“Heat is a run-on sentence about the future.”
— Tod Marshall, 2015 Recipient of the Washington State Book Award - Poetry



Two engineering non-profits I spend a bit of time helping out with are the US-based National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) focused on advocacy for public safety and well being, and AIChE, the global technical home of chemical engineers


// NSPE

I served as as NSPE-California State President from July 2017 - June 2019. I’m a past Director on the NSPE National Board of Directors and previously served on the leadership teams of the Connecticut Society of Professional Engineers and as Past Chair of the Professional Engineers in Industry (PEI) interest group.

Just as one would expect a doctor or lawyer to also be licensed in their field of practice in their respective states, professional engineering licensure (or just “PE”) exists in all 50 states in the US to perform work that directly impacts public safety. Most common are PEs in civil and structural engineering that handle construction and public works projects, but PEs can be found across most any discipline.

// AIChE

I help out on the leadership team of the AIChE Management Division, whose programs promote professional leadership & executive development in chemical engineering. I’m the Past Chair for the AIChE Northern California Local Section and previously served as the Secretary for the global Local Sections Committee as Secretary, which fostering best practices between AIChE’s 7,500 local and regional section members.


// 57th Annual AIChE Northern California Symposium (April 2019)

As I end my term as Section Chair of the AIChE Northern California Section, my valedictory activity for the section was to organize the Section’s premiere tradition, its annual Symposium, which focuses on a given theme and brings chemical engineers and research scientists together for a full day of topics, workshops, and camaraderie.

AIChE NorCal’s site of the Symposium for a couple of years now.

AIChE NorCal’s site of the Symposium for a couple of years now.

Whole Biome COO, Mohan Iyer kicks us off with how humans are biologically linked to our microbiomes from the day we’re born.

Whole Biome COO, Mohan Iyer kicks us off with how humans are biologically linked to our microbiomes from the day we’re born.

Mohan taking us through the steps linking microbe health to human health.

Mohan taking us through the steps linking microbe health to human health.

Impossible Foods Research Fellow, Chris Davis, explains the process that makes Impossible’s 100% plant based “meat” so meaty.

Impossible Foods Research Fellow, Chris Davis, explains the process that makes Impossible’s 100% plant based “meat” so meaty.

Hosting the panel discussion between Chris and Mohan, where we spent a lot of time talking about the importance of creativity and recruiting talent to solve complex technical problems, even beyond the daily work of microbiology and food science.

Hosting the panel discussion between Chris and Mohan, where we spent a lot of time talking about the importance of creativity and recruiting talent to solve complex technical problems, even beyond the daily work of microbiology and food science.

Wan an honor for me to present the inaugural AIChE NorCal Cup which sounds like it should be a prize for a sporting event, but actually goes to the most self-directed, takes initiative “above and beyond” volunteer of the year. The worthy, worthy recipient this year was Sarah Lucere, an engineer at Tanner Pacific, whose leadership over the last two years has really helped strengthen the NorCal community.

Wan an honor for me to present the inaugural AIChE NorCal Cup which sounds like it should be a prize for a sporting event, but actually goes to the most self-directed, takes initiative “above and beyond” volunteer of the year. The worthy, worthy recipient this year was Sarah Lucere, an engineer at Tanner Pacific, whose leadership over the last two years has really helped strengthen the NorCal community.

The future of the profession! Scholarship winners and student volunteers during the awards ceremony.

The future of the profession! Scholarship winners and student volunteers during the awards ceremony.

Me pointing at a blank screen and trying really hard to look like I know what I’m talking about.

Me pointing at a blank screen and trying really hard to look like I know what I’m talking about.

Total gathering having gathered.

Total gathering having gathered.

Not as good as home, but close.

Not as good as home, but close.

Despite a seriously sleep-deprived 48 hours, meandering through a nearby Barnes & Noble in my non-lucid state still brought me to Ilya Kaminsky’s latest poetry collection.

Despite a seriously sleep-deprived 48 hours, meandering through a nearby Barnes & Noble in my non-lucid state still brought me to Ilya Kaminsky’s latest poetry collection.


// AIChE Spring Meeting in New Orleans (April 2019)

AIChE's industry-centric conference each year is its Spring Meeting, which took place this year in New Orleans. I was there to help out with the AIChE Management Division, which sponsors two days of talks in this spring conference. This season, the main topics were related to career development, continuous improvement and best practices in process safety.

Recognizing the Management Division’s most active volunteers for the season.

Recognizing the Management Division’s most active volunteers for the season.

Represent.

Represent.

At our joint dinner and awards ceremony between the AIChE Management Division and the Chemical Engineering & The Law Forum at The Desi Vega Steakhouse in downtown New Orleans.

At our joint dinner and awards ceremony between the AIChE Management Division and the Chemical Engineering & The Law Forum at The Desi Vega Steakhouse in downtown New Orleans.

Jack Hipple receives the 2019 Management Division Award from our current Division Chair and longtime AIChE leader, Joe Cramer.

Jack Hipple receives the 2019 Management Division Award from our current Division Chair and longtime AIChE leader, Joe Cramer.

With Management Division leaders Frank van Lier and Joe Cramer in between sessions.

With Management Division leaders Frank van Lier and Joe Cramer in between sessions.


// NSPE-California Strategic Planning in Venice Beach (March 2019)

As difficult as it is to help run a state society that spans the 800 mile north to south range of California, the times the leadership team does get to meet up face to face is always a delightful treat. Being a joint meeting of NSPE-California and our sister subsidiary that runs the state’s MATHCOUNTS competition for local high schools, we got to cover the pipeline of engineers into the profession, from aspiring student to practicing licensed professional.

As I had begun winding down my term as NSPE-California state president, this workshop became the perfect opportunity to do some succession planning and lay out the direction of the state over the next five years. And meeting in sunny Venice Beach certainly helped with the mood as well.


The combined NSPE-California and Education Foundation MATHCOUNTS Boards planning away.

The combined NSPE-California and Education Foundation MATHCOUNTS Boards planning away.

We lucked out by snagging this shaded patio seat at The Rose Venice for a brunch break out in the ocean air.

We lucked out by snagging this shaded patio seat at The Rose Venice for a brunch break out in the ocean air.

Back to work on our strategic planning session.

Back to work on our strategic planning session.

Getting strategic inspiration for our day’s work (sunning ourselves out on the roof wasn’t too shabby either).

Getting strategic inspiration for our day’s work (sunning ourselves out on the roof wasn’t too shabby either).

Instead of heading back to the hotel for sleep as I should have after everyone went home, I went out to one of my favorite L.A. neighborhoods to grab sushi at Hamasaku.

Instead of heading back to the hotel for sleep as I should have after everyone went home, I went out to one of my favorite L.A. neighborhoods to grab sushi at Hamasaku.

My lucky streak continued by showing up at Hamasaku on a Saturday night without a reservation and still getting slotted into the sushi bar. My sushi feast served as a celebratory reward for a long day of planning out NSPE-California’s next five years alongside the Society’s future leaders.

My lucky streak continued by showing up at Hamasaku on a Saturday night without a reservation and still getting slotted into the sushi bar. My sushi feast served as a celebratory reward for a long day of planning out NSPE-California’s next five years alongside the Society’s future leaders.

Happy, energized, fulfilled (and a tiny bit sleep deprived).

Happy, energized, fulfilled (and a tiny bit sleep deprived).


// AIChE Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh (November 2018)

Traveled to Pittsburgh in the fall as a speaker for the Management Division’s sessions on productivity and project management, where my talk introduced the concept of Scrum, common in the tech world and slowly gaining more traction in other industries such as chemical engineering.

Obligatory photo of one of Pittsburgh’s many bridges.

Obligatory photo of one of Pittsburgh’s many bridges.

It was a pretty cool honor to be a guest speaker in Pittsburgh on the occasion of AIChE’s 110th anniversary, the same city where the Institute’s very first conference was held in 1908.

It was a pretty cool honor to be a guest speaker in Pittsburgh on the occasion of AIChE’s 110th anniversary, the same city where the Institute’s very first conference was held in 1908.

In addition to being a speaker I did get the chance to enjoy being in the audience as well, attending the lecture by Gayle Gibson, DuPont Chemical’s former Head of Engineering, the recipient of the 2018 AIChE Management Division Award, the Division’s highest honor for an executive leader in the profession.

In addition to being a speaker I did get the chance to enjoy being in the audience as well, attending the lecture by Gayle Gibson, DuPont Chemical’s former Head of Engineering, the recipient of the 2018 AIChE Management Division Award, the Division’s highest honor for an executive leader in the profession.

Soaking in Gayle’s talk on innovation, growth, and surviving risk.

Soaking in Gayle’s talk on innovation, growth, and surviving risk.

The added bonus of the trip being in Pittsburgh was the chance to catch up with my longtime friend (and former chemist himself) John. When John and I both worked for Duracell Batteries in Connecticut, we’d plan Friday lunch excursions that involved road side shacks and the indie comic book shop or two.

The added bonus of the trip being in Pittsburgh was the chance to catch up with my longtime friend (and former chemist himself) John. When John and I both worked for Duracell Batteries in Connecticut, we’d plan Friday lunch excursions that involved road side shacks and the indie comic book shop or two.

Apropos for a chemical engineering conference, John and I met up at Church Brew Works, complete with their own set of fermentation tanks and process equipment.

Apropos for a chemical engineering conference, John and I met up at Church Brew Works, complete with their own set of fermentation tanks and process equipment.

Before leaving Pittsburgh, also had to make a stop at Primanti Bros.famous for this massive pastrami sandwich.

Before leaving Pittsburgh, also had to make a stop at Primanti Bros.famous for this massive pastrami sandwich.

Definitely not cool bar-stool reading, but I had just come from the conference book shop and the counter was the only place to lay down this tome. The pastrami sandwich still felt way more intimidating.

Definitely not cool bar-stool reading, but I had just come from the conference book shop and the counter was the only place to lay down this tome. The pastrami sandwich still felt way more intimidating.


// NSPE Annual Professional Engineers Conference (#PECON18) in Las Vegas (July 2018)

Heading into the second half of my term as NSPE California State President, I got the chance to onboard our amazing new Executive Director Jeanne Marie Tokunaga and our Vice-Chair, Mehdi Khalili, PE. Every year, NSPE holds its annual conference, PECON and there couldn’t have been a more exciting place to welcome in a new team than amidst the neon buzz of Las Vegas.

With each of the 50 US States represented at the NSPE House of Delegates, thanks to the alphabet, California’s seat is on the front row right up close and personal to the heat of the action. It’s been an honor to serve as the NSPE-California State President.

With each of the 50 US States represented at the NSPE House of Delegates, thanks to the alphabet, California’s seat is on the front row right up close and personal to the heat of the action. It’s been an honor to serve as the NSPE-California State President.

Introducing 75% of my new NSPE-California leadership team around the NSPE community at the 2018 PECON in Las Vegas. Here with Mehdi Khalili, PE (Vice President 2018-19) and our new Executive Director Jeanne-Marie Tokunaga.

Introducing 75% of my new NSPE-California leadership team around the NSPE community at the 2018 PECON in Las Vegas. Here with Mehdi Khalili, PE (Vice President 2018-19) and our new Executive Director Jeanne-Marie Tokunaga.

We’re at an engineering conference after all, so of course we spent our time touring the power plant that provides electricity to much of Las Vegas.

We’re at an engineering conference after all, so of course we spent our time touring the power plant that provides electricity to much of Las Vegas.

While just outside, the majority of patrons of Las Vegas were hanging out on the casino floors testing their luck, this group of licensed professional engineers were touring the chillers that help make sure entire city blocks of casinos, hotels and shopping malls stay cool when the blistering desert heat has its way with the town.

While just outside, the majority of patrons of Las Vegas were hanging out on the casino floors testing their luck, this group of licensed professional engineers were touring the chillers that help make sure entire city blocks of casinos, hotels and shopping malls stay cool when the blistering desert heat has its way with the town.

So lucky to have Jeanne Marie Tokunaga as NSPE-California’s new Executive Director: non-profit associations whiz, former journalist, gourmet chef, stamp collecting enthusiast and classic films buff all-in-one. Awesome to have her on our team (using the journalists’ “AP comma” in this description just for her).

So lucky to have Jeanne Marie Tokunaga as NSPE-California’s new Executive Director: non-profit associations whiz, former journalist, gourmet chef, stamp collecting enthusiast and classic films buff all-in-one. Awesome to have her on our team (using the journalists’ “AP comma” in this description just for her).

With our NSPE California State Vice-President, Mehdi Khalili after the House of Delegates session.

With our NSPE California State Vice-President, Mehdi Khalili after the House of Delegates session.

Inside “The Bat Cave,” what the facilities team at the Bellagio affectionately call the underground service and maintenance area that make the Bellagio Fountains as magical as they appear to be.

Inside “The Bat Cave,” what the facilities team at the Bellagio affectionately call the underground service and maintenance area that make the Bellagio Fountains as magical as they appear to be.

The floating maintenance rig that services each and every water cannon powering the Bellagio Fountains.

The floating maintenance rig that services each and every water cannon powering the Bellagio Fountains.

One of the Bellagio Fountains facilities leads explaining the literal nuts and bolts behind the captivating fountain show the Bellagio is famous for.

One of the Bellagio Fountains facilities leads explaining the literal nuts and bolts behind the captivating fountain show the Bellagio is famous for.

Checking out the engineering magic behind the water cannons that power the Bellagio Fountains.

Checking out the engineering magic behind the water cannons that power the Bellagio Fountains.

Watching the results of all that mechanical engineering and facilities maintenance that make the Bellagio Fountains possible.

Watching the results of all that mechanical engineering and facilities maintenance that make the Bellagio Fountains possible.

At the Order of the Engineer engineering ethics ring ceremony with our new inductees.

At the Order of the Engineer engineering ethics ring ceremony with our new inductees.

State reps from the NSPE Western Division gathering for our annual region dinner.

State reps from the NSPE Western Division gathering for our annual region dinner.

Mehdi throwing rocks straight down the middle at the NSPE evening social at Brooklyn Bowl located inside The Linq Hotel & Casino.

Mehdi throwing rocks straight down the middle at the NSPE evening social at Brooklyn Bowl located inside The Linq Hotel & Casino.

Nothing to see here. Just innocently hanging out post sushi-feast with NSPE Treasurer Brian Armstrong on the terrace of Yellowtail inside the Bellagio.

Nothing to see here. Just innocently hanging out post sushi-feast with NSPE Treasurer Brian Armstrong on the terrace of Yellowtail inside the Bellagio.


// RVA & Virgina Commonwealth Engineering (2017)

Richmond, Virginia is home to Virginia Commonwealth University whose engineering department just celebrated is 20th year in 2016. Had the chance to visit the engineering school at VCU this February, meet up with my long time mentor Ram Gupta, and chat with engineering students as a guest speaker about career development as chemical engineers. 

Even though it was over a decade and a half ago, when I was a newbie process engineering at a battery factory in west Georgia, I tried to keep my link to academia at the time by taking extension classes in chemical engineering at nearby Auburn University. I met Dr. Gupta there for the first time as his student, where we shared a common enthusiasm for a branch of chemical engineering called thermodynamics.  

It's so amazing that all our small conversations and email exchanges over the years have been so influential to me, long after taking my core chemical engineering skills across to other industries. So to stand in his lab and chat with him and his grad students in downtown Richmond was celebratory and surreal. And pretty awesome.

Ram, now an Associate Dean at VCU, giving me a tour of his lab after my career talk to VCU engineering undergrads in February 2017.

Ram, now an Associate Dean at VCU, giving me a tour of his lab after my career talk to VCU engineering undergrads in February 2017.


// WHAT POETS AND ENGINEERS HAVE IN COMMON

My career in chemical engineering started with poetry (or alternatively, you could say my pursuits in poetry started with chemical engineering.) Long story, but I couldn't have been more grateful.

 

// WE'LL TAKE A CHANCE ON YOU (EVEN THOUGH YOU MAKE US CRAZY)

I owe every instance of anything that could be perceived as success to the mentors throughout my early days as a chemical engineering major at Johns Hopkins. These were largely people who had no business taking a chance on me, but they did and I am truly lucky and grateful. That I have since become good friends with many of them only makes me luckier.

No engineer can aspire to a successful career without patient, empathetic mentors there to get your back. My freshman year advisor Dr. John Van Zanten welcomed me to the chemical engineering department with open arms when I transferred there from the Johns Hopkins Department of English.  He continued to stick with me through the moment I crossed the stage for a diploma even though he had every reason to kick me to the curb early on.

As my career progressed, I kept in touch with some of my key mentors in chemical engineering: coaches, sanity checkers, and (some would argue) charity workers, all who encouraged me to stay the path.

 

  • Dr. Michael Paulaitis taught me about the intersection of biochemistry, proteomics and physical chemistry and ignited my fascination with thermodynamics.

 

After catching up over lunch at Johns Hopkins Hospital, filling in stories and experiences spanning nearly two decades of mentorship.

After catching up over lunch at Johns Hopkins Hospital, filling in stories and experiences spanning nearly two decades of mentorship.

  • Dr. Mark McHugh extended my passion for thermodynamics further by teaching me the wild world of phase equilibria. It was also in his class that I learned how to really study chemical engineering.

 

Burgers and bourbon with Mark in downtown Alexandria, Virginia. We had stayed in touch regularly over the years, but that day was our first face to face meeting in 19 years.

Burgers and bourbon with Mark in downtown Alexandria, Virginia. We had stayed in touch regularly over the years, but that day was our first face to face meeting in 19 years.

  • Dr. Mike Betenbaugh kept me on the straight and narrow, kicked my butt at regular intervals to keep me focused and ultimately hired me for my first job out of college to partner with a local firm in the design of the Department's new undergraduate chemical engineering lab (I still get teary-eyed whenever I see a box of Swagelok sitting around).

 

Catching up with Mike at the AIChE Annual Meeting in 2016, held in San Francisco that year. I also presented a talk with the AIChE Management Division that year.

Catching up with Mike at the AIChE Annual Meeting in 2016, held in San Francisco that year. I also presented a talk with the AIChE Management Division that year.

  • Dr. Ram Gupta helped me glimpse what chemical engineering research could have been like, let me hang out in his lab at Auburn and pontificate equations of state, and encouraged me that "the best discoveries lie at the interface of different disciplines."

In Richmond with Ram and his wife for catch-up, book signings and spicy Indian food.

In Richmond with Ram and his wife for catch-up, book signings and spicy Indian food.


// Pressure Vessel

Seeing an experiment I built over a decade ago still standing was like running into an old roommate (who never cleaned their side of the room, kept you up late at night, and stressed you out with unpredictable problems). But we’re all laughing about it now.

Seeing an experiment I built over a decade ago still standing was like running into an old roommate (who never cleaned their side of the room, kept you up late at night, and stressed you out with unpredictable problems). But we’re all laughing about it now.

Over a decade later, this time returning to Johns Hopkins as a speaker and not as a sleep deprived undergraduate, I got a tour of the undergraduate chemical engineering lab in Maryland Hall. To my surprise, this liquid level experiment was still going strong.

As my undergraduate days were winding down and I still had not a clue as to what I wanted to be when I grew up, my mentor Mike Betenbaugh took a chance on me and asked me to take over building out new experiments for the undergraduate lab. So a week or so after graduating, I officially took a job as an engineering aide to the Department of Chemical Engineering, was given a budget, two six inch thick catalogs filled with mysterious lab equipment, and a goal of creating a scaled down lab experiment where chemical engineering students could learn process controls, play with pressure sensors, hook up thermocouples.

My days and nights were long and I largely worked solo, although I had the helpful guidance of a visiting professor who would pop in for encouragement and help me bolt pieces of metal together. These were quiet afternoons with me sitting on the floor with snack-sized boxes of Swagelok surrounding me, shredded pieces of Teflon tape stuck to my clothes.

It eventually worked, we published an operations manual, and I even got my first acknowledgement in a chemical engineering paper.

So it was very much a close the loop experience to return to my school to talk to undergrads about chemical engineering careers and see this ghostly past version of myself still moving along as if I had sleeplessly never left.


Success is like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t quit when you’re tired. You quit when the gorilla’s tired.
— Robert Strauss, Actor (1913-1975)