Each semester, the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering facilitates connections between alumni and students through the Alumni Student Mentor Program. Students and their mentors meet several times over the course of the semester to discuss professionalism, career advancement and engineering perspectives.
Thad Sauvain (ChemEngr’91) was selected as one of two Outstanding Mentor Award winners for the Spring 2021 semester for his work with junior Kyle Kinney. Kinney provided the nomination, stating that his mentor “provided invaluable advice for applying to internships and professional development.”
Sauvain was kind enough to share his thoughts on mentorship and professionalism in light of his award.
What motivated you to become a mentor for the department?
I have a passion for helping new engineers develop and grow in their field. Working for Chevron for 30 years, I’ve been involved with recruiting and managing new engineers and it has been great to see them develop from chemical engineering graduates into solid engineers who are able to apply their knowledge to solve some of the toughest problems. I’ve also noticed that there are a few simple things that engineering students might be able to do during their college careers that could really help them set themselves up for even more success, so I see the mentor program as a vehicle to inform.
What do you hope to impart to the next generation of chemical and biological engineers?
They truly are the ones who are going to solve even tougher problems for society such as climate change and bringing clean energy to an ever-growing population. As such, they are going to need to be more resourceful and creative than ever before.
How has the engineering and professional world changed since you graduated, and what new challenges do you see up-and-coming engineers facing?
The engineering and professional world has indeed changed significantly since I graduated 30 years ago. The industry has become a truly global industry from mostly US-based, digitalization is revolutionizing the application of chemical engineering principles, and seemingly intractable problems such as climate change have replaced more straightforward problems to solve. New engineers are facing tougher challenges, but they also have more tools in their arsenal to solve them.
What are some things you’ve learned from your students as a mentor?
I’ve learned that the challenges in finding that first job are much more daunting than in the past, especially with the recent pandemic, and I am impressed with how they have adapted to the restrictions. I’ve also learned that many of them see an “either/or” world for the energy industry where it is either renewables or traditional sources. Instead, it is an “everything” world where all energy sources will be needed to power the world and engineers will be needed to provide them safely and cleanly.
How would you pitch your fellow alumni on becoming mentors?
The satisfaction that one gets out of being a mentor and helping a student grow and be successful is much more than the short amount of time that is put in.