California State University, Long Beach
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BP Support Helps With Lab Buildup

Published: January 15, 2015

Fundraising from such generous supporters as BP America Corp. has helped to transform how CSULB’s Department of Chemical Engineering trains its students by creating new campus labs and supporting faculty research.

With BP America support, the department has been able to launch research and instructional initiatives such as a start-up fund to help new faculty members establish their own labs, explained chemical engineering’s chair Larry Jang, a member of the university since 1984.

“Our regular state funding may or may not provide this kind of support,” he explained. “Combined with support from the office of the Dean of the College of Engineering, we can offer this start-up fund to new hires. This is a way for our faculty to acquire equipment, set up laboratories and, in some cases, hire students. Without this kind of seed money, these faculty could not be expected to perform any reasonable research here.”

Other targets of support include equipment and technology maintenance with a healthy reserve.

“We have made a great effort to bring to this campus new experimental devices plus the creation of our own automation system,” he said. “This has helped to create one of the best chemical engineering labs in Southern California. We work hard to keep our instructional lab modern.”

The funding helps the department acquire new software as well as the occasional guest instructor from BP America Corp. to provide insights. “Special lecturers like these offer practical experience with chemical design process software,” Jang explained.

Jang believes one reason for corporate support is the high quality of students who graduate from the Chemical Engineering Department. “Many of our graduates get a high level of recognition from their employers,” he said. “Often, our students serve as liaisons between this campus and area corporations. What benefits the students and benefits faculty research benefits the companies.”

Financial support demonstrates a good working relationship with the department’s professional partners, Jang believes.

“Young engineering graduates from CSULB working for area firms increase the visibility of our department,” he said. “Our professional partners are often asked to join the College of Engineering’s advisory council to keep us current with the needs of local firms. We want to know what they need and we want them to know what kind of program we have here. It is a two-way dialogue. We take their advice into our decision-making process. This way, our professional partners see this department has a lot of energy and deserves their support.”

Corporate support validates the department’s approach to the classroom and the lab.

“Our professional partners are not charities. They don’t give away money for colleges to spend any way they want,” Jang said. “And when they offer us support, it pays for such things as free student membership in the American Institute of Chemical Engineering through a program called Scale Up. This membership is free for students as long as they are enrolled in the department. With a free membership, they can get a lot of information and participate in the Chemical Process Safety Certificate program.”

Jang stressed how donations have made CSULB chemical engineering graduates more employable.

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Larry Jang

“Our students have made it clear to their employers that they have hands-on experience funded in part by their support,” he said. “Our graduates work for more than chemical engineering firms. There are CSULB graduates at the Air Quality Management District and a variety of local industries.”

The Chemical Engineering Department maintains a balance between theory and practice in its classrooms and laboratories.

“How does theory connect to the real world? There are students at other chemical engineering departments who do not know,” said Jang. “Chemical engineering students at CSULB learn a subject from A to Z. And when new software is introduced, faculty members learn it the same way. That level of instruction is why our students excel in job interviews. Today’s corporations review more than resumes. More and more, they ask students to solve sample questions using particular tools. If students learn only theory, they cannot use a modern tool to offer a practical solution to a recruiter. This level of support makes this department more attractive to potential students. What CSULB students learn thanks to this kind of support creates a win-win situation.”

Jang encourages potential donors to help transform the Department of Chemical Engineering.

“We can tell potential donors that chemical engineering is a very versatile discipline,” he said. “Chemical engineering graduates can contribute to the chemical process industry, environmental engineering systems, microfluidics, ‘green’ engineering, energy production, etc. There are many faculty working on green materials. Chemical engineers can work with many other scientific and engineering disciplines to increase the productivity of Southern California.”

Although the local BP Refinery has been sold to another major corporation, Tesoro Corp., the college strives to maintain professional connection with BP Corp. and is establishing dialogue with the new owner Tesoro. The refinery, now under Tesoro management, continues to recruit chemical engineers from campus and CSULB will continue to be a major supplier of high-quality chemical engineers to Tesoro, as well as other regional industries, said Jang.