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Taking a tour of College of The Mainland’s Vocational Process Technology Building is an incredible
view into what goes on at the plants in Texas City. Students work with actual tank farm, representative
of the tank farms that run the plants. Inside the building, there is a room full of things
like heat exchangers, sugar reactor, a steam turbine, and all kinds of sophisticated equipment
identical to the tools and equipment, on a smaller scale and with cutaways, that are used at the
plants; so that they can actually see exactly what an operator does, how the equipment works,
and how to address problems that might occur.
Next door is a room full of computers attached to a live unit outside. The students learn how to
monitor the unit both indoors on the computers and outdoors on the actual unit. Online they can
see the boiler data, instrument data, utilities, motor control, loop control, valve controls and they
go through 6 steps to isolate a problem and then go outside to correct the problem.
Three shifts come in and work 13.5 hours to simulate a plant shift. All meals are eaten on-sight
and the students work through the various positions during the shift. In the Glycol Separation Unit
(GSU), 60% Ethylene glycol and 40% water are separated by vacuum distillation. The boiler unit
actually came from Al’s Formal Wear. There is a chiller unit that supplies cooling water for the
GSU. Every student runs the unit. It can be brought up in about an hour and taken down in the
same amount of time where at the plant it can take days to bring a unit down and a week or more
to bring it back up.
Students must make a “C” or better to stay in the program. Starting salary is around $74,000
a year. CCPI community college petrochemical initiative held at Moody Gardens – Women in
Industry – met one of the students from COM at the initiative, tested and hired her right there. She
was hired, moved her classes to nights, and within a year will be making over 100K for a program
that costs a total of $8000-$9000 for a two year program. Because these students will be making really good money,
there is an emphasis on “soft skills”, interviewing, resume writing, work ethic, personal economics, to prepare them
to meet the expectations they will find in the real world and to be able to handle that kind of money responsibly. When
you realize the economic driver of a program like this is, it is important to give the graduates the skill sets to be successful
in their work environment as well as members of their communities. Talking to the students is fascinating. They are excited,
humble, challenged and grateful. “One of the things you don’t expect is the relationships you form, the exposure to
diversity and how character building the whole experience is.” One student commented on the fact that this is a totally
new field and being drawn to the promise of “upward mobility”, a growing field with opportunity for all kinds of people.
“Women are still a rarity but they bring a different perspective “we are good at the soft skills, the multi-tasking”. “The
ladies make you work hard because there aren’t as many of them so they work even harder than the men .” “The
ladies don’t get special favors; they do everything we do; it’s no different for them and they make you work harder.” “They are “Yeah, because
before they were just competing with half the population!” How do they feel about working with dangerous chemicals? “We have to be aware of the ecosystems and the steps the industry has taken to protect the environment.” “They are hard on us to be really exact because we are responsible to keep ourselves and everybody else safe. It’s a big responsibility. Big responsibility – Big reward.” These students are all focused on staying on the Gulf Coast which is wonderful for the area and each and every one of them spoke of their gratitude for the program
and the level of excellence it requires of them. They see a future where they can “do something important”; “make a difference”; “be successful”; “grow and learn and just keep on getting better and better”. There is a lot to be said for a future like that. And as their instructor said as they gathered for their photograph. “ You are looking at some of the best trained, most highly motivated future millionaires in the country right now.” Indeed! Over 300 students have taken tours of plants across the Gulf Coast and the word is getting out about the quality of the graduates COM Petrochemical Process Technology, is producing. Many of these students already are working and many others have jobs waiting for them. The work that has gone in to creating this environment is phenomenal. From Bill Railey and Jerry Duncan that created the program and Al Jivan, Jon Leacroy, Steve Wethington, Karen Kupsa & Derrick Lewis who mentor these students now, there is a passion for making certain that these students come out of this program fully developed and ready to take on the world. Kudos to them all for the depth of understanding they bring to preparing young men and women to be successful in their careers and their lives!

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