Future Engineers Front and Center

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 @ 10:11 PM gHale

By Gregory Hale
Want to create the better mouse trap? Just ask the students at the New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School.

Creating a better mousetrap was just one of the activities that went on for a group of 60 high schoolers Wednesday at the ChemInnovations 2012 Conference and Exposition in New Orleans. Honeywell Process Control sponsored Project Genius, which showed high school students the benefits of choosing a career in engineering.

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As one of the featured presentations, students listened to a talk on cyber security, along with a discussion on the opportunities an engineer can enjoy throughout a career. Students also participated in a few exercises that allow for stronger communication and the coup de grace was a security endeavor on how to build a better mouse trap.

Competition was tough and fierce, but in the end Team Platypus prevailed with their new and improved version of how to capture an unwanted intruder.

The students came into the convention center from the New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School, which is an inner city school that actively recruits students where selective schools might turn away. This school is a model of success as it has 72% of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and they have a 93% graduation rate.

Ronnie Villarreal, director Americas, South East Asia and Pacific Engineering Automation and Control Solutions at Honeywell Process Control, talked about some of the best engineering innovations.

He mentioned the Wright brothers creating flight in Kitty Hawk, NC, the engineering ideas behind roads and bridges, Thomas Edison creating the light bulb, technology that can clean water and make it drinkable, and the telephone among other inventions.

“These were all technologies that changed the world and they were devised by engineers,” he said.

“Today the whole world is changing again,” Villarreal said. “Technology is changing very quickly. We are seeing a convergence of information technology with the process control industry.”

In terms of the growth in technology, Villarreal said just look at the Internet. “There are over 500 million users on the web today.”

Steve Zarichniak, applications consultant at Honeywell Process Solutions, also talked about the pure joy and fascination of being an engineer.

“I am an engineer and that is all I wanted to be. I don’t need to be the boss, I just want to be an engineer. I wanted to be an engineer ever since the space program became popular in the 60s. I just enjoy working on things.”

Technology is one thing, but some of advantages engineers can enjoy is traveling to different regions of the world to work on projects.

Villarreal said he worked on projects in California, in Canada on the oil sands, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Amsterdam, and the United Kingdom. “I have done projects in South Africa, where we have the largest implementation of our equipment, but they needed to modernize.”

“I will be traveling to Australia, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia in the coming year and I will be going to do some work in China,” he said.

The long and short of it, he said, is “engineers are needed all over the world.”

With the Baby Boomers becoming closer to retirement, these students are in the driver’s seat for job stability in the coming years.

“Fifty percent of engineers are eligible to retire in the next couple of years so there are jobs available. There just are not enough engineers,” Villarreal said.

Plus these students have a leg up on the old timers as they have grown up with technology.

“As graduates, high school students with your technology background already, you have the kind of knowledge built in that will get you ahead,” he said.

But as the day went on it all came down to how well students could work with each other and while under deadline pressure, creatively come up with a design and then execute the building of a mouse trap solution.

Among the hushed discussions at the seven different tables of competition, students worked to come up with a winning idea.

Villarreal was impressed.

“I saw one group collaborate and share a plan. I saw another group that did a very good job early on in project management, but didn’t follow through. There was another group that everyone chimed in ideas and they picked the best ideas and it all came together. I saw another team that worked in shifts. I saw one other team that finished early and cleaned up their mess, which is an important safety function; that is something we think about a lot in the process industry.”

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