Q&A with Ashley Weckwerth

Ashley Weckwerth is an instrumentation and controls engineer at Burns & McDonnell, a full-service engineering, architecture, construction, environmental and consulting solutions firm based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is a highly engaged and dedicated ISA volunteer leader, currently serving as: Vice President and Program Chair of ISA’s Kansas City Section; Honors and Awards Chair for District 8; and Chemicals & Petroleum Industries Division (ChemPID) Director-Elect and Membership Chair.

Could you provide some background on your education (degree/s received) and academic areas of emphasis? 

I received my bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Kansas State University in 2012.

What initially attracted you to the field of automation (and specifically your selected field)...and when was it? Was there any specific thing that triggered your interest?  

Before I interviewed for my first job, I had never considered the field of automation. I had a process controls class in college, but that was my only exposure. In my other classes, everything was ideal. The process never strayed from the normal conditions in the practice problems; it just all worked perfectly. So, during my interview when I heard more about instrumentation and automation it definitely interested me more. I wanted to know about how today’s industries maintained the process to get the desired end product.

Please tell us about your current career responsibilities (specific position, company) and background, and area of specialty in automation. 

I am currently working for the engineering firm, Burns & McDonnell in Kansas City. I am in the oil and gas consulting industry, which we refer to as the Process and Industrial division (P&I); specifically, I am in the instrumentation and controls department. My responsibilities mainly include: specifying and procuring instrumentation and control system packages for our clients. I also handle a variety of tasks dealing with instrumentation installation details, location plans, wiring diagrams, network architectures, and much more. When on the job site, I have assisted in checking the instruments as well as assisting clients in executing their safety instrumented systems’ proof test procedures prior to start-up.

How did you initially get involved in ISA? 

During my first month of working, I found out that my department manager was the Membership Chair for the ISA Kansas City section. He invited me to a Kansas City section meeting, and from there I was hooked. Later, when my department manager was transferred to our Houston office, he asked me if I would be interested in covering his spot as membership chair to finish out the year; I accepted. From there, I haven’t stopped. I continued to take on roles within the KC section; I have served as: Membership Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, Vice-President, and Program Chair.

Please explain your current level/degree of involvement in ISA (leader positions, section involvement, etc.) ? 

I am currently the: Vice President and Program Chair of ISA’s Kansas City Section; Honors and Awards Chair for District 8; and Chemicals & Petroleum Industries Division (ChemPID) Director-Elect and Membership Chair.

As the VP and Program Chair of the Kansas City Section, I coordinate all technical meetings and social gatherings. Some of my responsibilities include: contacting speakers, finding sponsors, booking venues, ordering food, sending invitations to members, bringing the PDH certificates, answering member questions and concerns, and more.

As the District 8 Honors and Awards Chair, I encourage all District 8 sections to submit nominations for the ISA excellence awards and ISA fellow nominations. If needed, I also help any District 8 members get nominations submitted. The overall responsibility is just to spread the word as deadlines approach.

As the ChemPID Director-Elect and Membership Chair, I create programs to encourage members to participate and new members to join. For example, this year, I created an engineering week challenge activity and hosted a membership campaign webinar. I also get involved in ChemPID by coordinating a variety of tasks such as: reviewing scholarship applications and reviewing symposium presentations.

What ways would you say ISA has benefited you? 

ISA has benefited me technically and professionally. I got involved in my ISA section right out of college as a new professional. This helped me meet other automation professionals all over the Kansas City area from different companies and industries.

The section’s technical meetings helped me grow tremendously from a technical point of view in my new profession, especially considering I came from a ChemE background with very limited instrumentation and control knowledge. After a few years of being heavily involved in my ISA section, I attended a fall leaders meeting, and that is where I got connected into ISA’s ChemPID. Being a part of a division has helped me interact with automation professionals all over the globe!

Do you have any advice or suggestions to young automation professionals entering the profession? Are there things that you have learned that you might pass on…to help them better develop their careers?

I started being active in ISA right out of school as a 22-year-old… meaning, you are never too young or too old for ISA! It has something for everyone! This June (2017), I will hit 5 years in the profession, I am just one example that you don’t have to be an experienced professional to get involved (or even be a leader) in ISA. My biggest suggestion to young automation professionals…get involved! There are lots of ways to get involved in ISA: go to local section meetings, join a technical division, attend a symposium, join a standards committee, etc… the list goes on! Pick the ISA area you want to get involved with or try them all! You will learn so much technically and professionally just by getting involved!