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PISD dual-credit program provides future career opportunities for next gen. engineers

PISD dual-credit program provides future career opportunities for next gen. engineers
Posted on 02/20/2020
PISD dual-credit program provides future career opportunities for next gen. engineers

By Reesha Brown
PISD Communications

Pasadena Memorial senior Abigail Escobar is on the path toward becoming an engineer in process technology.

It all started when she was a ninth grader. Abigail excelled in her core math and science classes while also maintaining an A-average in her intro-level engineering program. This continued into her sophomore year at Memorial. The school’s college coordinator, Tara Evans, took notice and encouraged Abigail to pursue the CTE Process Technology engineering program.

“I was immediately impressed with Abigail’s determination to not only be in the dual-credit program, but to pursue the process technology program,” Evans said. “She knew exactly what she wanted and went for it.”

The process technology program is offered through Pasadena ISD and San Jacinto College as a dual-credit option for students interested in gaining knowledge, skills and certification in the field. The program, which started in 2011, is funded by Shell and offers free tuition and books for students, while also giving them a chance to gain insight to industry recruitment perspectives and gain soft-skills training. Students can earn up to 24 of the 60 credit hours toward an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in process technology.

Turning oil into gasoline, petrochemicals into fibers -- process technology involves taking materials and turning them into something useful. Process technicians and operators manage and control the flows, levels, temperatures, pressures and analytical variables in refineries and petrochemical facilities to create the fuel, chemicals and plastic that make modern society possible.

Process technology is a widely recognized profession in petrochemical industries, but as baby boomers in the field start retiring, the demand for new process techs. is on the rise and Shell is working with San Jacinto College and Pasadena ISD to raise awareness about this growing field for the new generation of engineers.

“The whole idea behind the program was for students to consider an alternative career path in a two-year education that pays well,” said David Esquibel, Shell representative. “It helps students minimize their student debt.”

Now in her second year of the dual-credit program, Escobar is not missing the chance to take advantage of this opportunity.

“We live in a place where chemical plants and refineries are a big deal. Pasadena has some of the major exports and imports, so there’s so much opportunity here,” Escobar said.

She was inspired by her father, Yonis, to seek an education in process technology after he went back to college to become certified to work in a refinery. While it didn’t go as planned, Escobar decided that she would be the first in the family to become certified. Thanks to the process technology program offered, her goal is within reach.

“Process technology is exciting and new to most people in high school,” Escobar said. “So to have a chance to take part in that experience is amazing.”

While process tech. organizers encourage students interested in STEM-based learning to enroll in the program, space is limited and entrance into the program is competitive. Eligibility is three-fold:

  • Shell requires that students have a minimum grade point average of 2.5;
  • San Jacinto College requires students to pass the Texas Success Initiative Assessment, which determines a student’s college readiness levels in math, reading and writing;
  • Pasadena ISD requires students to have successfully passed their high school-level ninth and tenth grade core classes.

It’s a process that is all too familiar to Escobar who was initially nervous about going into the program, then over time welcomed the challenge.

“I have to give a lot of presentations in my classes, so I feel like it’s helped me become less shy and more confident talking in front of people,” she said.

Escobar dedicates half of her school days to taking engineering classes at PMHS, under the instruction of Kyle Jurek, and the other half at San Jacinto. As an upperclassman, Escobar has been focused on learning rocketry through the SystemsGo curriculum, which promotes the study of engineering and the development of work force skills.

At San Jac., Escobar’s schedule includes a general psychology course and intro to technical writing course. After she graduates this spring, she will be two years away from earning an associate’s degree.

“As of right now, I’m about 42 percent done with my degree plan,” Escobar said. “From there, I plan to transfer to Lamar University for their engineering program or to Sam Houston State since they just built a new engineering building.”

When Escobar graduates in May, she will be among approximately 40 students to have completed the program in the school district, according to CTE Coordinator Janna Martin.

“Each year, we have anywhere from 3 to 10 graduates in the program,” Martin said. “About half of those students go on to finish the process technology associate’s degree program at San Jacinto College. The rest usually go on to a four-year engineering program.”

Program organizers believe the low enrollment numbers are a result of the lack of awareness about process technology.

“We have trouble filling the spots that Shell is willing to pay for because many of our ninth and 10th grade students don’t understand the process technology profession and what it has to offer,” Martin said. “We have worked with counselors and teachers to get the word out about the program, but we usually end up with spots open each year.”

One of the best enrollment years happened in 2015 and 2017, according to Esquibel. There were 11 students in the program and 10 of them went into process technology and I&E (Instrumentation and Electrical) after high school.

“There were some students who went into dual-credit programs and then went into apprenticeships with DOW chemical or LyondellBasel,” Esquibel said. “Our feeling is that we’re producing talent for the industry and because of our scholarships and our programs, eventually, as they look out for more experience and they post out, they’ll come back to Shell at some point.”

The benefits of pursuing a process technology career are vast. Career opportunities are available at multiple locations worldwide, and especially in Pasadena. Some locations include chemical plants, refineries, wastewater plant operation, pharmaceutical plants, pipelines and many more. The process technology industry also offers a competitive average salary of $68,922, according to texaswages.com.

Of course, getting an education in the field is half the battle toward being successful in process tech. The next step is to gain experience. Shell offers students the opportunity to apply for internships and scholarships.

“Some students have received Shell scholarships after going into this degree path after graduating high school,” Esquibel said. “Some students are also working for Shell and have done internships with Shell. We even have some [Pasadena ISD] graduates who are working for contracts that support Shell assets and operations.”

Escobar understands the value of the program and encourages more students to take part in engineering and process technology programs, stating, “We have amazing teachers. They guide you a lot. You work independently, but they help you find your way and give you a push in the right direction.”

“With CTE in general, it means a lot because it is something that I love doing and learning about. To be able to go into a job and learn more about those aspects, it’s a feeling that I want to experience for the rest of my life.”

Whether students decide to pursue a career in process technology, Esquibel encourages them to seek STEM-based educational opportunities.

“We want students to get a four-year STEM degree because that’s another area where there’s a shortage. It’s also an area where we’re building a talent pipeline into the industry,” said Esquibel.

For students interested in Pasadena ISD’s dual-credit process technology program, sponsored by Shell, please contact CTE Executive Director Tanya Hagar, THagar@pasadenaisd.org, and take the next step toward building your future.

This story was written in recognition of CTE Month 2020.