second, degreed employees demonstrated a 37 percent better safety record. Finally, for the more than 1,300 students who have graduated from CAPT's partner colleges with an Associate in Process Technology in the past two years, a 97 percent placement rate has been achieved."
This is more proof that fostering relationships between local industry and schools such as ACC is logical and mutually beneficial.
Janet Hayes is ACC's tech prep coordinator. Her role is to facilitate the connections between ACC and the surrounding high schools.
"We are in the process of developing programs at the high school level," says Hayes. "Funding by local industries, like Shell, can help make this happen."
As the CATE director for Deer Park Independent School District for 15 years, Hayes worked very closely with the Houston Ship Channel Industry and San Jacinto College to develop programs that would be beneficial to the students, the college, the industries and the community. Her experience in that role is a valuable asset to ACC in creating future high school programs.
Hayes notes, "We are always looking closely at the job market, what the future needs are for industries and how to channel students into those areas."
The Career Exploration Process
ACC Adjunct Instructor David Corona is a supervisor at Sterling Chemical with 24 years of experience in the process technology field. "I have spoken to high school students about this type of career, and although this career is not for everyone, it is a very, very good living for those that choose this path," says Corona. "The companies that hire out of the PTAC program seem to be pleased with the students and the training that they have received from the schooling. Before you know it, the student will be able to apply for these jobs anywhere in the United States where there is an industry plant."
Corona has prepared a PowerPoint presentation he uses when asked to talk with high school students about careers. The slideshow is very straightforward, addressing both the pros and cons of a career in the process technology field. The presentation opens with the high dollar signs of potential earnings, but Corona quickly shows that sacrifices are made to earn that type of salary--working in cold, heat, rain, days and nights, weekends or holidays. But the forfeitures of a cozy working environment and ideal hours are offset with the lure of 12-hour rotating shifts, where Corona's slideshow humorously points out not working on weekdays can mean shopping with no lines in the grocery store or no waiting to tee off at the golf course. On a more serious note, Corona stresses the need for those students interested in the process technology field to concentrate their studies in the areas of math and science.
"I always try to ask my students, 'What made you choose this career?'" says Corona. "I get answers like, 'My father works in a plant and has made a good living at it,' or, 'I chose it because you can make good money with benefits from minimal time in a junior college,' and he or she would be right."
Corona believes that the skills he teaches can be put to good use in everyday life as well. "Safety, environmental compliance issues, troubleshooting skills, how to read an instrument, and even writing a resume," he says, "are very good commonsense and useful skills for plant or home life."
Demark, Hayes and Corona continue their efforts to expand the ACC process technology program by developing programs for the recruitment of high school students--but they recognize the need for local industry contributions.
"I think that it is absolutely vital that industry support in every way any efforts that are made by educators to develop programs such as this outreach to high school students in the area of process technology," says Hayes. "The financial contributions will not only make these efforts possible, but will also show that the industry which will be doing the hiring is behind the effort."
ACC continues to build its relationships with industries in the Gulf Coast area and its surrounding community. Its role as one of the founding colleges of the GCPTA, continuing contributions in the development of curriculum and ongoing efforts in promoting partnerships in education has made ACC's process technology program stellar.
For Further Exploration
If you would like more information about the process technology industry, here are the Web sites of the organizations featured in this article.
Center for Advancement of Process Technology www.captech.org Please direct all general inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Guff Coast Process Technology Alliance www.processtech.org
For more information about process technology education programs, these are some of the Schools that currently have programs.
Alvin Community College 3110 Mustang Road Alvin, Texas 77511 (281) 756-3500 www.alvin.cc.tx.us
Brazosport College 500 College Drive Lake Jackson, TX 77566 (979) 230-3291 www.brazosport.edu
College of the Mainland 1200 Amburn Road Texas City, Texas 77591 www.com.edu (409) 938-1211 X103…