Focus on the future: Industry tours allow students to see what they’re working toward in chemical engineering

Student group photo at Kemin
CBE students on an industry tour with Kemin Industries.

Students at Iowa State University are given opportunities to succeed every day. Innovative staff and dedicated professors are constantly searching for unique experiences to expose students to. One of those experiences is industry tours for learning community participants.

Mackenzie Schwartz, an academic advisor for the Chemical and Biological Engineering department has been coordinating groups of students on tours of different factories and corporations. Students typically tour the facility and participate in a question and answer session with some of the employees. It gives students an inside look at what they could be doing in their future with a degree in chemical engineering. “Industry tours are a way to see into the world of engineering. It is a chance to experience the behind the scenes world to what we use and touch each and every day,” said Schwartz.

Emily Aube, a sophomore in chemical engineering, agreed with Schwartz about seeing her degree in action saying, “most times, I only read about types of unit operations and processes in my classes and how they work. It was a whole different experience to see them in person, and not just as a sketch in a textbook.”

Students in REG Office
REG facilities are often on the list of industry visit locations.

Students attending the industry tours are exposed to an environment that they likely have never seen. “I hope that students gain a better understanding of what being a chemical engineer in industry could look like. This is a unique opportunity especially for first-year and transfer students to see what they are working towards,” said Schwartz.

Being able to interact directly with chemical engineering graduates is an exciting and unique experience for current chemical engineering students.

Jedidiah Chukwusom, a sophomore in chemical engineering, said industry tours help him and other students decide what direction to go in the field, “I went on the REG (Renewable Energy Group) industry tour as a mentor and last year as a mentee I went on the water treatment plant tour, and both were beneficial.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the routine of attending classes and going to labs. However, it’s very special to visit a place of work and see how your degree can be used in action. Schwartz said, “I find it is helpful for the students to see an example of what their day to day could look like as a chemical engineer and hear from industry folks how they are using their course work in their everyday jobs.”

This past fall semester, students visited the municipal water treatment plant in Ames, Kemin Industries in Des Moines, the BioPolymer Processing Facility in Boone and REG’s facility in Ralston.