Baker High School Alumnus, now chemical engineer, returns to inspire students

The Baker High School Science Department was thrilled to welcome chemical engineer and operations manager for Allegheny Technologies Incorporated (ATI), Shawn Wang, a 1990 graduate of Baker High School, as a guest speaker on Wednesday, November 23, 2016.

Shawn Wang describes how jet engine components are made from titanium.
Photo by Linda Rost

By Linda Rost

The Baker High School Science Department was thrilled to welcome chemical engineer and operations manager for Allegheny Technologies Incorporated (ATI), Shawn Wang, a 1990 graduate of Baker High School, as a guest speaker on Wednesday, November 23, 2016.

As the oldest son of Dave and Cindy Wang, he grew up on a ranch 20 miles North of Baker with two brothers and two sisters. He always enjoyed science and math, and emphasized Baker’s outstanding science and math departments, mentioning some of the many great teachers who inspired him, including Mr. Dilworth. It was his chemistry teacher, Mr. Mueller, who encouraged him to attend a science competition in Bozeman, where he won a scholarship, and kindled an interest in Chemical Engineering. He is married to Colette Erickson, also from Baker and they have one daughter, Rachel.

Wang graduated in 1995 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Chemical Engineering from Montana State University in Bozeman. He began his career in Columbia Falls, MT as a data analyst for Columbia Falls Aluminum Company. Wang emphasized that if he had been more dedicated to school when he started his college career, and treated college more like a job, he would have finished with a higher GPA and landed a better position. However, his unique combination of problem-solving skills, innovative leadership and diverse knowledge from the chemical engineering degree, allowed him to move quickly to a leadership position in his company. Over the 13 years spent there, he moved from data analyst to management roles including process engineer and finally operations manager.  His teams led numerous improvement efforts that enabled a 50 year old facility to remain in operation, while much newer facilities went out of business.  His job also included international travel to locations including South America, Europe and Asia to tour facilities and report back to his parent company about which facilities should be purchased.

Logan Wyrick examines a piece of molten aluminum from the Columbia Falls plant. Photo by Linda Rost

In 2008, Wang moved to Salt Lake City, UT to begin work at ATI, a company that was in the final stages of building, developing technologies for, and operating a $500 million facility to produce the premium quality titanium for a variety of industries, including the medical and jet engine market. Wang was involved in developing much of the process engineering for this company and through trial and error, he also developed training protocols for new staff. He currently oversees all operations, maintenance and engineering staff.

Wang says some of the most rewarding parts of his job include mentoring, teaching and training his engineering staff. He said the best quality that engineers or staff possesses is the ability to help one another solve problems. He takes great pride in the fact that he is responsible for helping his fellow employees provide for their families. The most exciting part of his job is that every day, the goal is to make things better, faster, and cheaper, and he can always find ways to improve. He made it very clear the importance of providing the very best material possible because if his plant’s titanium had any imperfections, it could “bring a plane out of the sky,” although, to date, none has.

Wang emphasized to students that they should treat high school and college like a job, and pursue a degree that has a definite end-point to make all of their college loans worth it. He touted the Chemical Engineering degree as the “jack-of-all-trades” degree because it includes classes from every other engineering field. Engineering is also a bachelor’s degree that has tremendous employment opportunities and high wages, which is quite different compared to other fields, many of which require a graduate degree to reap those kinds of benefits. He also described the shortage of skilled engineers, and stressed the tremendous scarcity of female engineers, encouraging any women interested in math and science to pursue engineering degrees.

 Student Reflections:

 “I learned that Shawn Wang loves to help people.”

“I learned that even coming from a small town, you can still do big things.”

“The most important thing I learned was that just because you are from a small town, you can still have big aspirations! One thing I am still wondering about is how they trust people to run such big equipment, and trust them not to hurt others.”

“The most important thing I learned was that there aren’t a lot of female engineers, and there should be more.”

“I learned how interesting chemical engineering actually is. They work to make things better, faster and cheaper. What they do every day is really interesting and seems really cool.”