What do you
see as the major challenges facing the Institute?
Before we talk about
the challenges it is important to acknowledge the
positive things that have happened. Through the hard
work and smart decisions of many dedicated people,
the AIChE has made it through a very difficult time,
and has achieved significant financial turnaround
a year ahead of schedule
Despite this accomplishment,
serious issues remain: our membership has been declining
in recent years at an annual rate of 5-7%; attendance
at national meetings has been declining; local section
activity is struggling; outsourcing and globalization
are presenting career challenges for chemical engineers;
and academic chemical engineering is experiencing
something of an identity crisis as it seeks to define
its educational mission for the future. At the same
time we need to continue to build the financial strength
of the Institute by maintaining a policy of fiscal
I believe all of the
problems can be addressed and, if we attack them creatively
and execute solutions consistently, they are imminently
Why is it
important to strengthen local sections?
must be able to network and establish connections
with colleagues in their local area. It is much easier
for many chemical engineers - particularly those in
industry - to relate to people they see on a regular
basis than people they only read about or see every
year or two at a national meeting. These local connections
can also provide valuable career mobility for members.
The problems of industry in one region, such as Silicon
Valley, are different from those in another region,
say the Gulf Coast. Local section meetings give members
a chance to connect with others facing similar concerns.
By strengthening the local sections, we provide important
services to AIChE members, and more reason for them
to continue their membership. As one famous politician
once remarked, “All politics are local.”
I would paraphrase this to say, “The most important
concerns of chemical engineers in industry are local.”
How can we
strengthen local sections?
I believe strong leadership
is the key to turning around local section activity.
For example, the Boston section has achieved a dramatic
increase in participation in the past year. (See the
December 2004 issue of CEP.) The section now routinely
has 80 members at its monthly meeting and at one meeting
this year there were 250!
The reason for the
turnaround was a strong team of officers who were
committed to achieving measurable improvement. Their
key strategy was to improve networking opportunities
while providing speakers on topics the members were
really interested in, such as personal career development
(entrepreneurship and effective communications) and
emerging areas of technology (renewable energy and
nanotechnology). The leadership team also focused
intently on maintaining good communication with members
through frequent email messages and an effective website.
I believe the national
AIChE can help local sections by providing an accurate
database of members in their area, by helping them
identify good speakers, and by providing leadership
development training to share practices that have
worked in successful local sections.
How can we
improve communications between the AIChE leadership
The first step is
to open up a channel of communication between the
members and the officers. The major reason I created
this website was to establish personal communication
with AIChE members during the campaign. (I hope very
much that you will send me your thoughts and ideas
by email and will take the feedback survey). Similar
approaches could be used by the AIChE national organization.
For example, the new AIChE website that is being developed
will provide opportunities for better communication
through electronic message boards.
In my opinion the
most important ingredient for improved communications
is to be proactive in seeking input, to listen and
to be responsive to what you hear. Then you need to
use all of the vehicles available: email newsletters,
postings on the website, town hall meetings by teleconference,
webcasts, and even direct mail. It is almost impossible
to over communicate.
We need to adopt the
attitude that leaders are here to serve members. In
order to do this, the leaders need to know what the
members really want.
Why is it
important for AIChE to take a leadership role in emerging
technologies such nanotechnology, new energy systems,
and sustainable development?
The application of emerging technologies represents
an important growth area for future employment of
chemical engineers. Entirely new industries are being
created, such as those producing nanomaterials, applying
biotechnology, and producing renewable energy. These
require creating an underlying knowledge base through
research, and then developing applications on a commercial
Within the traditional
chemical process industries, the emphasis in the future
will be much more on creating new products than on
creating new processes. Designing a new product, such
as an automobile air bag, provides an opportunity
for chemical engineers to work as part of an interdisciplinary
The common denominator
in each of these areas is that they are based on application
of chemical engineering technology. The chemical engineer
plays an important role in each area. Chemical engineering
is a field that quantitatively describes systems from
the molecular to the macroscopic scales. We are able
to model molecular and cellular phenomena, transport
processes, and the behavior of large systems. While
retaining our common discipline, we need to adapt
to the specific needs of many new applications and
to embrace these new fields.
What should AIChE do
to serve traditional industries such as petroleum
I believe that the
AIChE should continue to support chemical engineers
in our traditional industries by providing a forum
to discuss new developments in improving the performance
of these industries.
The world will continue
to need commodity products such as fuels, polymers
and industrial chemicals - they are essential to our
society. Chemical engineers will be needed to build
and operate the plants to manufacture these products.
Rather than developing new processes, the focus will
be on improving the productivity of manufacturing
operations so they are more efficient, use less energy,
and are much cleaner environmentally.
I have seen tremendous
opportunities in my own field for applying information
technology to optimize production and automate operations.
There have been many innovative developments to improve
the design, operation and management of manufacturing
facilities. Companies are using computer models to
make better decisions across the entire supply chain
from acquisition of raw materials, to production,
to distribution of products to end users. The AIChE
needs to be the place where chemical engineers report
on these innovations and debate new ideas.