March/April 2013
Professional Growth | workforce development

Student section creates automation career awareness

By Anand Govindarajan, Upasana Manimegalai-Sridhar, and R. Russell Rhinehart

The ISA student section at Oklahoma State University (OSU) is a shining example of a section that demonstrates vitality, creativity, professional leadership, and dedication to promoting automation and control as a career choice. Students started the ISA-chartered student section in the fall of 2010; this is also recognized by the OSU Student Government Association, which currently has about 100 student members and of which there are about 60 ISA student members. The section has created diverse initiatives to support its objectives:

  • Promote automation as a career choice and research focus
  • Program events that will help students prepare for industrial practice
  • Integrate academe and industry for both curriculum content and career placement
  • Reach out to industry to see OSU as a place to hire control engineers and publicize job postings
  • Open channels for industrial funding of events, research, and fellowships

Nearly all the student members are involved with automation research, ranging from process control, to intelligent systems, to mechanical control, to cell phone traffic management, to autonomous flight, to event detection. Students represent chemical, electrical, industrial, mechanical, and biosystems engineering.

Section members participate in professional development seminars, field trips, and monthly lab tours. Hosted events include field trips to Fractionation Research to see the control room for their commercial-scale distillation process, Tulsa Airport air traffic control tower where FAA agents explained how flights are managed and tracked, Siemens Industry (Bartlesville, Okla.) to understand gas chromatographs and their manufacturing process, and to the OG&E smart grid control center (Oklahoma City, Okla.). Activities have also included visits to research laboratories within OSU working on control of robots, chemical process units, web processing, and the "Green Seeker" tractor-mounted sensors to detect plant health and automate precision treatments for disease or nutrients. The schedule for the 2013 spring semester includes a visit to the control room of Plains All American Pipeline (Cushing, Okla.). Professional development seminars include hosting speakers from the industry, including ISA, OG&E, Yokogawa Corporation of America, and professors from OSU working on controls and automation.

Automation Day

The flagship event of the Section is Automation Day at OSU, the first edition of which was launched in 2011. Automation Day includes a keynote speaker, an automation contest, a newsletter release, and a dinner presentation. Control engineers (alumni and industry stalwarts) are invited to send brief descriptions of their projects or advice to students that the society can share with readers through the newsletter or web page. In 2012, the contest was to schedule device operations within a smart grid using simulation that included solar- and wind power-generated electricity and weather forecast. The winner met all the operations at the lowest cumulative electricity cost by anticipating power availability and pricing to schedule device operations.

In 2011, the automation contest was to devise the rules for the motion of a simulated robot soccer player to defend the goal against an oncoming opponent. The winner was a sophomore! The 2013 contest is to devise the timing rules for traffic lights using the Simio simulation platform.

Automation Day creates local awareness, demonstrates vitality, and honors students. Additionally, the contest developers practice creating a product that works, providing a valuable career preparation experience. This year, plans are to include high school students.  The section appreciates the day's support from Yokogawa Corp, ExxonMobil, and Georgia Pacific.

The section has embarked on a new initiative to organize a networking dinner banquet associated with the OSU career fair, supported by GE Oil & Gas in Oklahoma City. The sponsoring companies have direct access to a select pool of candidates specializing in automation and control research.

The section has registered tremendous growth in a short span of time. Recognition has come in the form of ISA Process Measurement and Control Division (PMCD) scholarships to two students, as well as OSU President's Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award 2011, nomination for the Outstanding Section Award, and Member's Choice Outstanding Leader Award to the ISA Honors and Awards Committee. Several student members and past officers have been placed in leading control and automation companies. To create career awareness and publicize job openings related to automation and control, the students use group emailing, social media, and the official OSU Automation Society website,


Anand Govindarajan, one of the founders of the OSU Automation Society, received a B.S. in chemical engineering from SSN College of Engineering (Anna University) in 2008.  He came to the US in the fall of 2009 and earned his M.S. in ChE in 2011.

Upasana Manimegalai Sridhar, one of the founders of the OSU Automation Society, also volunteers as a secretary and fundraiser in the U.S. for Rural Education Welfare and Development Trust. She completed her B.S. in ChE from SSN College of Engineering (Anna University) in 2009, and her M.S. in chemical engineering at OSU in 2010.

R. Russell Rhinehart ([email protected]), professor in the School of Chemical Engineering at OSU, holds the Amoco Endowed Chair and has experience in both industry (13 years) and academe (26 years). He is president of the American Automatic Control Council, a Fellow of ISA (2001), a CONTROL Automation Hall of Fame inductee. Dr. Rhinehart is the faculty advisor to the OSU ISA student section.