• Member Feature:
    Q & A with Steve Pflantz

    Steve Pflantz is an Associate at CRB Consulting Engineers, Inc., in St. Louis, Missouri, serving as a technical leader on electrical and automation design projects, and applying his extensive electrical engineering experience—particularly in the areas of instrumentation and controls. He is a long-time ISA member and leader. Since 1998, he has served as Vice President of ISA’s Professional Development Department. Pflantz is also active within the Automation Federation, ISA’s umbrella organization, particularly on workforce development initiatives, such as the development of the Automation Competency Model with the US Department of Labor.

    Q:  Please give us a brief introduction of yourself, your educational background, and your current place in the industry?

    A:  I am a nearly lifelong Missouri resident, having grown up on a farm in rural Northeast Missouri, near Hannibal. I attended the last operating one-room school in Missouri, and was one of two students in my eighth grade graduating class. After a fairly uneventful four years of small-town high school and then college, I spent seven years in Wichita, Kansas before moving back to Missouri and ultimately to St. Louis where I have lived the last 18 years with my wife of nearly 25 years, and raised three wonderful children. 

    I am a 1987 graduate of the Missouri University of Science and Technology (a.k.a. UMR in years past) with a bachelor’s of science degree in electrical engineering.  I was in the school’s co-op program, which I highly recommend to any student if that option is presented. (Editor’s Note: Co-operative education (co-op) is a type of internship program that enables college students to receive career training with pay as they work with professionals in their major fields of study.) It offered me great work experience and a nice income to get me through school. 

    I am currently an Associate at CRB Consulting Engineers Inc., having been there for the last 13 years.  This follows 14 years of ‘mixed-bag’ experience in grain milling, specialty chemicals, pulp and paper, and a short run designing amusement park attractions with CRB in an earlier engagement.  My work has covered the classic mix of both electrical and instrumentation (E&I), but the bulk of my experience and specialty has been in the world of automation. I am one of the more senior (but not necessarily the oldest) electrical engineers with CRB, and enjoy working with all the great people in the discipline helping train and mentor them. 

    Q: How has ISA benefited your career?  Tell us about your current role and function.

    A:  I recall my first exposure to ISA in the fall of 1987.  My employer wisely encouraged me to attend ISA’s Wichita Section meeting where I witnessed a great presentation on intrinsic safety. I recognized an immediate value in that subject, as well as this organization called ISA.  And the rest they say is history. I attended the section meetings religiously and ultimately got lured into the officer tour, ending up as president of the section in 1992.  One of my favorite ISA mementos is the Certificate of Appreciation I received in 1993 from the Society for having served as a section president.  It was signed by Howard Zinschlag, the Society president at the time. I had no idea at the time I would eventually meet and work with Howard, be a member of the same ISA section, and call him a friend and mentor. 

    Time and a few great opportunities took me to St. Louis where I engaged with the local section, where again the cycle continued and I worked my way through the officer train and ended up as president of the section in 2003-2004.  Combine that experience with being around Howard Zinschlag and Steve Huffman, and it is no surprise that Society-level leadership was in my future.  I have served as District 8 Vice President and Professional Development Department Vice President, and on the ISA Executive Board.

    I have managed to raise a family, build a successful career, and obviously spend a fair amount of time volunteering as a leader.  My kids were very active, playing hockey for 13 years; my daughter spent many years in ballet, yet I can count on my hands the number of recitals and games I missed because of work or ISA.  You will find that you can make time for many things if they are important to you.   

    When I tell this story, I usually get that “Why spend all that time and effort with ISA?” look from people.  My answer is quick and definitive: the experience I gained being an ISA leader has done more to advance my career than any other activity or organization outside of work that I could have been involved in.  Hands on leading, managing, speaking, presenting, motivating, and mentoring are a few of the many skills I have had the opportunity to learn and practice. All of these are usable in any workplace, and all my employers have recognized the value and improvement that resulted from my time with ISA.

    And if that doesn’t seem like enough of a benefit, there are the technical learning opportunities, networking and industry contacts, and great friends from all around the world.  I would be remiss if I did not mention Vernon Trevathan as a fellow member that added so much to my ISA experience and life.  Vernon helped ignite my passion in the area of professional development, and I have been motivated to carry on this passion after he passed away.  He was a great man and a dear friend who is missed.

    Q:  Please describe your involvement with the Automation Federation.

    A:  I have been an avid supporter and participant in the Automation Federation since it was formed.  Its importance to the automation profession and to ISA was so great that I had to be a part of it.  I have been involved in advocacy trips to Washington DC, helped to develop the Automation Competency Model, and continue to serve on committees to help bring the vision of AF to reality.  One needs to simply look at the cast of organizations who have joined AF and its many activities—from the FIRST® Robotics Competition to working with the federal government on the Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity—to realize its benefit to ISA and to the world of automation as a whole.

    Q:  When and why did you get involved with photography? What do you enjoy about it? What have you learned from it?

    A:  I do have a hobby that ensures my spare time is filled. My interest in photography started when I was young and it has stayed with me over the years; however, the past two decades have kept me so busy it had to stay on the back burner until I gained some free time. I have always enjoyed seeing great scenes and images, and capturing them to preserve and share is very enjoyable.  Photography is a combination of technical skill, artistry and vision; the latter two components are getting easier for me thanks to coaching and training by my wife. 

    Other than the great feelings of capturing that perfect shot and having some pretty cool pictures to hang around my house, I have learned a few unexpected things from photography.  The variety of images people like and comment on is surprising.  It is challenging to guess what people will like and the range of responses from a set of images.  People see things differently and respond differently for all manner of reasons. Keep that in mind the next time someone responds differently to something you say or do other than the way you expected them to.

    Q:  What advice would you give to young professionals?

    A:  I enjoy working with and talking to future and new automation professionals, and I have a few words of advice that I usually share:  ‘Get involved with ISA and don’t just be a card-carrying member.’  ISA offers many great products and services that will help you technically, but nothing can compare to stepping up and learning to be a leader.  Most people can meet the technical challenges, but what sets you apart is your ability to take charge or control of a situation and make things happen.  Never stop learning and growing!!

    And, of course, have some fun. Be a well-rounded person and find a healthy balance between family, work, ISA, etc.  Some things need to take a back seat for a while, like my photography for about 20 years, but I found plenty of other things to balance.