Meet our Members
Q&A with Cheri Haarmeyer
As a Process Automation Engineer at the Dow Chemical Company, Cheri Haarmeyer provides DCS programming support and develops automation control strategies. Within ISA, Haarmeyer is an active volunteer leader within the Society’s Process Measurement and Control Division (PMCD) and Chemical and Petroleum Industries Division (ChemPID) in addition to ISA’s Houston Section, in which she currently serves as president.
You were exposed to some automation and engineering concepts at a very young age. How did that come about?
Yes, I was born in the southeastern corner of New Mexico, which is part of the Permian Basin. It so happened that my father and mother started an electrical contracting business during one of the worst oil and gas crashes in US history. Despite the oil & gas market crashing, my parent's business thrived while I was growing up. My father would bring home documents such as piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs) and I would sit on his lap asking questions about what he was doing and why he was doing it. These talks with my dad sparked my interest in engineering from a young age and my mother encouraged my interest.
Your educational pathway—beginning in high school—and early-career experiences have had a profound impact on your development as an automation professional. Could you explain?
When I started growing bored with my school work during my middle school years, my mother suggested I should go to a private school for high school so I could continue to be challenged in math and science. In the early 2000's, I went to New Mexico Military Institute after passing the interviews and exams.
Despite what most people think, it's very hard to get into military schools and harder still to stay in them. I found that the teachers were very qualified and committed to helping students. During my time at NMMI, I had a German professor that left a lasting impression on me. He encouraged me to apply for study-abroad programs and to different colleges that have strong engineering programs. I probably wouldn't be where I am today without his advice.
After high school, I was accepted to the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program and spent a year learning German while attending high school (2008-2009. After returning to the United States, I attended Penn State to study mechanical engineering.
At the beginning of my time in college, I thought I wanted to design cars for a living. Ideally I wanted to design German cars and return to Germany. In 2011 I was fortunate enough to get a co-op with BMW in Munich, Germany. This was probably one of the best experiences of my life. I learned that it can take between 8,000 and 10,000 people four-to-five years to design a car. That means if I had a 30-year career, I might play a minor role in helping designing only five to six cars.
After this experience, I knew this really wasn't what I was looking for in my career. I wanted to take what I learned in college and work on things I could take a lot of ownership in, ideally in less than four to five years. This led to me returning to the Permian Basin in 2012 for a manufacturing internship with a company in Midland, Texas. I really enjoyed the fast-paced work in the oil field but I wanted something where I needed to do more design work.
This led to me wandering around the career fair at Penn State in 2013, describing what I was looking for in employment opportunities in vague terms. I'm glad someone at the Siemens booth knew what I was describing to this day because I didn't. Soon after, I was flown to Atlanta, Georgia to interview and accepted an internship with Siemens Industrial Automation in Atlanta, Georgia that summer (2013). This internship had such an impact on my life because this was the time where I was introduced to automation and fell in love with it. I knew from that time in Atlanta that this "automation thing" was what I wanted to do with my career for the rest of my life.
After college I accepted a competitive employment opportunity with Rockwell Automation where I went through a six-month field service training program. This was a great opportunity where I learned about industrial control networks, PLC programming, HMI screen development, drives, process control and motion control. Upon completion of the training program I was moved to Houston, Texas where I started work in the oil & gas industry.
While I did enjoy learning more about the oil & gas industry, I had hoped to familiarize myself with different industries and moved to a newer system integrator, Radix Engineering & Software. I loved working at Radix because I learned a lot about automation and different industries. Radix was actually the company that encouraged me to get involved in ISA and supported me in spending time at different events. However, all the traveling with Radix was wearing on me so I later applied to and joined Dow in Lake Jason, Texas.
What specifically was it about your internship at Siemens that made you sure that an automation career was for you?
My internship with Siemens was different from my previous industry experiences in a few ways. The first difference was that the automation field touches every single industry from oil & gas, food, power generation, water & waste water, mining, packaging, entertainment, etc. I realized that I could have a great career in the automation field and I wouldn't have to choose which industry I would go into early on in my career. In an ideal world, I could learn about the different industries and decide which one I would like to work in best.
The second thing that struck me during this internships was that all the different professionals had such amazing stories and experiences from working in various industries in many different parts of the world. After hearing their stories, I wanted to have my own stories of going into different manufacturing facilities to solve problems. During this internship, I was already enjoying the fast paced work that comes with programming control systems but I saw possibilities to travel the world like these other professionals. I have always had a thirst for traveling the world and living in other countries from a young age and I thought a career in automation would help enable my personal desire to travel.
Please tell us about your primary career responsibilities (specific position, company), focus and background, and area of specialty in automation.
Currently I work for Dow as a Process Automation Engineer in Lake Jackson, Texas. Right now I'm focused on improving my knowledge in process control and MES project execution by working on capital projects. My primary focus is programming different equipment that is controlled by the Distributed Control Systems that Dow uses to manufacture different products. I do some MES work as well. I enjoy doing control work and I hope to continue building expertise in this area while developing my skills to do more MES work.
You’ve been involved in ISA’s Houston Section for quite some time—serving as Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary. Could you explain what you have enjoyed most about your volunteer experience in the section and about volunteering and being engaged with ISA as a whole?
I have enjoyed all the leadership experience that I have gained while volunteering within ISA. I think the coaching and advice I have received from more seasoned professionals has indirectly helped me in my career and has helped me get more comfortable making hard decisions. I have no doubt that I am a much better influential leader because of my experiences.
Are you serving in any other volunteer or leadership positions at the Houston Section or within ISA at large?
I'm currently serving with the Process Measurement and Control Division (PMCD) and ChemPID divisions in addition to the ISA Houston Section. The PMCD Board was my first volunteer position within ISA and I've learned a lot about what goes into planning technical conferences. My involvement with the divisions has been a great way to work with and learn from world class leaders in the industry from other companies.
I plan to continue being involved in ISA since I am gaining a lot from my experience and I hope to get involved on a standards committee in the future.
How did you initially get involved in ISA?
I initially got involved in ISA when I presented a paper on migration projects at the Process Control & Safety Symposium in 2015. At the speakers breakfast an older ISA Member, Ken Belteau, asked if I would like to be more involved in ISA. Ken talked me into joining the Process Measurement and Control Division in January 2016 as the Secretary. I've been very active in the society since.
What ways would you say ISA has benefited you?
ISA has enabled me to network and learn from other people who work in the field of automation. I've learned about different technologies that I wasn't exposed to at the beginning of my career. I have had the chance to meet subject matter experts that I would not have had the opportunity to meet without joining ISA. I have been able to ask experts what they love about working in their niches in the automation field so I can learn about different career possibilities. When talking to other professionals, I've learned about career paths that I didn't know existed. I've asked hard questions and gotten honest answers back from people who have mentored me in an informal capacity along the way.
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 would advise young professionals to take the time to learn about what other people do for a living in the automation field. The automation field is so diverse and there are so many different career possibilities. Take the time to learn about what's out there and how you can get involved doing work that you are passionate about.