Future engineers benefit from ISA student sections

By Leo Staples

Last issue, I talked about how ISA student sections present opportunities for members to shape future generations of automation professionals. This article focuses on the benefits students receive from active participation in section activities. Given the difference in levels of education, one might conclude that the student sections at Francis Tuttle Technology Center (FTTC) and Oklahoma State University (OSU) have very little in common. When you examine the programs, however, you find more similarities than differences.

Both student sections plan, promote, and lead activities with guidance from a faculty advisor and use campus orientation programs to introduce new students to their programs. The student sections conduct monthly meetings focused on leadership development, learning experiences, and opportunities to network with practicing professionals. The two sections also promote the importance of social responsibilities and being good stewards of the profession.

Often the sections bring in industry professionals as guest speakers. One example is a networking event OSU held last October featuring Angeline Koh from MAVERICK Technologies. The event gave attendees a chance to learn from an industry expert and explore job prospects at the company. MAVERICK is ISA’s premier strategic partner for systems integration and is run by chief executive officer, Paul J. Galeski, PE, CAP. “We’ve had a long-standing relationship with Dr. Russ Rhinehart, and have always been impressed with not only OSU’s interest in automation, but also their first-class automation lab. Many of the other academic automation programs could learn a lot from what OSU has put together. They are doing an outstanding job of building the future of the automation engineering workforce,” Galeski said.

Like events in our regular sections, field trips are always well attended by the students. Such was the case when 55 students from the OSU and FTTC sections visited the new Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) solar farms. Located at the Mustang Power Plant in west Oklahoma City, the two farms have a generating capacity of 2.5 MW—enough to power about 500 homes. Solar power development supports OG&E’s commitment to being an affordable, reliable, safe, and environmentally responsible energy provider. Field trips show students how automation technology is manufactured and how it is deployed by industry. Based on the positive experience of this field trip, section leaders are actively evaluating other joint-section activities.

Opportunities for students to test what they are learning are important to the members of both sections. Each year the OSU section hosts “Automation Day.” The theme for the 2016 event is “Automation and Controls in Aeronautics” and features speakers from OSU, neighboring universities, and automation professionals. Competitions include teams using control techniques to land aircraft safely and a poster presentation contest. Again, in 2016, a team from FTTC will compete in the student games hosted by the ISA Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) student section and the Calgary section. Competition between the FTTC section members is fierce, as only the best earn a spot on the team. A video on the 2015 competition at SAIT is available at http://isasait.ca/?p=887.

Similarly to OSU and FTTC, students sections around the world have created a bridge from the classroom to industry. Their activities allow students to see how real engineering problems are solved while providing a window into the lives of actual automation professionals. Engagement with our student section members provides opportunities to present the clear value proposition that automation professionals receive through active membership in the Society.

About the Author

Leo Staples is senior manager, utility operational compliance, at OGE Energy Corp. He is an ISA Fellow and was ISA president in 2011.

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