January 18, 2013
Bart Carpenter is a 1981 CU chemical engineering graduate who started his career at Conoco’s engineering center in Ponca City, OK. He spent the next 30 years supporting the company’s downstream operations in a variety of technical and managerial positions around the country. Bart more recently returned to Colorado and joined Merrick & Company as a Senior Technical Specialist, where he supports oil and gas and industrial biotechnology projects. Bart also directs The Merrick Consultancy, a team of world-class energy experts that help clients solve difficult challenges commercializing new green technologies. Since his return to the Denver area, Bart has volunteered his time as an Undergraduate Education Advisory Council member and guest speaker in various ChBE classes. He enjoys cheering on the Buffs and sharing a beer at The Sink with fellow CU alumni.
We recently caught up with Bart to learn more about his CU and work experiences:
What was the most helpful technical information you learned at CU?
I can't really put my finger on anything specific other than engineering school teaches you how to solve problems and pay attention to the details. I really enjoyed the senior design class as it pulled it all together and gave us a chance to apply what we learned in many of our chemical engineering classes. I don't miss the card reader for the computer programs that we had to write, especially when the machine "ate" your cards a few minutes before midnight and you had to start all over. The students today don't know how good they have it!
What was the most helpful life experience you gained during your career?
Never underestimate the value of good, and I mean really good, people skills. I've met maybe two engineers over 30 years that were technically incompetent. Most engineers fail to reach their potential because they don't pay enough attention to their soft skills. I've worked with some brilliant engineers that limited their careers because they thought being technically smarter than everyone else was all that mattered. The real world doesn't work that way. Take time to work on your personal skills and solicit feedback from others every chance you get. I didn’t always like the feedback I received but it made me a better engineer.
Can you describe one of your favorite projects?
I still really enjoy going into a refinery and evaluating the entire plant for profit improvement opportunities. Modern petroleum refineries are very large machines, circa 300,000 barrels per day, that are very complex and highly integrated. Even after all these years, there are still great opportunities to significantly reduce energy consumption and improve yields. The last one of these I worked on identified over $50 million/year in improvements…now that's a lot of fun!
Can you compare work at an international integrated oil company with that at an employee-owned mid-sized engineering firm?
Now that's difficult. Large versus small. Operating a company versus a professional services firm. Public versus employee-owned. I've enjoyed them both and they each have benefits depending on what you're looking for and how you are wired. My only advice: if you don’t love what you’re doing, find something else to do that’s aligned with your passions.
What do you find most rewarding in your job now?
I really enjoy mentoring our younger engineers and "passing the torch" to the next generation. This has become even more important as baby boomers retire. Surprisingly, the role of the mentor has been reduced over the years as companies cut cost to improve short term results.
What skills would you most like to see from our graduates as they enter the workforce?
Chemical engineers will learn to do many things, most of which will be learned on the job versus what they learned at school. That said, I like to see process simulation skills in graduates entering the workforce, especially at the BS level. I would also encourage new graduates to commit themselves to be active learners once they are out of school. The world continues to change quickly and there is a lot to stay on top of to be a successful engineer over a 30-40 year career. I imagine the next 30 years will be even more exciting as "Smart Energy" takes hold and a host of new technologies are commercialized. Always keep learning!
What parting advice do you have for our current students?
Work hard and don't give up. I tried to drop out of engineering twice as I struggled with one of the early “weed-out” classes. Fortunately, I had a professor who refused to sign my drop slip and actually took time to tutor me 1-on-1 until I figured it out. Dr. Francois Friedman, I owe you one! Engineering is a great profession that offers a wide variety of challenging, rewarding career paths. I know I've REALLY enjoyed it. Go after it with everything you’ve got!