ExxonMobil made some headlines this week with the introduction of a new line of high-performance PEs for film. But the Houston-based chemical giant is also committed to drawing in the best and brightest next-generation polymer engineers to ensure the new-product pipeline continues to flow.
One such polymer newbie is Sarah Newby, who this December will graduate from Penn State University with dual degrees in materials science and Chinese. A native of Pittsburgh, Newby attended a PSU Career Fair in 2014 that culminated in a four-month paid internship that began last August at ExxonMobil’s Baytown Technology and Engineering Complex in Texas.
“I switched into the MatSE major during the summer of 2014,” said Sarah, who originally planned on becoming a lawyer. “At the time of the career fair, I was just beginning to explore possible career paths. I was not yet aware that ExxonMobil had a Chemical Company, or that they hired materials scientists and engineers. Dr. R. Allen Kimel (MatSE Assistant Professor and Associate Head for Undergraduate Studies) met with an ExxonMobil representative and sent out an email to all undergraduate students that ExxonMobil was looking for MatSE students. I attended ExxonMobil’s pre-career fair information session in order to learn about ExxonMobil and to identify the ExxonMobil representative that expressed interest in MatSE majors.
“The information session peaked my interest in pursuing opportunities with ExxonMobil,” Sarah continued. “At the session, I learned more about ExxonMobil internships and career paths. Through the presentation, it became clear that ExxonMobil values each and every employee and strives to bring out everyone’s potential. In addition, each ExxonMobil representative introduced themselves and their role at ExxonMobil, and I began to understand that the career paths at ExxonMobil are unique to each individual.
“Later in that week, I attended the career fair, and ExxonMobil was my first stop. I arrived early, and a short line was just beginning to form. I approached a representative…and was very fortunate to land an interview.”
Sarah recalls being one of six students at BTEC. “The five other students were studying Chemical Engineering at various universities, including Georgia Tech, University of Illinois, Clarkson University and University of Wisconsin. I was the sole MatSE student. I’m not certain of the details of their projects, but I do know that I was the only student working in Polymers Technology during fall 2015
We also interacted with interns outside of BTEC. The Baytown location has internship positions at the refinery, at the chemical plant and in manufacturing. The intern social and volunteer day involved all of the about 20-25 interns working in Baytown.”
At BTEC, Sarah was assigned two high-priority projects and one additional project for times when she was waiting on samples or test results. She elaborates: “The first high priority project centered identifying similarities and differences in PE resin produced from two different reactor sites. The second high priority project was a lab-scale blending study of PE with a target polymer to identify blends that produce defect-free film. The additional project was a data mining project where I identified trends in PE quality control data from ExxonMobil’s plastics plants. My schedule included making progress on my projects, meeting with my team leads and mentors to brainstorm and discuss next steps, and attending networking events.”
Her Chinese major came in handy too. “In the spring semester of 2013, I won a Critical Language Scholarship to study Mandarin in China, fully funded by the U.S. Department of Defense for eight weeks during the summer of 2013. I studied at Xiamen University in Xiamen, China.
Sarah explains: “In the spring 2013 semester I completed my initial goal—the Chinese minor. When I returned from studying Mandarin in China, I decided to keep taking language courses, and that led to the dual degree in Chinese. Chinese is a subject that I was motivated to continue studying simply because I enjoy it. Even though the language courses are very time intensive, I found that my overall happiness was greater during the semesters that I took a language class.
“During my internship with ExxonMobil, I realized that my MatSE and Chinese major combination complement each other. The demand for plastics products in rapidly developing countries, such as China, continues to grow. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I dream about finding a career that requires extended travel in China.”
Learn more about Sarah’s experience here.