I have been asked many times how I chose chemical engineering as a career. Obviously, it was not because I saw a TV show or movie with a chemical engineer as the hero.
And, it wasn't a family career because my Dad was a veterinarian and my Mom was his assistant as well as a home economist. After several years of cleaning up after dogs and cats at Dad’s hospital, I decided to look elsewhere for a career. Since I was in high school before the internet was invented, I went to the library and checked out books on careers. Finally, I selected chemical engineering because I loved mathematics and I did well in chemistry. Of course, none of the books really gave the reader a good description of the life of a chemical engineer. I hope the following issues to this blog will correct that omission.
One of the themes for this blog will be computing and how it has changed throughout my career. In high school and most of my undergraduate program, a slide rule was my computer. I enrolled in a computer course my junior year at Kansas State (KSU). The course started with binary language and then moved into machine language before I "unofficially dropped" the course and took an "F". I just couldn't believe that the amount of time it took to write a program would be worthwhile on a job. I told the Assistant Dean of Engineering that the computer was not an engineering tool at this point. I don't think he was happy with my assessment.
The next summer, I worked as an intern at Humble Oil (Exxon) in Houston. There I learned FORTRAN and developed statistical models on their computer. When I returned to
KSU that fall, the same computer course was now taught with FORTRAN and a later model IBM, so I took the course again and got an "A". The "F" on my transcript often generated a question from recruiters, but they apparently were satisfied with my explanation because I still got job offers.
Upon graduation with a B.S., I went to work for DuPont and my computing career went on hold for several years. I
worked on process development in a laboratory for a couple of years, followed by an assignment as a process technical engineer on a manufacturing site. Although I had fun solving problems on both assignments, I saw that computer modeling was rapidly advancing. I "wanted in on that action", so I decided to go back to school to get the proper background and to get a PhD. I chose U. of Texas, but more about that in the next post.