Shelly Fuhrman Elliott
When I came to the University of Notre Dame in August, 2008, I had no idea how much my experiences as a chemical engineer would enrich both my professional and personal life. Though chemical engineering is widely recognized as the most difficult major on campus, I will also argue that it is by far the most versatile one, opening up doors into many industries including manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, consulting, oil and gas, biotech, technology, and many others. The possibilities are endless because, as a CHEG (as we chemical engineers like refer to ourselves), you are a problem solver, critical thinker, think outside-the-boxer, innovator, high performing team member and effective communicator. Over your four years at Notre Dame, you will be tested, not just in your classes, but also in everyday life experiences that will prepare you for life outside of ND. The CHEG professors are some of the best in the country, and your CHEG classes will teach you the technical expertise you need to succeed as an engineer.
After I graduated from ND in 2012, I started my career with ExxonMobil as a distillation process engineer. Some examples of my work scope included using AspenTech software to model distillation towers and their internal pieces, troubleshooting issues by analyzing process data or developing plant tests, designing tower or drum internals, and supporting plant shutdown and start-up operations. After a year, I moved into a lubricants process engineer role at ExxonMobil’s 585,000 barrel per day Baytown, Texas, refinery, where I provided around-the-clock technical guidance and business support for the daily operation, improvement, troubleshooting, and maintenance of four lubricant processing units and a fleet of tanks. On a daily basis, I was interacting with the process technicians that operated the units to ensure we were meeting our production quantity and quality goals, as well as identifying areas for improvement. For example, we were able to develop a temperature control program for our tanks that reduced steam in the tanks’ steam coils, resulting in over 3% energy reduction for the entire refinery. Over the course of a year, this was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars! I was also a part of the technical support team that implemented the Baytown Lubricants Expansion Project, where we installed new equipment and processing capabilities to create two new lubricants products and expand production to 30,000 barrels per day.
After the lubricants role, I was placed in a short four-month assignment leading a team installing and operating facilities to be compliant with new EPA regulations. My responsibilities included developing and presenting a training package on a new refinery flare recovery system to all 550 wage-process employees and 60 operations support engineers, implementing new tools to monitor the flare system, and providing bi-weekly updates to management.
My final role with ExxonMobil’s Baytown Refinery was jet fuel and diesel coordinator. I devised and communicated a daily run-plan strategy for four jet fuel producing and five diesel producing units while managing two million barrels of inventory. Each day, I had to ensure we produced the quantity and quality of jet fuel and diesel required to satisfy our customers’ needs while minimizing product giveaway and handling process constraints. On average, I oversaw 25,000 barrels per day of finished jet fuel and 160,000 barrels per day of diesel products. When an unplanned unit shutdown or process issue arose, I was responsible for ensuring we were pulling every lever we could to satisfy customers and communicate any impacts to our customer relations group. I worked with the rest of the department, who was responsible for other inputs and outputs like raw crude oil, gasoline, butane, resid, chemicals feeds, etc., to ensure we were maximizing the refinery’s profitability for current market conditions.
This September, I started a new job as a consultant in the Management Consulting and Strategy (MCS) group with Arconic, Inc. Arconic turns basic metals such as aluminum, titanium or nickel alloys into many products that are used in aerospace, automotive, commercial transportation, construction, industrial gas turbine, electronics, and defense. MCS provides services such as business strategy analysis, business case development, post-merger integration, benchmarking, and organization design. My current and first project is operations-based at our facility in Davenport, Iowa, which is our largest plant in the U.S. Our team’s goal is to reduce scrap metal generated during the production process of skinsheet, which is used to make the fuselage section of an airplane.
I chose to join MCS because I wanted an opportunity to combine both my CHEG and MBA degrees to deliver overall value to the customers, company, employees, and shareholders. Having an engineering foundation has given me an advantage because I understand how process equipment works, chemical and physical principles (ie. Thermodynamics, Materials Science, Chemical Reactions), and how to analyze data to draw conclusions. When I come across things I do not understand or have prior experience with, I think about what information I need to solve a particular problem and then ask questions. My Notre Dame chemical engineering degree, the skills I have from developing an “engineer’s mindset,” and my manufacturing experience and MBA degree combination have made me a unique asset to my company.