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Chemical Engineering

What is it?


Possible Careers

Do you love chemistry? If you enjoy learning about atoms and chemical reactions, then this career might be right for you! This branch of engineering deals with the manufacturing and processing of chemicals and materials. Chemical engineers are in high demand in oil and petroleum companies, energy companies, pharmaceuticals, and food processing companies. With a degree in chemical engineering, you can work in many different industries!

  • Biotechnologist

  • Color Technologist

  • Energy Engineer

  • Environmental Engineer

  • Analytical Chemist

  • Pharmaceutical Chemist

Meet an Expert

Susan Simmons

  • Graduated from Missouri University of Science and Technology

  • Earned a Bachelors of Science degree in chemical engineering

  • Has had a 30 year career as a chemical engineer with the brewing company Anheuser-Busch

  • Earned a MBA at Washington University in St. Louis

  • Currently serves as a member of the Board of Trustees for Missouri University of Science and Technology

  • Volunteers with non-profit organizations aiming to inspire STEM interests in young people

Expert Q + A

What led you to choose chemical engineering as your career?

  • As a child I always had an interest in understanding how things work and in problem solving. I often worked along side my dad as we did projects on our house or worked to repair and maintain the family vehicles. I enjoyed math and science classes in school. A family friend was a chemical engineer and I learned about the field through talking with him and through observing his career.

What is your favorite part of the job?

  • I most enjoy leading a team of diverse thinking people to improve operational performance, solve problems, and provide new process capabilities.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

  • My biggest challenge is the same as my favorite part of the job. Leading a team of people with diverse backgrounds and thinking to pursue a common goal is challenging, but very rewarding.

What kind of education, training, or background does your job require?

  • A bachelors of science degree in an engineering program is the base requirement for every role I've held in my career.

What are your main responsibilities as a chemical engineer? What kind of problems do you solve and what decisions do you make?

  • In my most recent position I served as the lead engineer and a senior level operations manager in a brewery. My job entailed leading other managers of the operation, leading a team of engineers executing capital projects that enhanced the operation, leading a team of information technology professionals, and leading a team of facilities managers. I participated with my team in solving technical problems in the brewery operation on a daily basis while also setting long term strategy and action plans for the operation. Everything I did involved working in a team. My job was to ensure the teams I worked with had clarity on their objectives and the resources they needed to accomplish their work. I had responsibility for and I was accountable for the overall level of performance of the operation.

What skills, abilities, and personal attributes are essential to success as a chemical engineer?

  • I think having a curiosity for understanding how things work and an interest in problem solving are good starting point attributes for a path toward success in chemical engineering or any other engineering discipline. Interest in science (especially chemistry) and math are essential tool for chemical engineering. Successful engineers have a strong work ethic and are very organized about their work. Successful engineers can work well with other people in a team environment.

Describe a typical day at work.

  • A typical day in my position started with reviewing emails and other communications reporting operational performance in the last day. I then would join my team for a brief meeting where short term issues and longer term project progress would be reviewed for coordination between team members and identification of any resource needs. I then would walk my area of responsibility to interact with operators and technicians in their places of work to get a sense for how they are doing and what issues they have and to offer support for their needs, etc. The day would usually include some other meetings with cross-functional teams to make decisions on projects, etc. Much of the day was spent communicating with team members. I would also meet with contractors and other suppliers to set expectations and review performance, etc. No day was the same and my role was filled with variety. I spent very little time in an office and most of my time out and about in the operation interacting with people.

What current issues and trends in chemical engineering should girls who are interested in the field know about?

  • The field of chemical engineering has an exciting future in emerging areas of bio-technology and alternative energy solutions. The field is moving away from classical chemical processes and more to areas of innovation in medicine, energy, and beyond.

What advice would you give a tween/teen girl who is interested in becoming a chemical engineer?

  • Chemical engineering is a great base education for work in almost any field. The problem solving methodology students learn and the organizational skills gained in pursuing a chemical engineering degree help a person prepare for a wide variety of possibilities for their life's work. My advice to a young person thinking about chemical engineering is to take as many science and math classes as you can and look for problems to solve in school, at home, and in your community. Keep an inquisitive mind open to all possibilities.

Interested? Try This!

Beginner Craft

In this project, you will be making squishy, stretchy slime! Using glue, contact lens solution, and baking soda, you will learn about chemistry while also creating slime that is fun to squeeze and play with. To make this project even more fun, try changing the ingredient ratios and see how that affects the slime's consistency!

Advanced Craft

In this project, you will be trying out an exciting pop rock reaction! When pop rocks are put in soda, it can make a balloon suddenly expand. But how does it do this? When doing this experiment, you will be able to learn how chemical reactions work while seeing one in action!

Detailed Instructions:

Video Tutorial:

Detailed Instructions:

Video Tutorial:

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