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National Engineers Week student feature: Harrison Martin

February 21-27 is National Engineers Week, and WVU Tech is celebrating by sharing the stories of students who are preparing to launch their careers and alumni who are doing great things in theirs. Part 4 of our 5-part series introduces Golden Bears from WVU Tech’s chemical engineering program.

Chemical engineering student, Harrison Martin.

Chemical Engineering student, Harrison Martin.

As a kid growing up in Ronceverte, West Virginia, WVU Tech chemical engineering student Harrison Martin remembers taking trips to the state capital of Charleston. He recalls driving past the chemical production facilities that operate just outside of the city and marveling at the labyrinths of tanks, pipes and stacks.

“To me they looked like a big maze. I always loved solving puzzles as a child and they are definitely a puzzle to be solved,” he said.

As he moved into high school, he started uncovering his aptitude in mathematics. Then he took a chemistry course, and that combination of interests made his career goals clear.

“To be able to know why things happen rather than just accepting the fact that they do intrigues me. What is it in toothpaste that cleans your teeth? What is put into the medicine at the stores? So when I had my first chemistry course in high school, I knew I wanted chemistry to be a part of my life,” he said.

Martin chased his love for chemistry to Montgomery, where he enrolled in WVU Tech’s chemical engineering program. Now a junior, he said he’s in the most intense part of the chemical engineer’s undergraduate education.

“Right now, I’m in the stage where we’re doing a lot of coursework. Taking a lot of courses. We’re learning a lot of information about equipment and the practical uses for that equipment. Learning how it works, how to design it and what works better in certain situations,” he said.

In addition to his academic responsibilities, Martin is an active member of the Tau Beta Pi engineering honors society and WVU Tech’s American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) student chapter. He’s also part of the AIChE’s first-ever ChemE Car Team. The group is working on a small-scale car powered by a chemical reaction, and they hope to enter their creation into the spring 2017 competition.

In his down time, Martin is an outdoorsman who enjoys hunting, fishing, target shooting, hiking and skiing. He’s also a regular on the University’s intramural Frisbee team and plays with the crew twice a week.

Martin said that his experience at Tech has been one centered on putting theory to work in real-world situations. His professors have encouraged him to gain experience wherever he can, and have helped him line up internship opportunities.

Last summer, for instance, Martin worked as an intern at chemical manufacturer Cytec (now Solvay) on Willow Island in Pleasants County, West Virginia. At Cytec, Martin created visual workplace items, or images and flowcharts posted around the plant to ensure workers know how to respond to certain situations. He also worked on preventative maintenance projects and helped the company determine how a new reactor upgrade would impact capacity.

“I developed a scale-up model for the plant. They were replacing a 3000-gallon reactor with a 4000-gallon reactor. They needed to know what kind of capacity hit they were going to take because, in this process, they were going from two reactors down to just one. So I did a capacity analysis to see how much they would lose,” he said.

“I learned so much this past summer, and it’s nice to be able to relate my experience to the classes I’m in now. When professors start talking about a centrifuge or some other piece of equipment, I know exactly what they’re talking about and I’ve actually worked with it,” he said.

He’ll be continuing his hands-on education this summer in an internship with Dow Chemical in Charleston, where he hopes to gain invaluable experience assisting the chemical engineers working in one the company’s three regional plants.

“After my internship experience, I discovered a lot more pathways that I can take with my degree. I didn’t know how big the scope of employment was for chemical engineering. There are consulting firms that come in. In the plant itself, you have engineers that work with one procedure – which is what I want to do – and then you have technical managers and design engineers that handle the bigger projects,” he said.

Martin said he’s excited to start his career in the industry. He’s confident that his training will help him land a job.

“The thing I find most exciting about my field of study is the fact that I will always have something to do. There will always be projects that I can work on. Another key piece is that I will always be learning new processes and techniques. There will always be new technology, and new experiences,” he said.

“Chemical engineering is so important because chemical engineers make the materials that are put into everyday items. All plastics are made up of polymers that are synthesized in a chemical plant. Almost all drugs are synthesized in a chemical plant. The chemical industry is very important in today’s world. It offers a better, more efficient, more profitable society,” he said.