Personal note: Hello! I’m alive, back in the US and already in Texas for a summer internship. It’s been a while, huh? I must apologize for absence. Between traveling through Scotland and Ireland, returning to my hometown in Ohio and then moving to Houston, my life has been too crazy to do much of anything. Now my life is returning to a normal, less crazy schedule as I start work so I’ll be back to (hopefully) weekly posts. Even though I’m back in America, I will continue posting study abroad stuff about adjusting back to the US and its education system throughout the next several months along with a few special posts about London, Scotland and Ireland.

I spent less than a week at home before moving to Texas.

A lot of people have been asking me if I’ve been in culture shock because I came back to the US and immediately moved to Texas. When I was home, I spent most of my days running errands (personal and work related) where I would leave at 9 am and come home at 5 pm. Then I would do something with my family like watch my brother play baseball (he’s a phenomenal pitcher!) and afterwards meet up with a friend from high school to catch up. I successfully closed down two ice cream stands and one restaurant while I was home. I was so busy running around that there was nothing to adjust to. I had a list of things to do everyday and I made sure I completed them.

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Houston feels like another city to explore on my trip around the world.

That may sound a little rash, but I am living in a new place. If the radio stations can be judged, a large chunk of the population prefer Spanish to English. There’s also a fair amount of history in Houston and little places to see, along with a few kept secrets like the red button on Preston Bridge. I’m still close to the ocean so Houston could be Swansea… except the temperature is twice as hot and there are Southern, not British, accents.

So what am I doing in Houston?

Well, I had my first day of work today at LyondellBasell’s Houston oil refinery. I planned on starting on Monday, but was unable. I’m interning on a port, so I’m required to have a US port clearance called a TWIC card from TSA (yes, TSA of the airport security fame, my favorite government officials) in order to work. A word of advice to engineers who plan on studying abroad: If you have a job lined up after coming back to the US, find out if you need a TWIC card before you leaving. I had to wait two days without pay for my TWIC card, but it could delayed my start date by up to two weeks. One poor co-op has been unable to start work since May 20 because he is still waiting on his TWIC card after over a month.

LyondellBasell’s Houston oil refinery at night.

TWIC cards are a standard need for any employee in a port whether it be Toledo, Ohio or Houston, Texas. However, as interns, students cannot afford to live without pay waiting on the US government to send a special card. It is important to issue clearances for people to work on ports because they are vital part of the US’s economy and security. I think there is a better way to do this than what is currently in place. Both visits to the TWIC offices took only 15 minutes, but when I called to schedule an appointment to pick up my TWIC card, I was initially told I could not activate it until July. This would have been impossible and I was prepared to hold a stakeout in the TWIC office to get my card. It turned out the appointment center didn’t know what they were talking about and I activated my card without a problem. I have a number of suggestions for how to improve this process that I might send to the US government, but this is an engineering education blog, so I’m not going to talk about that now. Instead I’ll say this:

Colleges (and even high schools) should educate students on different standards they need to meet in order to be employed so that students are aware of their existence, even if they don’t need to meet all of them.

I barely know anything about the FE or PE. I’m not even sure if I’m correct using those acronyms. I’m pretty sure you need to pass one to become an engineer and then another one is a good idea to get after working as an engineer. I think my classes will talk more about this senior year, but I’d rather I actually was instructed in this if it’s relevant to my future.

So what am I doing in Houston exactly?

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Me on the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. I’ll miss study abroad, but I’m excited for all that Houston has to offer!

I guess I never fully answered this. My internship at Lyondell’s Houston refinery is with the unit engineers group. In a plant, there are lots of different machines that do different jobs. These machines are called units. The oil we receive on the port is a mix of everything from jet fuel to diesel to automotive lubricant to gasoline to things I didn’t even know existed. My unit is the crude unit so it separates everything in the oil into the different parts as best it can. After this the gasoline isn’t quite ready for your car yet though and every part of the oil is run through more units. But you get the idea. I’m not sure what the actual project I’ll be doing yet is, but I’m still learning quite a bit.

Working with oil makes the treehugger in me kind of sad. But I know that this is going to be an amazing learning opportunity. I want to use this industrial experience to see how engineering education should change in order to properly train engineers for their future careers and I’m going to do it all day, everyday for the whole summer. I can’t wait.


  1. Morgan (and students),

    A little insight from a fossil on FE & PE… Illinois didn’t do that great of job describing FE & PE 12 years ago either. My senior year I took the FE. Chem E’s aren’t that prepared for it unless you really want to study a lot of physics and theoretical and applied mechanics on your own time.

    The FE & PE is only really useful if you plan on staying a technical engineer during your entire career. You don’t need it in business or management. Most people don’t even know what the hell it is.

    Needless to say I never got the PE, which makes my FE completely useless except that I’ve had a nice certificate on my desk from the State of Illinois. I don’t think having the FE has ever done anything for my career. I want that Saturday in 2002 back!

    Not to dump on the PE, a civil engineer friend who now works at a design firm got her PE. It’s very important for her career. If you ever want to be an expert witness, then you need a PE (not legally, no one will hire you).

    I do agree if you think you’d like a PE, take the FE while you are still in school. You’ll never know that much stuff again.


    • Thanks for the great information, Tom! I think that’s more than Illinois has taught me about FE/PE right now. I hope anyone with questions of the FE and/or PE see this comment.

  2. Did you ended up landing a job at Lyondellbasell? I just landed an internship and will start in January. What are the chances of getting a permanent position after the internship.?

    • Hello! I did intern with LyondellBasell last summer. If you intern/co-op with LyondellBasell multiple times and work hard, there’s a very good chance that you will be offered a full time position. Best of luck!

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